How to anchor the strategic possibilities of corporate communications in the perception of C-level management? Today, corporate communication can do much more than press relations, crisis communication and some internal communication. Nevertheless, communicators are often limited to these activities and find it difficult to be perceived by top management outside the traditional silo.
Our guest is Christopher Storck, partner at Hering Schuppener Consulting and Professor of Strategy and Communication Management at Quadriga University Berlin.
Numerous studies show that the management levels of companies attach great importance to corporate communications: you cannot do without and in terms of managing communication processes, with all internal and external stakeholders, it adds value to the company. Why this knowledge seems to bear so little fruit in practice?
Communications in a silo
The basic attitude of the communicators is crucial – established hierarchies in isolated departments are convenient, but also prevent the development of external relevance. Communicators need the willingness to reorient themselves and to learn constantly. In some cases, top management lacks a basis for understanding: in mainstream business management, the issue of stakeholders has been neglected to date. Communicators, however, need to think consistently from the perspective of stakeholders in order to be able to demonstrate the relevance of what they do.
Communication contributes strategically to organizational goals
For example, the company’s attitude to constant change is a contribution to the future. Management boards today must authentically and credibly communicate that they can manage this transformation, even if there are no clear roadmaps for it yet. Communications can convey a sense of purpose and goals.
Large international capital market transactions are also a task for corporate communications – here, stakeholders from a broad spectrum must be addressed and these addresses must be coordinated.
Communicators need a good relationship with the management board
Christof Erhard, honorary professor at the University of Leipzig and currently head of communications at Robert Bosch, describes a major problem in communications: the relationship between the board of directors and the head of communications is usually a fiefdom. All legitimation of a head of communications comes from this relationship, he says, a kind of borrowed power. Consequently, if the board of management has to go, the head of communications must go, too. Erhard has tried to change this by increasing the surface area of his department into the organization. This means that even the bosses at lower hierarchical levels must understand what communication does for them.
How do communicators gain attention for their performance?
Committed communicators can take advantage of the volatility of their working environment and open up new fields of activity before others occupy them. They should be able get into the mind of top managers who do rarely focus on the stakeholder perspective.
In recent years, communication managers have had to perform more and more tasks, with less and less money and an aging workforce. Communication controlling can help to avoid losing even more resources and relieve the pressure.
Communication management and communication controlling are able to organize the multitude of factors that mutually influence each other in this stakeholder world, thus providing decision makers with data-based decision templates and defining metrics for project progress and success. Controlling in this context means management with measurable goals, and these goals must be clearly defined. The perfect metric simply needs to indicate when it is time for those responsible to sit down together and discuss apparent changes of the metric.
“Successful controlling requires a culture of agreement. We have to get to a point where decision-makers are no longer routinely bombarded with the same reports, but only receive a report when they have to actually decide something.” Prof. Dr. Christopher Storck
Where communication controlling is already well done in practice
There are already some companies that have got off to a good start. Telekom, for example, has implemented Matthias Karmasin’s approach. Instead of communicating the organization, they have organized the company’s communication. Philipp Schindera, the head of communications, said at a communications congress a few years ago that they were in the process of building the largest communications department – every employee becoming an active part of communications. Communication is morphing into an intelligence center: setting clear goals, finding and measuring metrics, while remaining open to reality, looking at what is happening outside and what needs to be reacted to, and thus finding a rational basis for day-to-day business. In addition, Deutsche Telekom has restructured its strategy and made the process completely transparent: For their strategy update, they invite external parties – influencers, consultants – who are even allowed to twitter about it. One or two years ago, all employees were asked in advance about the biggest challenges for the next few years, the results were then voted on and the top ten were then the subject of the strategy offsite. There, projects were worked out, voted on and the best proposals were directly financed.
Relationship of trust between CEO and head of communications necessary
At Telekom, there is a relationship of trust between CEO and head of communications. And CEO Tim Höttges is a great speaker, someone who is himself in social media. He is at ease in this world of communication.
Offering employees a platform
The decisive factor is the culture and the conception of employees in an organisation. An organisation that is afraid of getting into conversation with its employees will have no future. Only a company that initiates such discussion processes can find new answers. EnBW, for example, makes its strategy in-house and does not outsource it to one of the big management consultancies.
The three most important steps in turning communicators into agents of stakeholder management in the company:
- learn to derive the indispensable services of communication from the corporate strategy and goals
- earn valuable impulses to be involved in the strategy process
- stay informed and digitally fit about current and future business models.
Christopher Storck is a partner at the management consultancy Hering Schuppener and Professor of Strategy and Communication Management at Quadriga University Berlin. In his role as a consultant, he supports companies in strategy development and communication, communication strategy and controlling as well as the further development of communication functions in the context of digital transformation. Christopher is also involved in the communications controlling working group of the International Controller Association (ICV) and in the scientific advisory board of the German Association of Communicators (BdKom). Furthermore, he has written on the topics of reputation management, the connection between strategy and communication, and stakeholder-oriented corporate management.