Communicators today must think and practice strategically to be relevant in today's organisations, achieving measurable results and influencing reputation and performance, says Deon Binnemann.
Binnemann recently facilitated a Strategic Communications Course at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg. The workshop covered strategic planning, strategic communication planning, reputation management and stakeholder profiling issues. This is an extract of some of the insights that he shared with his audience.
The main premise of the workshop was the following:
- That communicators must think and practice strategically to be relevant in today's organisations.
- That the only reason organisational communication exists is to achieve measurable results that help the organisation achieve its mission.
- And that the focus of communication is to impact and influence reputation and performance.
Lester R. Potter in "The Communication Plan", an IABC course manual, once wrote that "Communicators can learn a great deal from 'classical strategic planning'. The process and its techniques, language, and methods of measuring success, all combine to help the organisational communicator learn to think strategically and manage communication in a strategic manner".
Communication approaches have changed dramatically over the years. Look at these changes:
- 1950-70s: externally focused, one-way, to tell and sell.
- 1970-80s: internally focused, two-way but sender-oriented.
- 1990s onwards: values, mission and vision.
- 2000+ : sustainability; transparency; value-add; social responsibility/ receiver-oriented or receiver (stakeholder) driven
As definitions create lenses through which we look at the world, I shared with the audience two definitions that I used as a basis for the work that we did.
The first one came from the book by Ristino and Peters, entitled "Strategic Communications": "Integrated Strategic Communication is the process of coordinating all organizational communications, both internally and externally, to develop and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders, by ensuring the right message is targeted to the right audience at the right time and at the right place."
The second definition came from a consultant in the USA, Diane Gayeski: "Integrated communications is the application of analysis, communication, and evaluation techniques to create and manage integrated, multi-faceted interventions, combining information, instruction, collaboration, business process design, feedback, and incentive systems to improve human performance in the workplace in order to achieve organizations' desired missions and visions".
Using these definitions I went on to share with the audience how to enhance transparency in the business using the Johari Window model. This model can serve as a basis for the development of a strategic communication plan that will take into account proper stakeholder profiling research (identification, information, need research, media and the development of a communication–strategy matrix that will take into account individual stakeholder needs and interests).
Writers and corporate governance initiatives across the globe have been pleading with companies to become more transparent in their dealings with stakeholders.
The benefits for a company that becomes more transparent includes the closing of information and perception gaps, likely increases in share price values (because stakeholders such as analysts will perceive the difference between the importance of certain information and the degree to which it is reported); better understanding and ultimately improvement of the trust factor in business relationships.
The problem lies in how to improve transparency. One way to impact on transparency is to adapt some traditional models of interpersonal communication for use in an organizational context such as the Johari Window. This communication model — developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1969, helps people improve interpersonal interactions through assessing the ways in which they give and receive information.
Within the context of transparency in organisations, the Johari Window can help — also through open two-way communication. If directors understand this concept, they will be more inclined to want to become transparent. But first, it's important to understand how the model works on a personal level.
The Johari window is a grid divided into four regions that represent different types of information exchanged during communication. The basic concept of the model is that open, two-way communication can enhance interpersonal effectiveness:
- Region 1, the Arena, is the area of shared information. When people share information and understand each other, their interpersonal relationships tend to be better. The larger the Arena (the more shared information), the more effective, productive, and mutually beneficial an interpersonal relationship is likely to be.
- Region 2, the Blind spot, involves information that is known by others but not oneself. The Blind spot can damage interpersonal relationships because it's almost impossible to truly understand people's actions, thoughts, and feelings without knowing why they behave and think the way they do.
- Region 3, the Facade, hinders interpersonal effectiveness in that the information in this area favours only oneself. Information in the Facade protects people from others knowing negative things about them. People might not share such information simply because they're apathetic. But more often, it can be because they desire power and control.
- Region 4, the Unknown, involves information that is unknown by others and oneself. The area of the Unknown has the most potential for creativity, if all parties are willing to work together to gather information.
In many companies, management may try to keep information from stakeholders for the same reasons that people keep information from each other in personal relationships: fear, power, and apathy. This creates a small organizational Arena and a large organizational Facade.
A large Facade favours companies and puts stakeholders at a disadvantage. This often leads stakeholders to distrust, dislike, and even sabotage change initiatives such as mergers. In addition, a Blind spot can form when managers are unaware of stakeholders' thoughts and feelings.
The Johari Window can be adapted to help organisations become more transparent by enhancing communication. It's important to expand the Arena along the two axes, Feedback and Exposure, which are, pivotal to effective communication. Exposing more information to others expands the Arena along the vertical axis. Increasing feedback expands the Arena along the horizontal axis.
Every person tunes into one radio station – WIIFM – "What's in it for me?" By improving organisation communication initiatives with stakeholders, they will be more willing to listen to issues that affect the organisation, and they will most likely be more willing to support the organisation.