AB Thinks  →  2nd March 2022

IC at the sharp end

AB Thinks

In the first episode of season 7 of The Internal Comms Podcast, host Katie Macaulay discusses results-focused comms strategies with business adviser and leadership coach, Jim Shaffer.

A Fellow of the International Association of Business Communicators, Jim now runs the Jim Shaffer Group – a leadership consulting practice that helps businesses to accelerate results through strategic execution.

Drawing on expertise built up during his impressive career across US politics and management consultancy, Jim is also the author of The Leadership Solution: Say It Do it – a practical, common sense look at how leaders can use communication to solve business problems.

In this episode, Jim carves out the path to more valuable comms which aligns with the executive to improve business performance. He shares examples of comms professionals who have made this bold shift with amazing results.

Here is a breakdown of some of Jim’s key tips to follow their lead:

#1 Get closer to the sharp end of the business
Jim believes it’s time for the role of an internal comms lead to shift from a communication practitioner to a strategic adviser to the leadership. That means understanding fully how the business works, including its strategic goals, and guiding the leadership’s thinking.

Trying to take this approach can be frustrating if your organisation’s strategy is unclear, so Jim suggests tackling this by explaining to the leaders the downsize caused by a vague or overly complex strategy.

You can then look at the wider industry and determine what approaches are going to help your organisation and leadership perform better. In this way you can help build company and comms strategies that have an impact on the business.

#2 Do your research and stay fact-based
Jim believes that the more fact- and business-focused you are, the less you’ll be seen as ‘just another communicator’.

He advocates conducting interviews with individuals across different areas and levels of the business to unearth obstacles to company performance and issues around employee satisfaction. You may find that some company policies, like reward systems, are conveying messages that don’t align with the business’ goals or formal comms messaging.

Gathering and analysing this research can help you convey to executives why you recommend a particular communication or business strategy from a fact-based perspective that emphasises the power of comms to deliver improved business performance.

#3 Shift your focus to business gains
Jim argues that comms professionals should be creating gains larger than the cost of creating them, which requires thinking about whether the work done each day or week is actually going to create those gains.

That also means shifting your ROI analysis away from clicks, opens, mentions, and so on. Jim claims there’s no real connection between the number of opens and their impact on an organisation’s quality, service, costs or speed. Instead, he says, focus first on eliminating communication breakdowns that are causing underperformance.

In the same vein, if your business leader comes to you asking for a comms plan that ‘raises awareness’ around their new big initiative, go back to them and push for a sharper, more tangible objective.

Although this shift might be challenging at first, it will reap rewards.

#4 Differentiate between communicating to change versus about change
Communicating about change is the ‘why’ – why the business needs to change to adapt to shifting conditions like the economy, new products or services in the marketplace, and customer requirements.

Communicating to change is the ‘how’ – it captures how things need to be done to make those changes. It’s focused on updating goals and measures, leadership style and behaviour, rewards and recognition, technology, communication processes, and activities and work processes.

So, the first is ‘Why are we doing this?’ and the second is ‘What needs to happen for us to do it well?’. Jim believes we need to spend more time on the latter – the ‘how’ – because that’s what really makes a difference for businesses.