The New Interface – Communication in the organogram
I had to do a bit of unexpected thinking this week about the way a communications department fits in the organogram and hierarchy, and the impact of its position on activities and reporting.
In the standard scheme of things, the basic approach of the undergraduate varsity textbook, the function will fall under marketing. This is typical because although there are numerous ways of handling the marketing function, umpteen different ways of doing a marketing plan and one-hundred-and-one things the department can do in real life, marketing in the real world has devolved to ‘those people who do advertising’.
This has a mirror in the shift of functions such as pricing, product aspects and distribution away from marketing to other functions in the organisation. In fact, ‘marketing’ is increasingly becoming known as ‘communication’, which is merciful because it absolves the marketing department from the need to make embarrassing admissions like, “We do advertising, but none of the other ‘big-folks’ stuff you would associate with marketing.”
The evolving nature of the organisation leaves a hole in the organogram where marketing used to sit. In a retail organisation the problem can be solved by placing communication alongside management and servicing of outlets and allowing it to act in a supporting role. If the organisation manufactures products, the function can support the brand managers.
It becomes tricky where the organisation produces less tangible products that cannot be evaluated by footfall in an outlet or a product in the hand.
In an organisation driven by retail services, communication can focus on retailing the services, but the added dimension of customer satisfaction comes into play because the brand manager will, with few exceptions, not evaluate the service the same way he or she would evaluate a tangible product or outlet.
Where the organisation has a shifting range of services that are vaguely defined, communication has to become closely allied to delivery of the corporate philosophy, as the perceptual strengths of the organisation have to act as the endorsement for adoption and use of the brand.
The questions become, how can the organisation absorb the communication function, to what degree can it be programmed and where should it report?
It is obviously tempting to place communications out of the way of everything, under an executive who will ensure that it delivers on its programmed goals, makes its deadlines and does so in budgetary parameters, but the implicit bureaucracy can have a damaging effect, especially if evolution of corporate environments and philosophy is taken into account.
Most notably, in the new paradigm of the corporate environment, corporate philosophy is (or, in some markets, will still become) the differential that builds the brand. Governance has become a global issue and customers increasingly see themselves as stakeholders, alongside legislators and other interests. Communication has to segue with those functions that communicate corporate philosophy, and assist in evolving corporate philosophy, alongside the normal functions of punting services and fostering satisfaction.
In other words, communication has to respond to the board and CEO. It has to have a high degree of strategic responsibility, and hiring a low-level manager to execute on command will not cut it. Placing it under a manager who sits between the board and CEO, and the communication function, will slow the process of communication, through the lengthened chain of reporting, the need for the intermediate manager to deal with his or her other tasks, the requirements of interfacing with other departments, as well as filters or communication noise that are a natural part of interpreting and correcting the interpretations of requirements and requests made by the board, CEO and other departments, and delivered by the intermediate manager.
The most effective approach is to provide a roving mandate to the communication function, led by a senior manager who can operate independently and with the authority of knowledge and experience. This obviously implies a high degree of responsibility, a position at exco level and obviously reporting to the CEO.
The only deciding factor in this should be the answer to the question, do our stakeholders, be they clients, legislators or others, have the power to influence us in a way that we can manage or correct with communication?
If the answer is ‘yes’, then examine the position of your communication function to ensure that it is empowered enough to take responsibility and communicate with effect and without delay. If it is a problem, or if the organogram gives short shrift to the function, then you may want to remember the function designation ‘Corporate Affairs and Communication.’