As the steward of the brand, communicators need to deftly move among the various leaders in the C-suite to understand and engage their work. Today’s communicators need to practice a kind of integrated leadership that allows us to collaborate with others and see the connection points in everyone’s role.
Here are five tips to help you break down the silos and work with different people throughout a company—from IT to human resources and beyond—so you can integrate all the assets to build a successful brand.
1. You’re only as smart as the conversations you’re in. To learn what is going on throughout the organization, place yourself in as many conversations and meetings as possible that are not related to communications so you can learn first-hand about key initiatives and strategies.
At Kaiser Permanente, our communication specialists attend meetings and conferences focused on various aspects of our business.
For example, we attend our organization’s quality conference, diversity conference and innovation summits to find out what kind of work is happening within the organization and how we can better serve our clients internally and tell our story externally.
2. Broaden your horizons. Expose yourself to a broad level of subjects in order to understand all aspects of a company’s brand. This means learning new technologies or trying different approaches to gain new insights. Last year I judged a code-a-thon put on by our IT department. Despite not knowing a line of code, I was inspired by the format of nonstop work to solve a problem and come up with solutions designed to enhance our delivery of care and coverage.
Later, we held our own design-a-thon, where we engaged with the community. Brand communication partnered with IT to brainstorm technology that could engage diverse consumers.
3. Stop and listen. Sometimes we get so busy telling people what we need that we forget that they have something to say. Fred Cook, CEO of GolinHarris, recently published a career-advice book, titled “Improvise.” In one chapter, “Listen to a Guru,” Cook writes about how while traveling through the Himalayas he met a man who introduced himself as the “Hippie Guru of Darjeeling.”
As the guru talked about his mastery of the spiritual world, Cook wanted to impress him with his own knowledge of Eastern religion and launched into a debate about an obscure English author.
The guru responded with a left hook to Cook’s jaw. Cook writes that the incident taught him a valuable lesson: “Sometimes you should just shut up! … If you’re not talking or texting, a miraculous thing happens—you actually hear what the other person is saying.”
4. Invite people to meetings with no agenda. I meet monthly with leaders from various functions to keep me connected, not only because we serve them, but also to learn about their areas of expertise. In a large organization, these are people we may see occasionally yet engage with primarily on conference calls. But by meeting face-to-face with no particular agenda, except perhaps topics of shared interest, it helps build relationships.
5. Build an entourage. Cook offers another piece of advice: “I have learned from experience that no matter how good you think you are, you will not be successful without the support of your peers and your team.” This is so true.
I surround myself with communication experts who have their own particular expertise, and with whom I feel comfortable sending out to represent me.
If we build our team with executives who have skills we might not have, such as a deep knowledge of information technology metrics or public policy, they can support us when we’re working with departments we may not be familiar with, and in the end help us look smarter.
So the next time you hear about something happening within your organization and you think it’s not your responsibility as a communicator, think again. Our world is getting smaller, and our reach is getting wider. Every informational tidbit we learn helps inform an integrated approach to telling our story.
Diane Gage Lofgren is chief communication officer and senior VP of brand communication at Kaiser Permanente. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the May 12, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.