LINKING COMMUNICATION TO BUSINESS SUCCESS: A Challenge for Communicators

Article excerpt

A REPORT ON THE IABC RESEARCH FOUNDATION'S RECENT STUDY "COMMUNICATION COMPETENCE AND BUSINESS SUCCESS: A COMPARATIVE REVIEW OF COMMUNICATION PROGRAMS"

The research When we set out to prove the link between communication competence and business success, we knew we were taking on quite a challenge. Previous studies had met with mixed success. For example, an earlier IABC/Watson Wyatt study found that just over half of high-performing companies had "well-defined communication strategies that allow employees to understand better their organisations' business goals." Which meant that, puzzlingly, almost half of high-performing companies did not have such a strategy.

An extensive literature search revealed four categories of communication activity:

* Strategic communication planning

* Effective management of communication activity

* Experience/ability/skills of communication professionals

* High quality communication medial tools

We tested these criteria with groups of communication professionals, who agreed that these constituted the core competencies of the communication function. Then in our study of 10 global organisations in depth, we looked at how they were applied in successful and less successful companies. When it came to finding correlations between these core competencies and business success, however, we drew a blank. There simply did not seem to be any correlation between the methods used and the success of the initiative.

One very successful company would communicate almost exclusively face to face, while another might use sophisticated electronics. One might exhibit clear long-term strategy, or communicators might concentrate on pushing out information on a day-by-day basis. One of the less successful programmes had a clearly defined strategy supported by sophisticated tools, and there was no obvious reason for its failure.

At this point, we began to question for the first time whether it would be possible to demonstrate that the actions of communication professionals contributed to the success of the business. Whether a company exhibited best practice in communication, or relied on the rumour-mill, seemed to have little, if any, effect on the bottom line.

With all our assumptions about the relationship between communication competence and success shown to be uncertain at best, we were forced to go back to the drawing board in search of a new perspective on the data we had collected so far. If clear communication strategies and effective tools were not making the difference, what aspects of communication were common to successful companies?

The results It soon became obvious that the performance of the communication function, in isolation, could not account for the success or failure of the company or communication programme. Looking again at our 10 selected organisations, as well as materials produced by other companies, we found that it was the communication competence, nor just of the communication function, but of the business as a whole, that determined its success.

In particular, four communication-related factors were present to various degrees in all successful companies and initiatives:

* Clarity of purpose

* Effective interfaces

* Effective information sharing

* Consistent leadership behaviour

Clarity of purpose Successful companies and initiatives tended to focus on a few key messages and constantly reinforce them. …