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May 28, 2009

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I'm going to read the book, and continue mulling over his thoughts and yours.

One thing seems pretty clear to me: Communication in the form of this "understanding unit" should be led by someone who also successfully runs a business part of the company. This is tough, it means a lot of explaining and teaching until a senior exec gets the idea, but if it is run by people who brought in cash, or even better, people who are still bringing in cash while building these bridges of understanding, this unit will be respected.

I find it difficult to expect a leader of a company to treat someone whose background is only communication the same as someone with a business background as well.

Most of this thought is probably inspired by the fact that Alexander Heron himself was a businessman who had led his company through tough times, specifically labor negotiations.

Alrighty! Now that I have mopped up the mess from my head exploding, Yossi, I'd like to talk about your comment:

"I find it difficult to expect a leader of a company to treat someone whose background is only communication the same as someone with a business background as well.

"only communications"?! Huh, interesting. That is a typical, but vastly ignorant and myopic - not to mention WRONG - comment.

OY! Most of the communicators I know who work in corporate environments know more about the detailed workings of more departments ACROSS that corporate environment than virtually anyone else in the company! And that INCLUDES the CEO!

Think about it - communicators have to be able to intelligently understand, and then explain concepts and happenings from every department to a variety of audiences with different knowledge and interest levels. You can't DO that if you don't understand it yourself.

And because we DO have to understand this stuff to explain it to others, we have a far deeper and more comprehensive perspective and knowledge of how all these various happenings in all these different departments inter-connect and what that means for the larger business - you know - like, a strategic view?

Yossi - if you are the CEO/President of a large corporation then I forgive you, because we communicators are well used to having to make the value of the expertise we bring clear to the often silo-ed, protected and rarefied vision the CEO typically has of what's going on "in the trenches".

If, however, you are actually a communications person, then shame on you for perpetuating this nonsense myth that communications people don't have "a business background". I'm here to tell you that my every waking moment at work is aggressively focused on our business objectives and in working across the entire company to make them succeed.

I would have to agree with Kristen...if we're in communiations and care about our job, then we'll have a business background just by the sheer nature of the job.

Well, of course I agree to a large extent with my communication brethren, and I should add that Heron was an industrial relations executive, not himself a CEO. In most ways, he had the same perspective that communicators do.

One caveat: Some years ago, I once watched firsthand as IABC's board of directors--then an insanely unwieldy couple dozen-plus--try to make strategic decisions at a board meeting.

I laughed as Lou Williams, the PR agency owner who was running IABC at the time, nearly tore his own penis off in frustration, listening to these numb-nuts communicators try and fail to cut to the chase and make up their minds.

I think smart and curious communicators know a lot--and know a lot more than CEOs give them credit for knowing--but I also believe that managing a budget does not prepare them from managing an organization.

And so I think Yossi's right to the extent that any "understanding unit" has to be led someone (anyone) who thoroughly understands the economics that keep the organization in business.

If that person happens to be a communicator, all the better.


2 things, and then I'm going to let this go:

1) Running an association is vastly different from running a corporation, and is, almost by design set up to be run "by committee" and therefore typically highly dysfunctional.

2) Sometimes managing an organization doesn't prepare you to manage an organization, as the recent banking and real estate debacle has proved.

I do, however completely agree with "any 'understanding unit' has to be led by someone (anyone) who thoroughly understands the economics that keep the organization in business."

I would just be happier (and probably calmer) if we didn't continue to subscribe - sometimes it seems almost automatically - to the mistaken idea that communicators CAN'T fit that description simply by virtue of being communicators.


Kristen:

Okay, okay! Agreed!

David

David:

What? You thought you were the only one around here with a "curmudgeon in good standing" membership card??

You may be the President of that club, but there are other members of the "Yes, we can . . . be crabby!" association!

The reaction reminds me of the joke using the Rorschach test: The old man sees every inkblot as sexual innuendo, and when the therapist confronts him, the patient responds: "you're the one showing me the dirty pictures!"

I have no axe to grind in the executive vs communicator battle, and I'm not even sure of the parameters of the battle. Ditto to politician vs politician battles, as I'd much prefer to stick with one issue at a time, instead of globalizing the issue because it pushed one point that irks me.

A communicator who, on seeing a business problem while gathering information or sharing information, works to solve that problem instead of ignoring it or passing it off, becomes a useful business partner in addition to being a communication partner. This is beyind "strategic communication" or whichever term has and will be used. Reading Heron's wisdom, obviously culled from his practical experience of solving business problems, led me down a train of thought to the idea that being informed about economics, or being aligned with a business unit's strategy, is not the same as implementing the business solution myself.

A journalist does not become an expert in solving problems in the field they cover. A journalist becomes a great resource for information and contacts in their field.

I will equally say that this understanding unit has to be led by people with communication experience and skill as well. But for me to stand on old battle lines, especially battle lines formed by experience of others, is a waste of my time. Where communication is a vital element of senior management's attention, then this cooperation probably exists already. If communication is a problem, then the first step is selling to the suits. I have no interest in the ideological debate of how we communicators should navel gaze and respect ourselves and demand respect etc.

In this case, a unit that will create a certain continuity throughout the company and connect everyone with company culture, every part of the company must come to trust these people. It's part business exec, part communication, part being steeped in company history, part elbow grease, and any other parts you feel need to be thrown in. The only parts I identified are business exec and communicator.

What other concrete parts would this unit need? Maybe I'll find out when I finish reading the book, or inspiration will strike otherwise. Regardless, I know now that I need business experience as well, even as (or perhaps because) I sell execs on the idea that they need experience sharing information with employees.

Right on, Yossi. Keep your insights coming. If you do hit on something during your reading, I'll make room for a guest post.

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