There once was a man of extraordinary talent who wielded his charm through a magical musical instrument – the Pied Piper of Hamelin borough he was called. The townsfolk sought for his help to get rid of the infestation that has been destroying their crops. The Piper blew his pipe and gathered all the rodents and led them to the river to drown. But he was not paid his due and the entire town realized their mistake too late for the Pied Piper blew his pipe again and merrily led their children away never to be seen again.
Pied pipers are communicators who could, if they were today’s CEOs, lead many organisations to riches and formidable reputation. Or, they could also lead them to rapaciousness and ruination.
The Metaphor and the Need to Orchestrate Corporate Communications
Webster’s extended definition describes orchestra as “a band of instrumental musicians suitable for the performance of symphonies, overtures, etc., as well as for the accompaniment of operas, oratorios, cantatas, masses, and the like, or of vocal and instrumental solos.” There are at least forty string instruments with a proper complement of wind instruments. A conductor usually directs the orchestra. It is interesting to note that the early orchestra did not have a conductor and used the concertmaster or harpsichordist to play this role.
The need for ‘orchestrated’ strategy stems from the fact that today’s organizations are getting more complex as a result of globalization. Changes in technology and production of ideas tend to be faster and these will have an impact on how organizations harness information for its own advantage. The propensity to orchestrate becomes stronger when the organization undergoes a strategic change. And during that period, the organization will confront questions like ‘How will it redefine its business position in the new business landscape?’ ‘Are traditional customers enough to meet the bottom line?’ ‘How can the business be sustainable?’ ‘How do you tell stakeholders that you are a responsible enterprise?’
Often the answer can be found in corporate communications (or public relations, or whatever names today’s corporate jargon produces). From the early feudal structures to the highly industrialized societies, man has always needed an organized form of handling communications. Communication management is not new. The interconnectedness of the modern world, on the other hand, desires for a more strategic approach of communicating with a web of stakeholders. Regulatory regimes and the well-informed customer give rise to the strategic communication imperative. Developing an integrated, strategic approach to communications will be critical to organizational success. Executives are now finding it urgent to ensure that their communications practices contribute directly to corporate strategy implementation.
Aligning Communication with Strategy
A good corporate strategy will make sense to also use a communication strategy. Whereas corporate strategy provides the vision i.e. where an organization wants to go and how it intends to get there, the communication strategy designs the appropriate set of communication programs, functional and operational, to be directed at targeted stakeholders so that the corporate vision can be achieved.
Corporate strategy can be compared then to an enabling law while communication strategy is the manual that translates the intent into actionable programs. As a strategic function, corporate communications will be involved in the decision-making process where corporate strategy is concerned. Here, the communicator must assume the role of a communication strategist in the corporate strategy team.
Corporate Communication Roles
What role do corporate communication practitioners play in strategic decision-making? Academic research has established two general types of corporate communication practitioners and cast them into broad roles: the manager and the technician.
Communication technician: The role creates and disseminates messages, the tactical implementer of decisions made by others and is generally not involved in management decision-making and strategic decisions concerning communication strategy and programs.
Communication manager: The role is primarily concerned with externally oriented, long-term decisions, rather than solving short-term, technical problems. It typically uses research to monitor the organization’s environment and opinions of key stakeholders. And because they possess the needed intelligence gained from research, managers are more likely to participate in the organization’s decision-making and strategic planning.
The CEO and the Orchestration of Communication
In today’s modern times, reporting to a CEO who understands, appreciates and utilizes communication strategy to the fullest extent is a corporate communicator’s boon. When the CEO assumes the excellent communicator role, the entire organization will be able to harness communication strategies and tools to achieve business objectives. The CEO’s deeper understanding of the corporate communication function spells the difference between the success and failure of the function and more broadly, can enhance the company’s ability to build its reputation and get its strategic objectives implemented. Otherwise, the CEO’s corporate communications group will just be assigned superficial tasks taking care of short-term image enhancing, which cannot create effective foundations for a truly reputable organizational performance.
By using the orchestration metaphor, we could contextualize the necessity of one baton-wielder to produce a singular music created from the harmonization of different musical instruments. There will be instances too when the CEO will perform the role of the conductor aside from being a composer. Richard Pascale, the management thinker sees the CEO as “an orchestra conductor, directing change according to a score which all players agree upon.” He ensures that everyone knows the score.
Some CEO’s like to perform both roles. It is rare to find a CEO who actually comes from the PR ranks. But there are quite a few out there. I was able to work with such one and he did perform the conductor’s role. This was understandable because of his previous stints as political communications manager. He assumed the helm of an organization at a time when it needed a visionary leader. As a PR man himself, he was hands-on in formulating and implementing one of its most successful strategies. He was effective in rallying the support of gatekeepers while ensuring that the transaction was carried out in the most transparent and ethical manner possible.
Wielding the conductor’s baton becomes more important in times of significant organizational change e.g merger, divestment or privatization. The important thing to remember is that corporate communications is not a solo act, hence the metaphor of orchestration. It would also be favorable if the team leader assumes the role of the strategic communication manager, wields a certain ounce of power in the organization, and has a two-way symmetrical perspective of the organization and its stakeholders. Yes, in some cases, CEOs can be an effective communicator. Unlike the Pied Piper of Hamelin, these CEOs blew the pipe to lead their organization to a better business position.