News & Views

Is the communications function ready to step up?

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” — Peter Drucker

Drucker’s Forum confusion

When the 11th Peter Drucker Forum came to a close last Friday in Vienna, having focused on “The Power of Ecosystems: managing in a networked world,” it was interesting to reflect on how the theme of the conference had unwittingly created a degree of confusion. What is an ecosystem? Does it refer to the way an enterprise organises itself, where it might not own assets or employ the workers? Or should we see ecosystems in the broader dimension of multiple stakeholders working together in the socio-economic context? The confusion certainly led to some interesting debates.

Key powers shaping ecosystem 

It is not easy to summarise discussions which consider so many perspectives on a relatively complex issue. However, there were several recurring themes. As was pointed out, for many years these themes have been dismissed as “soft stuff” but it is very evident that they are not soft anymore. Indeed, all of the key trends are very relevant for advocacy and communications professionals.

1. The power of organisational purpose – employees and consumers alike need to believe in an organisation beyond its products and services. The question “why” drives both employment choices and consumer selection.

2. The power of narratives – expressing the essence and the North Star of an organisation is critical. Narratives don’t just shape communication but reflect the truth of an organisation. Their impact can be seen beyond the mere structure of an organisation to its interconnected reality.

3. The power of multilateralism – it is impossible to ignore the shaping forces of an organisational environment. There are more stakeholders than ever. More individuals and organisations consider themselves impacted by an organisation. And global frameworks of cooperation such as the Sustainable Development Goals favour cooperation beyond a close circle.

4. The power of uncertainty – both business models and expectations from consumers change. These shifts require organisations to be extremely agile and adaptive to the changing circumstances. Internal entrepreneurship becomes critical for success.

5. New forces in society – existing static concentrations of power are being shaken by socio-economic developments. It means that companies need to re-think their role in society and take a more proactive stance on a wider range of subjects. If they don’t, they risk losing relevance.

So where does that leave the communications function?

All of these trends are relevant to the way communications and advocacy strategies are shaped and managed. What have tended to be seen in management science and practice as “soft stuff” and regarded as relatively less important than quantitative evaluations have suddenly become more serious and core to organisational success. Yet the majority of organisations and their communication functions are still not ready for a shift to a place in which communication becomes a core business driver and not just a conveyer of decisions taken by others:

1. Communication requires a stronger focus on listening and development of evidence-based intelligence for organisations.

2. It needs to be seen as a core organisational function and not a support function. The role of communication should not be limited to conveying the messages.

3. Externally facing functions of the organisation need to be aligned to respond multiple stakeholders’ expectations.

These will inevitably lead to a higher degree of professionalisation of the function and in turn guarantee the holy grail of the function — a seat at the C-table.