Sane business partnering

It keeps coming up in conversation.

“We’re trying to implement a model where we provide business partners to drive strategic value from our comms, but our stakeholders just want a newsletter!”

When so many IC functions are developing a model tailored to getting out from under the tactical, the business keeps asking for what they liked before.  If they love their email newsletter, why can’t they still have it?

After all, that’s what comms people do isn’t it? Produce communications?

It’s a challenge for the business partner trying to establish themselves as the source of advice and strategic insight.  On the one hand they need to hold the line on the strategic messages, whilst on the other hand they need to build a relationship with local business chiefs.

We all fear that if we always say ‘no’ we’ll be ignored, by-passed and excluded.  Surely its better to stay alongside the tactically minded divisional head or regional manager by delivering the annual conference or the blog that no one reads?  Maybe one day they will have a personal transformation and start appreciating having another voice challenging them.

The truth is that if you keep giving in nothing will change.  Of course they need someone who can make things happen; someone who is technically proficient.  But how is it helping if the business partner is continually rolling over and diluting the core message that the wider organisation needs to share?

In practice, there are a few things that you can do to start on the right foot.

At the very beginning, Business Partners should have clarity about what the most senior leaders and stakeholders have set as communications priorities for the overall organisation.  Start by plotting the business issues which are significant (in terms of performance) and agreeing with the Executive team where communications should help.

This should then set the agenda; an agenda that has been signed off by the CEO.

We call this ‘top cover’ – the business partner knows at the back of their mind in any interaction with subordinate leaders the intent of the organisation and why resources have been allocated.

Provide business partners with a standard process for managing engagements with internal stakeholders.  A structured way of taking a brief, agreeing actions and reporting results provides protection against some of the more whimsical requests that come their way.

And we read in a recent study from the Corporate Executive Council about a process where by defined briefs would be discussed by the rest of the communications team.  In hospitals this practice has been used for years where multidisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses and other clinicians review cases together to decide treatment plans.  Why wouldn’t it work in a comms function?

And come with data!

The communicator who is willing to present data and insights is always going to be a more valuable partner than the professional who is just valued for their ability to sweep up messes or make things happen.

We’re not just talking about any old data either.  Looking for facts and information that tell a local leader or stakeholder how communications can support their ambitions without resorting to old favourites is an effort worth making.