brand, culture

Rethinking communications in the 21st century company


Last week a colleague told me IBM had reorganized it’s marketing and communications functions. In the new order, the entire marketing organization would report into communications. Typically it has always been the opposite, with brand groups like mine and public relations reporting into a Chief Marketing Officer. Until recently, that’s been the way it worked at Red Hat too– over the years I’ve worked for mostly VP of marketing or CMO-types (although now I work as part of a group called People & Brand, a subject I’ll save for another post).

authenticenterpriseSo I spent some time thinking about what this change meant for IBM, why they were doing it, and did a little research online. In the process, I stumbled upon this report from the  Arthur W. Page Society entitled “The Authentic Enterprise.” Turns out that one of the co-chairs of the Authentic Enterprise task force was  John Iwata, the SVP of Communications for IBM. My guess is that this report, which came out in 2007, had significant impact in making the changes at IBM.

Thought I’d call out a few choice quotes from the report that I loved.

On the role of strategic internal communications, a subject I covered in a previous post:

“They also say that the emphasis of communications work must shift significantly toward internal communications, as they seek to transform their organizations’ culture and workforce skills – not just to make them more efficient and productive, but to embed the kind of pervasive transparency, personal responsibility and values-based decision making that enterprise-scale authenticity requires… CEOs increasingly look to their communications executives to be educators, able to teach other executives how to communicate about the company… The growing significance of internal communication was one of the key findings of our CEO survey. “

On the changing management model for the 21st century business, which we discussed here and here:

In dynamic societies and economies, such as we live in today – where new approaches, new ideas, new behaviors and new institutional forms are being created constantly, and where multiple stakeholders have unprecedented levels of impact and influence–more open, flexible, empowering and values-based management systems are required. And for those to work, trust is both more essential than ever, and harder than ever to achieve.

And saving the best for last, a section on the importance of corporate values, one of my favorite subjects.

Values have always been the bedrock of enterprise authenticity – but they play a different role today. Values now are the basis for very new kinds of management systems, tuned to succeed within radically changing marketplace realities. In earlier eras, a company’s principles, credos or beliefs – like its strategies and processes – were typically dictated from the top. However, we now live in a world of distributed, dynamic enterprises and shifting workforce attitudes and expectations. A management system based on values allows a company to respond faster to opportunities by increasing delegation and empowerment, while maintaining consistency of its brand, customer relationships, public reputation and day-to-day operations. Values can be the “glue” shaping behavior and uniting goals – but building such a management system is a daunting challenge. Understanding what the company and its people truly value and turning that into pervasive behavior demand new kinds of leadership, tools and skills.

CEOs feel that communicating their company’s values is the fundamental basis for message platforms and, increasingly, at the heart of ALL business decisions. While CEOs feel they have an intuitive grasp of their company’s values, they look to their communications chiefs to help in the definition process and then to refine, systematize and particularize the overall message. Communicating values is not about individual messages or sound bites, but rather the basic corporate principles underlying the messages.

Wow. What they said.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.

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