We are in the midst of a transitional period for communicators, where traditional skills no longer are cutting it. We need some guidance to forge ahead in our careers. In response to a widely expressed call for competency-building support, we identified the skills that are most critical for communications professionals given where things seem to be trending. As we’ve had the opportunity to assess thousands of communicators across the world on where they feel the most need for support, here is how the skills ranked, from biggest development opportunity at the top, down to the skills we feel the most confident in (see lower right).
Take note of the top two development areas. Here’s a little more perspective on those—as well as one red herring down the list that we suspect most communicators are not doing as well as they think.
The good news (truly) is that we have been making life harder on ourselves than need be. The key is to set communications aside and think business, business, business. To that end, there is a four-step approach to measurement that will set up communicators for better solutions and more meaningful measurement:
1. Determine the business outcome—and business metric—behind a given request. What is occurring in a business that is driving this request? We want to turn that initial interaction from a tactical communications conversation to a business conversation. Once we figure out what the client is trying to achieve with his/her business, we need to ask how the client will measure success. But, there’s a caveat. When you ask a business partner what he/she is trying to achieve, the partner may at times say something like ‘we want to build awareness’ or ‘increase engagement.’ Awareness and engagement are not business outcomes.
No one has any idea what they are, really, without attaching them to actual scenarios. So be sure to push this initial conversation towards a descriptive conversation about the business.
2. Identify associated stakeholder behaviors. Business outcomes result from real people doing real things. Once we understand the business outcome behind a given request, we want to consider the various stakeholders who could be involved in that outcome, and what we would need them to do.
Our job then is to figure out, based on what makes most sense from a business and a communications perspective, which stakeholder behavior deserves our focus.
In this way, a big goal like increasing productivity will be reduced to a more manageable piece of the action, such as “we need nonwired employees to start following all of the new procedures we introduced this past year.” That’s a very specific behavioral goal.
3. Diagnose barriers to behavior. Now we’re going to equip ourselves to come up with a stellar communications solution by asking the incisive question: What is keeping them from doing what we want them to do? They’re not aware? They don’t agree? They’re not able to? Something’s too difficult? No one else is doing it? They’re getting mixed signals?
The better we understand the nature of the barrier to behavior change, the more precise and effective our solutions can be.
4. Determine your communications activities. This is the first time we’re thinking specifically about communications rather than focusing on business. You must know the business outcome and how it will be measured, who needs to do what and how it will be measured, realizing what barriers stand in the way of behavioral change. Once you have these elements nailed down you can design a great communications solution. Regardless of the communications metrics we choose, they will be more meaningful because they will be within the context of behavioral and business metrics.
Remember: We want to have business conversations rather than communications conversations with our business partners. When we constantly engage in tactical communications conversations with internal partners, we set the expectation that they should come with a list of suggested solutions. While we work with a lot of accomplished people who have good ideas, they are not communications professionals. What do they want to achieve and why is it important right now? If we can turn the conversation there—to the business, which is our common ground—then we can start getting the type of information that leads to more impactful (and measurable) support.
Why do we bring this up in reference to business acumen? When we’re having business conversations day in and day out, it’s amazing how quickly the acumen ramps up.
Dorian Cundick is an executive advisor at CEB. Follow her and CEB’s insights on Twitter, @CEB_News
This article originally appeared in the February 9, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.