By Faisal Khan on January 19, 2023
4 minute read
How Internal Comms Can Work Well with the C-Suite 

Insights from top internal communications professionals to inspire you on your mission to gain connection and credibility with your executive team.  

Originally published by The European Association Of Communication Directors (EACD). 

By Mike Klein 

In the 2022 Communication Leaders Survey I conducted for #WeLeadComms in partnership with AB and Sparrow Connected, the second biggest area of opportunity - and the biggest irritant - identified by communication leaders is the perception around the influence and value they have in their organizations.  

Overall, more than 15% of participating communication leaders across the globe think this is one of the top issues they face: one that gets in the way of their credibility and impact. 

Improving connections and interactions with the C-suite isn’t simply a good idea but can be “make or break” for a large number of comms pros, and can clear the path towards increased credibility and greater impact. 

To me, working with the C-suite is not just about having a proverbial “seat at the table.” It's about actually being involved and weighing in on specific executive-level conversations and decisions. 

I’ve explored this topic at length with a number of internal communications professionals in recent months, gathering their perspectives, insights, and ideas on how internal communications can better work with the C-suite. 
 

Here are some of the highlights from our conversations to inspire you on your journey to gain connection, credibility, and involvement with your executive team. 

 

Gain Business Acumen  

I spoke with Thomas Grøndorf, Head of Internal, Strategy and Financial Communication at the International Engineering Consultancy #COWI, Denmark (for whom I worked during my time in Denmark at Maersk Oil), and USA-based Aleka Bhutiani, who is Director of Strategic Communications at Golub Capital, a Leading Private Credit Firm, USA on a webinar hosted by Sparrow Connected in October.   

During this conversation, we had an animated discussion about the specific skills and qualities needed to get access to the C-suite.  

Grøndorf said, “To get access to the C-suite, you first need to be really good at what you do, you need business acumen and you also need to be fun to work with. Those are the traits you need to have.” 

I agree you need to be good at what you do - internal communications - that’s a given. But what you need to really gain credibility with your leadership team is to demonstrate that you have business acumen. They need to know that you understand business overall and the business you’re in specifically.  

Bhutiani reinforces the need for business acumen, saying “Recognizing where the business is at in its communications journey, what is appropriate for the business, and what the business can handle in terms of pace and response will enable you to be effective in delivering results and ensure you can continue getting buy-in to do more in the future.”   

It’s important to remember that “business acumen” as Grøndorf and Bhutiani describe it doesn’t need to mean having a degree in financial engineering or understanding every nuance of operations and logistics. It means understanding how your organization makes money and being able to ask good questions. You need to have educated curiosity about the levers the business uses that impact the bottom line. Ideally, these questions can also set the stage for you to suggest how communication can make those levers more efficient or effective. 

 

Help Solve Business Challenges  

As our conversation continued, it became clear that there was another piece to this puzzle.  

“Your ability to combine business acumen with innovative communication solutions that solve business challenges gives you access to almost an unlimited internal comms budget,” says Grøndorf. 

One story he shared that illustrates this is a story about how he got budget to run a costly influencer survey for an entire group of 7,000 employees. He got the spend over the line because he had sufficient leadership credibility to make the case that they would get valuable insights that would tangibly help strengthen retention and productivity, which were two significant business challenges at the time.  

He offers this valuable advice, “Make the business case. You have to bring communication down to a business case. That means that you need to have measurable KPIs, not just output but also outcome because it's the outcome that is of most interest in the C-suite,” says Grøndorf. 

From Bhutiani’s perspective, contributing to solving business challenges involves understanding the challenge and the core goal first, then planning, executing, and measuring the outcomes effectively.  

“First, you need to recognize what the bottom line is. What is the goal that the C-suite actually wants to achieve? What is the business challenge for which they want to solve? What are the most effective KPIs to show success? What are the right tools that will allow you to demonstrate that you're meeting that goal? Once you know the answers to these questions, then you can map your strategy accordingly,” says Bhutiani. 

This conversation between Grøndorf, Bhutiani, and I on the “Working with the C-Suite” webinar is indicative of the approach that Sparrow Connected is taking to raise the internal communication game more broadly. Putting communication leaders - and particularly internal communication pros - into a position to influence leaders and serve their businesses more effectively is at the core of Sparrow Connected’s mission.  

 CEO Chris Izquierdo lays it out:   

"One of the reasons I started Sparrow Connected is because I truly believe that internal communication professionals deserve better. They deserve better tools to do their jobs well. They deserve a better way to understand the impact that their work has on significant business outcomes. But most importantly, they deserve a seat at the executive table - and we intend to support them in keeping that seat when they get there.”  

 

Context is Everything 

As communication pros, we often obsess about content, and what people think about our content. But as Grøndorf, Bhutiani, and Izquierdo strongly hint at, context is everything, and our ultimate context as pros is the impact we have in tangibly helping to move our businesses forward. 

 

++++ 

Mike Klein is an EACD member based in Iceland.  He is a Senior Strategic Advisor to Sparrow Connected, and is the founder of #WeLeadComms, a global program recognizing courage and initiative in the communication professions.  MIke is an MBA graduate of London Business School and has worked with major European businesses including Maersk, Shell, easyJet and VEON, and offers a Measurement Masterclass focusing on giving internal communicators the skills to ask the right questions, and illustrate their impact to senior decision-makers. 

 

 

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BLOG POST TAGS: Internal communications Internal Comms planning Recession data C-Suite Connection

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