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From crafters and drafters to business consultants – the comms capability challenge

Jane Mitchell

I had a conversation with a very frustrated client last week. He’s a senior guy, in charge of a major business unit in a global organisation, and he has a burning business issue that needs focused communications input. He asked for support from his communications ‘business partner’ and was told “I can do a meeting in the 2nd week of March”.

Umm – that’s four weeks away!

Unsurprisingly he picked up the phone to us for external support.

As he vented his frustrations, I started to wonder why the comms colleague left their internal customer feeling this way. Was it a resource issue? Or was it actually a capability issue? Was it that this organisation needs comms people who respond more like consultants than service providers?

What is your challenge? What are the business implications? What are the timing issues? What is achieveable? How can comms add most value? What is my immediate advice?

These are the questions that should be knee jerk for any communications professional working at business partner level. Often they aren’t. But why?

Go to any large corporate and the HR, finance and procurement functions have well defined competencies supported by professional development programmes. Internal communications may have a strong competency framework. but, if they have a development programme, it’s often patchy – made up of external, generic, (expensive), courses.

From crafters and drafters to business consultants. World-class internal communications professionals need to be great writers, project managers, facilitators, creative thinkers, business experts, relationship builders, problem solvers and leadership advisors.

Take a straw poll of any internal communications function and you will find colleagues who have come into comms from the business – great business thinkers and strategists, often poor content creators. Or from marketing and PR – great creative thinkers and content creators but not so great on the business knowledge. Creating consistency and expertise across the whole spectrum is hard!

Having worked with global communication leaders to create award-winning professional development programmes, the starting point is always four key questions:

  • What’s the purpose of our communications function? (Obvious? Yes. But has it actually ever been defined in your business?)
  • What skills, experience and competencies do we need in order to fulfill that purpose?
  • To what extent do those skills exist in our team and what are the gaps?
  • What development opportunities do we need to provide to create greater consistency and create a world-class IC team? (Ditch the ‘off-the-shelf’ courses – usually great theory but little relevance to your day-to-day business – and go tailored.)

Answer these questions and then you can build a development solution that ensures you attract, retain and develop truly world-class internal communication professionals for your organisation.

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