Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Perception is reality

I commented on Rachel Allen's blog recently on how the perception of a 'communications consultant' is different from being simply a business or change consultant. I've been called all three on projects in recent years, and while my role has been largely the same - and the actions I've taken have been around improving communication within and beyond those organisations - my standing, and indeed my remuneration has been higher when I've kept communication out of the title.

I did a project a few months ago where I was asked to improve communication: the assumption was I'd clean up the intranet and probably launch a new ezine. Actually, the conversations within the business proved far more interesting and soon evolved into recasting the style of leadership from one of command and control (probably necessary in a start-up) to something more collaborative and inclusive. It demanded a huge change in communication - not in the use of formal tools, but in the way management operated. The demand was for more openness, more inclusion in decision making or simply explanation when harder leadership was called for.

It was an interesting experience, and all the more interesting when the leaders forgot I was there with a 'communication' hat on, and started talking to me quite simply about how they could improve decision making in the business and move the mindset from a public service ethos to something much more commercial. They may well change some of the formal tools, but by parking 'communication' as a transactional experience, we delved more deeply into the real drivers of engagement and business evolution.

Communication is at the core of this, but by positioning ourselves as the 'communication professionals' we still tend to be marginalised: given the task of finding the best way to package the message once the decision's been made. It's easy to get wrapped up in the tools of communication - especially in how business should embrace social media. There's a danger in this in that the tool becomes the raison d'etre. Chopping the c word out of the conversation can actually drive to the heart of the issue far more quickly and effectively - and enable us to demonstrate our expertise.

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