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The power of Corporate Communication and Leadership Communication

Reaching a Deal

Corporate Communication or Corporate Affairs is becoming increasingly important within organizations. Why actually? What value does this position add to management?

Why is corporate communication important?


Communication is a behavioral science and behavior is largely determined by emotions. How people act or react depends on how they perceive reality. And this is greatly influenced by the cultural background, previous experiences, interests and also opinions of other people. Every board member recognizes frustrating situations where a rational decision or strategy looked perfect on paper, but it simply doesn't land within the organization. The 'human' factor is often underestimated or overlooked. And this is where corporate communication plays an important role.


In our role, we look at all stakeholders of the company: customers, employees, media, politicians and citizens. We are in contact with customers, society, politics and employees and know the products and services and the long-term interests of the company. Each target group requires a different approach. Since every organization tends to turn inward, a certain degree of independence (devil's advocate!) is important. But there is also a lot of craftsmanship involved: from formulating key messages to writing speeches, press releases, annual reports and managing crises.


How can leaders encourage communication?

Leaders have an exemplary function. On average, leaders don't spend enough time interacting with staff and customers, while people watch closely what their leaders do and say. When leaders don't communicate, people develop their own version of reality. So it is important that leaders are visible and approachable and explain the company's direction, successes and decisions in clear language. The second advice is to motivate and facilitate internal and external stakeholders to make their voices heard. Companies are too afraid of criticism, while I believe that embracing it creates strong brands and leaders.


"The Meaning of communications is the response you get. In communication we want to achieve something in the recipient of the message, a change in behaviour. This often requires distance from the subject matter. The group that devises the strategy is often not the first designated party to also develop the communication strategy."


How does corporate communication relate to corporate strategy?

Communication is concerned with the integral interests of an organization. Engagement occurs at all levels of an organization. It is a position that requires a broad overview and many skills and is therefore often an important sparring partner for the general manager.


When developing a strategic plan, we try to be guided by reason as much as possible (although internal politics and self-interest also play a role). Although the organization is also involved in the development, it is ultimately up to the management to make well-considered decisions. In doing so, painful decisions to take new paths are not avoided.


Most plans have not been fully crystallized, however. They leave a lot of room for interpretation, internal politics and discussions about implementation priorities. That sometimes throws sand in the wheels. In addition, management often has the feeling of 'and now on!'. Attention quickly fades, while the real work only begins. There are many factors why things can go wrong in the execution phase, but poor communication is inevitably one of the most important.


The task of corporate communication is to help the board with strategy implementation, internally and externally. It develops the narrative, trains board members in conveying the story and takes care of communication to all target groups. It keeps a finger on the pulse of how the target groups react and where adjustments need to be made. As time passes, corporate communications provide evidence that the new strategy works (and sometimes it doesn't).


For many employees, the process often starts with the first presentation. They want to know the story behind the strategy and decisions, why the organization has to change and 'what's in it for me?'. As management, you must be able to convey the story credibly and clearly, even though you don't yet know the answer to everything. You have to fully support the new strategy and goals, but also leave room for the organization to give substance to the implementation and manage the uncertainty in the meantime. Corporate communication is instrumental in all of this.


What mistakes do you see leaders make most often regarding communication?

First, successful leaders have an inspiring and compelling story about where they are leading the company or department and communicate their personal commitment to it. The second advice concerns consistency in management decisions. 'Communication' is often associated with giving a speech, posting an article, video or sending an e-mail: 'the packaging'. But 70 percent of the reputation of an organization and board consists of the decisions that are made every day. Employees and customers have a perfect radar to see if you are consistent or not. Too many times have I seen a carefully built reputation or strategy squandered by one bad decision.

What's your mantra?

"The meaning of communications is the response you get." In communication, we want to achieve something with the recipient of the message, a change in behaviour, whether it concerns voting behavior in elections, purchasing products, retaining staff, attracting investors, safe behavior in the workplace, or a better press: communication must lead to a desired response. Too often we still think about what we have to say. That is not illogical. Take a look at strategy communication. If you have spent months on the new company vision, you would like to make it known to the world. And what kind of the management is now a comfortable warm bath, can be a cold shower for internal and external stakeholders. Good communication focuses on the receiver and not the sender. They ultimately determine the value of your communication. The group that devises a strategy is therefore not always the most appropriate party to develop the communication.


This interview with Erwin Zijlstra appeared earlier in the June 2019 newsletterArchPoint.

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