Does communication really make a difference?

Guest post from #11ways co-creator Stephen Welch:

Billions of dollars a year invested in communication by organizations around the world in an effort to improve how they communicate, and make an impact with their target audiences.

Does it really make a difference?

Well to those billions and millions, we can add thousands. Thousands of minutes invested by communication professionals around the world to participate in the second version of the #11ways survey. And what do this year’s results reveal?  Does communication make a difference?

It seems the answer is “yes”.

Our research – covering over 100 organizations with over a million employees – tells us that there are some clear differences between high performing organizations and others in terms of their communications.

  • 89% of high performers align communications and strategy, but only 58% of average companies do.
  • High performing organizations (HPOs) are 3x more likely to rate their communications as excellent or very good.

Of course, correlation and causation are two separate things but a clear theme emerges in high performing organizations – a theme which is absent from the others:

They think about impact, not just output.

The high performers, for example, are more likely to keep their language simple, make emotional connections, and think about communication from the audience’s point of view.

In these organizations, we also see stronger connections between the communications team and the rest of the business:

  • In a HPO, communicators are over 2x as likely to claim that they have strong business know-how and operational understanding. Less than one in five communicators in an average organization would say this.
  • In an average company, only 12% of communicators rate the communication skills of line managers and business leaders as excellent or very good. This figure is 3x higher in a HPO.

However, despite these indications that there is a connection between being and HPO and being a good communicator, there is still some way to go if communicators want to really make a difference:

  • Across the whole sample, only a quarter of communicators would rate their organization as excellent or very good at communication.
  • Almost three in ten admit that some of their communication is not aligned to strategy and goals.
  • 53% keep their language simple and jargon free. Too bad the other half obfuscate.
  • 34% still measure their success by their number of twitter followers or facebook likes; and less than one in ten links communication to sales, profit or productivity.

Communicators still struggle to make an impact, it seems. Especially in a world where 96% of senior managers think they are good communicators. And when a communicator does come along – to give some advice or coaching – it is hard to make an impact if you only have a one in four chance of having business knowledge or operational understanding. As a business leader, why should I listen to you if a) I think I’m quite good anyway, and b) you don’t understand my business?

There are some hopeful signs, though. Since our 2014 survey, we’ve seen some positive trends:

  • While less than three-quarters say they align communication strategy and goals, this is at least significantly up from the 2014 figure (from 54% to 71%).
  • The number who aim for simple and jargon-free language has gone from 32% to 53%.
  • Almost half (47%) have processes for creating great stories, up from 31%.
  • 53% claim to regularly make emotional connections, up from 34%.

So there is hope, but still a long way to go.

Note: this is the preliminary report from the 2015 #11ways research, conducted April-May 2015, across 124 organizations. For fuller details, data and quotes, please get in touch.

For more information or detailed analysis, please contact:

Stephen Welch | Dana Poole | Michael Ambjorn

‘Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing’

VMA Group's UK/SA Communicator's Network banner… so said Oscar Wilde … and I’d add it to it that you can’t get solid experience without engagement – and that was the topic I was asked to cover at this morning’s South Africa / UK Communicator’s Breakfast, hosted by Lisa Wannell at the VMA Group HQ in London’s leafy Bedford Square.

Specifically, I shared insights from the recent #IABCafrica14 conference in Cape Town. The attendees at the VMA session were from a range of corporates; agencies; freelancers – and also a senior communicator with experience of the workings of the South African government.

To suit the time of day I was asked to keep my brief talk easy-going and accessible – which I hope you’ll find is what follows, set out in an A-Z format (of sorts).

South Africa is a unique environment, yet good practice knows no borders if you adjust for context – there’s a lot to learn and plenty to get on with!

Here’s what I took away on how to engage on the original continent:

  • Global LinkedIn statsS – is for Social – and it is still growing – for example, 3m people are now on LinkedIn (vs. 17m for the UK) [for context, compare population counts of 52m vs 64m ].
    • Tip: if you’re looking to operate in South Africa, get ahead of the curve and be sure to have a social presence. The LinkedIn Executive Playbook may come in handy if you want to lead from the front.
  • U – is for Underground – who knew De Beers have coal mines too? (To be fair, they have a point: it is all carbon – some of it is just more dense).
    • Tip: more to the point, there are some real good practice gems out there to be picked up – not to mention an opportunity for yours to be recognised: http://gq.iabc.com/

Tortoise on the loose #IABCafrica14

  • A – is for Alignment – something that is easier to arrive at if you use the IABC Global Standard: Ethics, Consistency, Context, Analysis, Strategy, Engage…
  • F – is for Friendly – where else do you get such a warm welcome?!
    • Tip: read why venn anyway? – and then mark your calendar for #IABCafrica15 coming up in Johannesburg in 2015! On the road a lot? Then these two may also be of interest: #Eurocomm (London, April ’15), #IABC15 (San Francisco, June ’15). Last but not least, if you want to attend a future UK/SA Breakfast, reach out to Lisa Wannell.
  • R – is for Recognition – South Africa punches well above its weight in terms of Gold Quills.
    • Tip: who doesn’t want to be introduced as ‘the award winning…’ – so to be fair, the bar is high, but that never puts off the best: gq.iabc.com
  • I – is for International – South Africa really is at the global forefront on thinking about corporate governance, specifically through the ongoing work to implement the recommendations from the King III report.
    • Tip: want to boost your understanding of governance and help lead an organisation at the highest strategic level? Learn how, here.
  • C – is for Connectivity – 3G/4G/WiFi can at times be a challenge in South Africa. It is most definitively not evenly distributed – but then again, neither is it in the UK. It is easy to be misled by the relative bubble that is London.
  • A – is for Action… ask yourself: are you doing what you love?
    • YES: great! Glad to hear it. Now is the perfect time to update your CV. Build your network before you need it. Need help? Work with your recruiter – and get out there and share the good practice you’ve built up (links galore above!).
    • Maybe: that’s entirely normal – build your network before you need it. Get a perspective from a recruiter – and get out there and network. There are a panoply of links above to get you started…
    • I’m starting my own… brilliant – and good luck. This might come in handy.

Either way, be sure to let me know how you get on. If you think somebody else could benefit from the above, please do share it.

Michael Ambjorn is founder of // Align Your Org – and Vice Chair @IABC. You can follow him @michaelambjorn

Only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals

Benchmarking survey reveals that high performing organizations, when compared to their peers, are:

  • Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free
  • 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
  • Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences
  • 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.

The #11ways benchmarking database, developed by Michael Ambjorn and Stephen Welch, covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees.

“We wanted to develop a database to explore the connections between communication practices and organizational performance”, says Michael. “What are the common communication practices that have an impact on performance?  And are there things that communicators do which actually contribute to organizational underperformance?”

Well it turns out there are.

In their recent session at the World Conference for the International Association of Business Communicators, Michael and Stephen explored these connection with a brand-new presentation format, involving magical mind-games, geo-mapping and role-play.

But the serious research came from the benchmarking survey, which reveals some of the challenges communicators face.

The know-it-all leader and the know-a-little communicator?

Half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communications team to the role of a paper-boy or paper-girl: just delivering the message.  Indeed, some communications departments are referred to the SOS team : “Send Out Stuff”. If corporate leaders are devising the messages they’d better be good at it, but only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communications going on.  Or, as one organization anonymously told us:

“Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!”

So it seems that executives should listen to communicators’ advice more. But only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how and understanding was high. Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people.

Think audience!

High performing organizations are much better at this. Indeed: 71% of them say they think specifically about things form the audience perspective, vs 45% of average organizations. Bu there are other indicators too:

  • Average organizations are 40% more likely to pack a lot of messages into their comms. High performing ones are much more parsimonious about packing messages into comms.
  • Average organizations like to talk about themselves.  High performing ones are more balanced: only five in eight say they like to talk about themselves compared to seven in eight average organizations.
  • Average organizations like jargon: only 21% say they keep their language simple and jargon-free, compared to half of high performing organizations.

So the typical communication in an average organization is stuffed with  messages, ‘all about me’, and has jargon-galore. Where as in a high performing organization, things are likely to be simple, clear and with two-way channels built in.

Hwæt!

Storytelling has become de rigeur in organizations but it doesn’t mean all stories are good ones. High performers seemed to have cracked it by borrowing from Adam Smith and Henry Ford: half of them have developed a process for creating great corporate stories, vs only a quarter of average organizations. Great stories don’t appear, they need to be created, to evolve and to have meaning.

“Hwæt” is the opening line of Beowulf, the epic story that has lasted 1,000 years. Which of your organisation’s stories will last half as long?

“We need to do more as communicators to align our organizations and make use of our professional knowledge. The IABC global standard for communicators is the best place to start. Follow this and you will avoid the #11ways, and deliver great corporate results”, says Michael.

Stephen adds, “When only half of communicators say their work is aligned to business strategy and goals, and less than a third admit to understanding the business, the profession has a serious problem. Luckily these skills are easily taught – I teach them all the time – so there is hope.  But our research tells us that – for many communicators, it is a case of ‘step-up-or-ship out’”.

If you’d like to talk through the full analysis or talk about solutions to these issues, please get in touch:

Stephen Welch | @stephenwelch11 | stephenwelch [at] eml.cc & Michael Ambjorn | @michaelambjorn | michael [at] alignyour.org

#11ways to under-perform? Take the survey

Cross-post from today’s Simply Communicate:

2014 IABC World Conference | 8-11 June | Toronto
At the IABC World Conference, Michael Ambjorn and Stephen Welch will run a session on the #11ways communicators can contribute to organisational under-performance. To add some spice to the presentation, they’ve knocked up a little survey.

The 2014 IABC – International Association of Business Communicators – World Conference will take place in Toronto Canada on 8-11 June.

IABC Board Director Michael Ambjorn and President of IABC UK Stephen Welch, will look at the power of cultural alignment in driving strategic business performance. They will explore how communicators have a role to play in increasing employee engagement, enablement and culture.

To help shape their presentation they are asking for feedback from communication professionals. They write: “We’re hoping for three minutes of your time. Please help us test our thinking by completing this informal questionnaire.

“It’s completely anonymous; a self-selected sample and if you vote twice, we won’t know. So please don’t. You can even pass it to people you know. This is a viral survey not a ‘random sample’ one.

“If, once you are done, you’d like a copy of the results, once we’re done, tweet us @stephenwelch11 or @michaelambjorn with the hashtag #11ways.”

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For more news from Simply Communicate, here’s a host of places to keep up to speed with what’s going on in comms: 

    Find us on Google+ 

Meanwhile, please take the survey – and if you’ve got a moment to help spread the word, here are a couple of tweets ready made for an RT: