The Self-Actualization of Communications

March 13, 2024
By Lori Teranishi
pointing at star

For much of its existence, and with rare exceptions, the communications profession has fallen short of its potential. We’re the first to get the call when there’s a crisis, but other than that, we tend to be brought in only after the important decisions have been made — decisions about an acquisition, product features, organizational changes or corporate policies. At that point, all that’s needed is tactical: wordsmithing, announcing, publishing.

In previous blog posts on corporate relations and communications strategy, I described some of the takeaways from my participation in the Yale School of Management program on CCO Leadership in Multistakeholder Value Creation. I left that program feeling energized by an important realization: The time has come to realize the potential that’s inherent in our discipline. We just have to do a few things first.

 

CCO Leadership in Multistakeholder Value Creation program at the Yale School of Management.

 

Chief among these is to adopt the multi-stakeholder model of management. This means abandoning trade-off thinking and instead viewing problems in a structured way, designing solutions that create value for multiple stakeholders. This isn’t a new idea; top-performing businesses have been practicing it for decades. It’s just that as the operating environment becomes more complex, the need to apply this model becomes more urgent. If communicators don’t seize this opportunity, someone else will.

Similarly, we need to become better at exercising influence across business functions — applying the multi-stakeholder model within our own organization. In practical terms, this means earning the respect of others and securing buy-in and commitment from stakeholders over whom we have little or no formal authority. To accomplish this, we must be willing to expend time and effort to understand the incentives and motives of others and to propose ideas and solutions that align with them.

 

"There’s no question in my mind that we’re embarking on nothing less than a full-scale transformation in the practice of communications that will redefine its value within the business environment."

 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must challenge ourselves to think and operate as business people. There’s a reason why a growing number of business schools are incorporating the discipline of communications into the MBA curriculum; they’re preparing the corporate leaders of tomorrow to manage stakeholder relationships in tandem with guiding strategy. If communicators are to keep pace, we need to educate ourselves about corporate accounting and finance, sales and marketing, operations, R&D, HR, IT and legal. Backgrounds in journalism or English are still useful, but they’re insufficient for success in the contemporary business environment.

There’s no question in my mind that we’re embarking on nothing less than a full-scale transformation in the practice of communications that will redefine its value within the business environment. As with any large-scale transformation, there will be leaders and there will be bystanders. I want to be one of those leading the change, demonstrating how powerful our communications can be when it is part of corporate strategy and integrated into business goals.