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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Preposterously Sensible,Workable
Reorganization of Communication

Here’s an idea to stir your imagination and crack your categories: create the position of Chief Communication Officer reporting to the CEO and have marketing, legal, and human resources report to her or him.

How’s that for an attention-getter? Stay with me: there’s a purpose in my apparent madness.

… most executives admit that quality communication -- listening, sharing, trusting, etc. -- is one of the greatest needs of the organization, right up there with robust sales and happy shareholders;

    And if … communication is everyone’s responsibility;

    And if … many, if not most, executives view communication in their organizations as poor because no one is taking the lead in defining and fostering it;

      Then … a Chief Communication Officer reporting to the CEO and with strategic and broad managerial authority is needed.
3 Scenarios
    1 Marketing reports to Communication
    It makes sense – at least to management – that communication should report to the head of marketing, not the other way around. The logic goes like this: if market penetration and expansion are critical to an organization, and communication is critical to marketing, then why not link the two?

    I agree, as long as the “communication” function is defined for what it is: information distribution and promotion, nothing more. Call it Marketing Communication if the function actually engages the market in an exchange that defines needs and adjusts products to meet those needs. Otherwise, call it Product Promotion. And don’t assign the organization’s communication team to the marketing department for convenience. The function will default to product not organizational needs.

    If Communication were to manage Marketing:
    • current and prospective customers would be viewed as a major organizational stakeholder/audience and yet balanced against the value of other stakeholders (employees, shareholders, even the public);
    • new markets and products would be weighed against job gains and losses, risk to shareholders, corporate responsibility, and long-term impact -- all communication and perception issues;
    • data-sharing (non-confidential) would be expanded, inter-departmental and inter-regional collaboration would be increased, and efficient digital communication tools (intranet, wickis, social media, etc.) would be required.

    2 Legal reports to Communication

    Granted, this one may strike you as puzzling. However, think of the main problem we non-lawyers have with lawyers: puzzling language. Legal writing is a genre that no one reads except lawyers.

    Under the current corporate structure, the legal department makes a courtesy call (sometimes) to the head of communication to inform him or her about a matter that has already occurred or a decision that has already been made, and the communicator is expected to explain it, if necessary, to affected audiences. That often puts communicators in the position of creative weasel-wording.

    I have to get this off my chest, once more. The ultimate example of this scenario for me was being told by my company’s corporate lawyers that they had copyrighted the annual report – yes, copyrighted! – because they felt that reporters had misinterpreted information from the previous year’s annual report. I headed Corporate Communication, and I cannot tell you the number of reporters to whom I had to peddle a thin justification.

    If Communication were to manage Legal:
    • For starters, all concerned parties would be briefed on the circumstances that led to the legal group being involved in various issues;
    • legal documents would be approved only if someone without a legal background could understand them and only if they could be digested in 15 minutes;
    • law department activities would be transparent;
    • lawyers would be respected for their expertise, collaboration, and humanness; and
    • all staff lawyers would be required to complete a core curriculum of communication courses, with a focus on communication concepts and plain-English writing.

    3 Human Resources reports to Communication
    “Human Resources” is certainly a much improved label over the long used “Personnel,” and yet the name still suggests that people are in the same category as raw materials, money, and other resources that are managed, manipulated, and planned.

    Unfortunately, HR staffs have been perceived – often unfairly -- as people processors, more intent on policy and procedures than on potential. In some organizations, HR has spawned human resources development functions to create programs for developing potential. But shouldn’t the development of people be a total organizational mindset that focuses more on people mostly self-developing than on signing up for programs?

    If Communication were to manage Human Resources:
    • Employees would be viewed as one large social network with many nodes linking human sub-networks;
    • the network would have access to or at least know where to find non-proprietary information that managers now hold tightly on hard drives or forget to share;
    • formal training programs would continue to be offered but the emphasis would shift to encouraging, engaging, and channeling people toward informal learning;
    • empowerment would mean employees empowering themselves to generate ideas that improve the efficiency of the organization; and
    • loyalty would not be presumed but would be contractual: “I, the employee, promise to work hard and smart and to expand my abilities continuously to improve the organization in return for the organization providing me with the tools and communication to achieve and find satisfaction in my work and job role.
The preposterous idea becomes workable only if the Chief Communication Officer matches the following:

5 Criteria

  1. Know as much about business as about communication.
  2. Know as much about human dynamics -- interpersonal and group dynamics -- as communication tactics.
  3. Know the gaps in the communication staff’s knowledge and skills regarding marketing, legal, and human resources, and fill those gaps.
  4. Know the difference between information and communication, between form and function, and between innovative ideas and time-wasters.
  5. Think strategically, talk authoritatively, write convincingly, and enable others.

Richard Skaare 02.10.09


Benjamin Lukoff said...

I could never be a CCO, but I would love to work in an organization with one. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I've worked in a company with a CCO reporting to the CEOand it's great. The paralel talks stoped. Yeah great post.

Tori said...

What a fabulous idea, I would love to work for an organization like this. Do you have any examples Richard? By the way I retweeted this blog entry. Hope you get lots of traffic!


Anonymous said...

What a great post. It reminded me of all my frustrations working as a communications professional in a corporate setting. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

I like the idea of creating an internal corporate social network. Facebook for the company. We will see more of this as companies start to move the work force off-site to save more on overhead.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a CCO in all organisations. Communication is always given lip service as being important but if you ask most people within an organisation they say they do not know what is going on and communications are poor.