27 thoughts on “Redefining communication

  1. Hi kevin, I absolutely agree with you about business strategy and organisational design being the starting point. I’d also say that vision and purpose are pretty much up there even before strategy and org design. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. One of the realisations I’ve had recently is that this is an urgent discussion for “communications people.”

    Here’s a couple of blogs by the authors of a new book about the “Informal Organisation.”



    I haven’t read the book yet because it’s published in the USA first and I haven’t felt the urge to pay extra to get it ahead of the UK publish date – (I’m busy.)

    What’s interesting about the book is it comes from management consultants. There’s a trend, with the decline of strategy consulting (an interesting topic for another day) for management consultancies to look at other parts of consulting… and away from their original mechanistic certainties… so they are soon going to be creating integrated frameworks, including comms, from their vantage point and point of view…

    1. Violent agreement as usual – in fact it is one of the things driving my strategy for the global practice I run! Getting prople to pull their head out of the sand. This is a slide from a presentation I sometimes use to show the threat to any communication business from nontraditional competitors. It’s why I get so fired up when communicators behave as if deep functional expertise is going to continue to be relevant and add sufficient value to justify their employment!

      I subscribe to McKinsey Quarterly – a happy trade for my IABC membership – and believe me, they are ALL OVER the people / employee agenda.

    2. “…soon going to be creating integrated frameworks…”? Erm… McKinsey’s 7S model has been around for yonks and no doubt supports a much more robust, ‘whole systems’ analysis of an organisation than most incumbent players in the brand and engagement space are used to applying.

      As Kevin suggests, that’s precisely why those incumbents should be scared of any attempted turf-grab by the big management consultancies.

      A bit of “value discipline”-style thinking required by communicators here I think – i.e. meeting threshold levels of performance in the interdisciplinary “joining the dots” stakes, so that the kind of specialist knowledge and experience described by Mike below can actually shine through as a genuine differentiator.

      1. Ok, Dan, if you want to be pedantic:

        “soon going to be putting a lot more effort into selling and providing integrated solutions”

        7S has been around for years, but the soft 4S side has typically just been window dressing/lip service – they haven’t actually been looking to get 4S business very often… that’s what’s changing at the moment…

        As for the value disciplines…

        The problem I see, which is why I’m commenting on “redefining communication” is that the specialist knowledge and experience of many communicators (not Mike) is incomplete, because they’ve worked for years with a incomplete definition of comms. That makes them really vulnerable, even if they do as you suggest and improve their interdisciplinary side to “threshold levels.”

        I’m guessing where we also differ is in what we each classify as “threshold level” for “joining the dots.”

    3. Sorry, Indy – wasn’t meaning to be pedantic. Perhaps I shouldn’t have deleted something I’d originally incorporated into my response, which was to say pretty much exactly what you’ve just written – i.e. it’s not that the models don’t exist (they do), it’s that the “soft diamond” of McKinsey’s 7Ss is now being given the top billing for a change.

      As for classifying the threshold level for joining the dots, I’d be surprised if we differ at all. As Kevin puts it, I’m in “violent agreement” with you in your observations on the “incompleteness” of many communicators’ stance towards the job we do.

      My point in raising the value-discipline analogy was simply to suggest a broad objective/direction of travel, not to imply that it would be easy actually getting there!

      1. … and I totally take your point that the “specialist” side of the equation will take just as much work as the “interdisciplinary bit. 🙂

      2. Fair enough… I’m probably just grumpy this morning… something to do with whether it’s a democracy when some votes are worth so much less than others… 😉

    4. I hear you. So one party polls 29% of the vote and gets 251 seats, another polls 23% and gets 51 (as things currently stand). It’s 1983 all over again!

    5. Hi Indy. Finally checked out the links. Jon and Zia and I worked on a project together a while ago. So fun to see the book I’d been hearing about came to fruition. I think Booz bought Katzenbach Partners [Jon’s company] for this very reason. Interestingly many of the key players didn’t last through the transition. They will need to change their own cultures before they can attract and keep this kind of talent. An opportunity?

      1. Hi Deborah. Great to hear from someone who knows the people! It’s interesting to hear that they came to Booz from the outside, I did have trouble working out how these ideas would gestate inside the Booz culture that I have seen.

        As for changing that culture – definitely an opportunity! It’s a really challenging project – on top of attracting and keeping the right kind of talent, I think they need the culture shift to be able to deliver the kind of work they seem to be talking about.

        Of course I still haven’t read the book… so I’m speculating at a distance, still.

  3. I disagree.

    Words matter, and who you are is more important than what you do.

    Strategy, design, organizational behavior, philosophy, business logic and empathy with those in senior positions and those in pressure points around the business are all crucial to what we do as communicators, but we are communicators, not junior CEOs.

    And it’s a damn good thing we’re communicators too–because for the most part, other folks tasked in those areas don’t have the synthesis, storytelling, messaging and visioning skills we have, skills that can bring all that other stuff to life–with powerful context and well defined content.

    Don’t get me wrong–the underlying point about our seriousness as practitioners overriding sectarianism of practice is a valid one–indeed, witness the exchange with my buddy Ago Cluytens in Geneva on this very subject http://bit.ly/9jRCy8.

    Mike Klein–The Intersection, Brussels

    1. Well we agree to disagree. I suppose I could say I am perhaps a “junior CEO”; I report to a CEO and I run a global practice and have P&L responsibility, and I advise CEOs – particularly around how communication can support their business strategy. And often those conversations have an impact on the business strategy itself. They reinforce each other.

      Of course my core skill is communication and that is the value I bring to my organisation and my clients. the difference is, I guess, one of intent and perspective. I’m not there to “just” communicate “the programme”. I’m pretty relentless in ensuring line of sight to the strategic picture. That’s the value add, to me; thinking about it, it’s probably why I bristle at communication associations and Gold Quill awards. They seem to focus perhaps too much on the craftsmanship – which is fine, and valuable – but not on the value add.

      I don’t at all disagree with the point that we need professional communicators with the knowledge and skills of the profession applied to the challenges of organisational life. My point is if we continue to focus ONLY on those skills and that knowledge, it’s relatively easy to duplicate and substitute (at least from “the management perspective.”) If you don’t think a McKinsey consultant can’t dissect what we do in about 2 weeks you’re kidding yourself. We should be afraid, very afraid 😉

      And bickering about terminology is a waste of time and makes you look like inch-wide boffins sitting in the corner discussing the semantics of a press release. What value does that add?

      Of course words are important. Words inspire and connect ideas. But there’s a difference to be spotted.

  4. Terminology isn’t about bickering. As much as they can inspire and connect ideas, words also connect people–language and definitions are core to communication, and to the point–they are core to what Godin and Logan call tribal identification.

    Sure we are “business advisors”, but so are the people who oversee SAP installations. Sure we can impact business strategy, but my friends in Enterprise Architecture do as well.

    Are we the same tribe as SAP boffins and Enterprise Architects? No. We are communicators. Some of us are more effective than others, but we bring common as well as unique expertise.

    I’ll agree to disagree. And I won’t be disagreeable about it. 🙂


  5. Gosh and I thought we were about humanizing an organization’s most strategic relationships.

    As for naming what that is, you know where I stand on that.

    Cheers Deborah, Debbie, Deb … & every now and then Wendy!?

  6. This is a great conversation. I know CommScrummers might appear to just attack how others do stuff, and I know that it might appear that way, but Dan and Indy you guys are both evangelists for the same thing as am I.

    And that is – communication, particularly with employees, has traditionally been seen as the channel/container for stuff that “others” cook up. The communicator polishes it, makes it pretty, gets it out there, people discuss it, and they measure the before and after. Yawn! Yawn! Yawn!

    We are looking at the next level which is a step change – Indy I know you know this and Dan I know you know this because we have done it with clients. That is: your communication not only helps you to realise your business strategy, it can and should become a significant and almost impossible to unravel part of that strategy. A client Dan and I worked with, and two other “brand strategy” clients I am working with currently, have all had this light bulb go off.

    And Indy is right, it’s stuff McKinsey has been saying for yonks. The difference being McKinnsey faces the opposite problem – lack of core communication and creative competence. But don’t for a moment think that that isn’t hard to build up and duplicate. Service line extension by competitive disciplines is one of the few growth areas left.

    So that’s why CommScrum and Dan and I are “hyperbolic” and unapologetically so. We’re trying (how noble it sounds) to save the employee communications profession from its own myopic view of what communication is and isn’t.

    And if you look at any 5 past and 5 upcoming conference prospectuses, this IS NOT ON THE RADAR. “Using Social Media to enhance employee communications”. “Improving your measurement approach.” “Storytelling as an employee communications technique.” When are we going to see “Applying the Value Discipline model to communication management”? We aren’t. (1) the standard communication conference organisers just simply would not see the connection and (2) you would have to pay to speak anyway.

  7. Very interesting comment about “Value Discipline” and conference agendas. Maybe that’s because conferences these days seek more to “train” or even “validate” rather than to educate.

    Maybe the next brave step would be a serious B-School Exec Ed week for senior comms pros? I know IABC is doing a week of accreditation boot camp (so there is a market for residential courses), but this would be more like rocket fuel than mere accreditation.

    Mike Klein–The Intersection, Brussels

    1. Right on Mike. I have toyed for years with the idea of running a 1 week residential “boot camp” then backed off when Melcrum did their paint by number Black Belt course.

      But, the idea remains intriguing. As long as we don’t have turgid presentations on “How to write for the web”, “Social media and internal communications,” and “Cultural communications tips”…

  8. Mike – I’m certain there are opportunities in the Exec Ed week area, but maybe the other thing is, this idea and others (I’m sure we all have a few) – belong on a brainstorming thread about themes for the Unconference?

    KK: “Applying the Value Discipline model to communication management”?

    I might toss in: “Beyond Systems Thinking: How Complexity should change your communications approach.” although perhaps at the theme level it’s more about “Situational thinking.”

  9. Hi again Indy. Couldn’t respond to your comment above in this thread. Agree with your observation on delivery and the challenge for strategy consultancies.

    I haven’t read the book either but our work together was very interesting approach using informal networks starting from the front lines. Fascinating approach they called Pride-building [started by identifying people who both get and exceed business results while also achieving high employee value and had high team building skills and then creating support for them to share what they learned through communities of practice]. And though we were learning and testing as we went it was starting to generate real and potentially lasting change and then… New CEO. You know the rest.

    BTW – Maybe it’s time for a virtual/Skype book club!

    1. Hey Deborah. The project sounds rather cool, certainly I like all the themes, learn and test, informal networks, communities of practice… Shame about the new CEO… I know the rest all too well.

      Virtual/Skype book club sounds fun!

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