Clear boundaries or borderless and unlimited? What’s your view?

We’ve circled the wagons back at CommScrum’s increasingly virtual Global Headquarters and agreed that many previous CommScrum discussions have danced around the issue of self-imposed limitations, definitions and perceptions of what “employee” or “internal” comms is and isn’t.

Dan Gray – CommScrum Riyadh

Two broad camps appear to have emerged in the “glass ceilings” debate, shaped by people’s personal stylings of themselves – on the one hand, the dyed-in-the-wool siloed pragmatist as internal communicator; on the other, those of us of a more generalist disposition (among others Geoff, KK, Indy…) who might be accused of not colouring inside the lines.

Unsurprisingly, the former seems to take a rather more limited view of what communication is, what it’s for, and what the limit of our ambitions for the profession ought to be versus those of us of a more interdisciplinary orientation.

I find a recent comment by Alan Richardson very revealing – i.e. what makes the case for communicators as management consultant-types any more compelling than, say HR, L&D or OD? This perception of neatly drawn conceptual boundaries between disciplines is the crux of the problem, and (no disrespect to Alan) rather misses the point.

The point is that communications, viewed as a “meta-discipline” (in similar fashion to Design Thinking), is something that transcends and defragments all of these individual fiefdoms; and that this leap in mindset is a precondition of understanding the future leadership vision we have outlined in recent posts on the CommScrum.

Perhaps the two biggest “light-bulb” moments that have shaped my thinking in recent times have been:

1) The realisation that Marty Neumeier’s definition of a brand (people’s collective “gut feeling” about a company, what it does and how it does it) is virtually identical to Edgar Schein’s definition of where true organisational culture lies (i.e. at the level of tacit assumptions/preconscious beliefs about an organisation and how it functions). Brand and culture are essentially two sides of the same coin.

2) The realisation, similarly shaped by Schein, that what he describes as the “surface manifestations” of the culture (any number of touchpoints including stories, physical environment, structures/systems/processes) will always be infinitely more powerful in shaping people’s beliefs and attitudes than any explicit communications. (As we all know, it doesn’t matter a jot how beautifully articulated your values are, if bosses then go ahead and act in direct contravention of these supposedly treasured traits).

Both points come back to the fundamental question of authenticity, which, in our era of social communication and ever-diminishing trust in formal communication channels, is increasingly critical to business success.

The first point says you can’t view external and internal communications in isolation. Communications as meta-discipline embraces both as part of the same system.

The second point goes further, saying that you can’t view that system of communication as being independent of issues of strategy, structure etc. Communications consultancy (whether the source is internal or external) that doesn’t offer leadership on these questions can never be truly strategic. When was a strategy house like McKinsey or BCG ever engaged simply to “facilitate conversation”? Answer: never!

(Now throw in Geoff’s refrain that there isn’t a single field of human endeavour that doesn’t involve communications as a critical component.)

Join these things up, and you have created a powerful role for this new interdisciplinary animal as the most important leaders/guardians/curators of organisational authenticity – authenticity that connects tribes both inside and outside your organisation around an honest expression of what you stand for; that from an employee perspective, means that you attract the right people in the first place (for whom the right behaviours are second nature – no shoehorns required!); that those people stay (because the articulation of values and culture is demonstrably enshrined in strategy, structures and systems); that they become the most passionate advocates of the brand (waxing lyrical to their mates down the pub), so that when customers are asked to describe their impressions of the company, they add unsolicited to their reply: “…and I hear it’s a fabulous place to work.”

Bottom-line, we are entering (or have already entered, dependent on your view) an era where inside-out trumps outside-in; open and collaborative trumps closed and competitive; stakeholder value trumps shareholder value; wisdom of crowds trumps wisdom of experts; long-term sustainability trumps short-term profit maximisation; whole systems approaches trump functional silos; fast and fluid trumps slow and structured; multi-coloured trumps black and white; disruptive innovation trumps sustaining innovation; profound simplicity trumps complexity; Design Thinking trumps linear thinking… yada yada yada.

Now tell me what planet you’d have to be on in order for it to make sense to promote an accountant to shepherd their organisation through this era over someone with a background in interdisciplinary communication! Is there any reason why any of us so-inclined shouldn’t have ambitions on the C-suite?

Kevin Keohane – CommScrum Paris  (Ah, the view from the Publicis Groupe building at 133 Champs Elysees.  C’est magnifique)

I agree of course in principle but I have to say “it depends.”  I’m not sure we’re in a world yet where many Boards and Shareholders would necessarily feel comfortable handing over the keys to someone with a “non-traditional” background.  I mean, would I  really want someone who is a walking encyclopaedia of internal communication academic studies, or a celebrated expert in using social media to engage stakeholders, anywhere near my board room table? No no no no.

On the other hand , it does work for some – say WPP, Omnicom, Publicis? WPP is run by an accountant, Publicis by a technologist/engineer and Omnicom by an ad man. Yet their market share and margins are all broadly comparable by and large so you can’t argue that commercial performance is affected – though having been at both WPP and Publicis I would certainly say corporate culture sure as hell is!  Would it work at say a big insurance company? Probably not.  But a professional services firm or IT organisation? Hmmn.. maybe.  We do see examples of larger corporates run by those with “less traditional” functional backgrounds – though many might have spend time in for example HR and Corporate Comms at some stage in their development (as general managers though and not often in a deeply technical role).  The issue is what value communication creates / can create / should create for the enterprise and the capability, track record and commitment of the individual in question.

I do believe, however, that we will see an increased emergence of non-traditional executives – not a sea change, but an emergence.  It’s already happening with numerous examples of HRDs in interim CEO roles; and CMOs sometimes taking up the reins as well.  One of the great things about being professional communicators is that you tend to *have to* hang around and learn different disciplines from IT to HR to Brand etc. to do your job well.  That cross-functional perspective will be increasingly valuable as a leadership skill in a complicated world – the days of 50% of CEOs being chartered accountants are numbered.

In terms of self-definition, for communicators, I also think a lot of it comes down to personal motivation and personal ambition.  I know plenty of intelligent, highly competent internal communicators who have no interest whatsoever in being a “leader” per se since being communicators is what they love.  Start talking balance sheets and margin and EBITDA and they run screaming into the hills.  Or they just aren’t that interested in the business of their business and would rather obsess about crisp copy, writing for the web and how to use social media to do more of what they do already (more of a problem, in my view).  So I guess my point is – for those communicators with the capability, the desire and commitment (thanks HBR) there is no reason why they couldn’t ascend to C-level roles and board responsibilities in FTSE100 firms.

Perhaps most importantly, at least to me, communicators with the capability and desire have almost an obligation to take opportunities to influence the strategic agenda of their organisation.  First, it’s what you they’re paid to do whether they want to admit it or not.  Second, it makes life more interesting and builds their value and skillset.  Third, it means they deliver more value and ROI if they do it half properly which is why we have companies in the first place.

In other words, there is no excuse for boring, more-of-the-same, poorly executed, strategically thin, firmly siloed communication in any business.  You might get away with it, but eventually it will catch up to you and someone else will take your job from you.  And you will deserve it.

Mike Klein–Commscrumming from Sarajevo, Bosnia (which may be the coolest city in all of Europe)

I think this argument misses the point–which is the extent to which communication (as opposed to finance or operations) has the ability to serve as an organization’s crucial source of competitive advantage.

Senior corporate leaders have long tended to come from control disciplines (accounting, engineering), and in recent years, finance (which has proven to be anything but a “control” discipline in the wake of the recent debacles in exotic securities.

But if you look at which disciplines are capable of achieving breakthrough results–of making 1+1=3, one is hard pressed to look outside of the communication disciplines.  If value is going to be constantly under attack from commoditization and digitization, having leadership focused on creating it rather than defending it may well make sense for all but the producers of the most physical and basic of the world’s commodities.  And even those players–who need to prove sustainability bona-fides to the branded businesses they supply, need to look to the communication disciplines as a core approach to defending their value.

Now, are all of today’s corporate leaders, business schools and institutional shareholders going to like this?  No.  But if Ford, for instance, is able to recognize that the value generated by its approach to social media is greater than that from its six-sigma lean manufacturing approaches, than watch out.

From Lindsay Uittenbogaard Commscrumming from Munich

Point 1 – it’s more about the perception of the role of communication:

Dan – I love your “light bulb” moments – and of course fully agree that with the breadth of communication possibilities being so vast, it would be small-minded to set out a pre-defined role for the communicator.   I too am an ‘out of the boundaries’ kinda person.    But to be the pragmatist 🙂 the perception of the role of the communicator is created when people see outputs and resultant change (referring to Dan’s point number 2 – the message is solidified by evidence, not words).

“What does communication actually ‘do’?”

“Oh, they do this, this and this. ..”

The more advanced will say, “and they were a part of x change because of their approach doing y and z.”

Top strategic level communicators can paint themselves all sorts of ‘outside the line’ concepts – but the implementation will always come down to something a little more sober, familiar – and as such, pigeon-holed.   Towards whatever clever desired outcome, communication work will probably always be involved in media / material / event production, messages, and the representation of concepts and information in one way or another.  That’s where people put us in their minds – regardless of their seniority.

However, as the inspired strategy turns into proven practice, the outputs – as observed – evolve…  as do the perceptions of the usefulness of those activities.    Our actions do define the perception of our role but few would say it has no limits…

Point 2 – Comms in the C-Suite?  It doesn’t fit – not just because of comfort but also because of relevance:

Kevin, I agree with the notion that communicators may not end up at the very top but will increasingly take on Executive roles because, I think Mike, this is the level at which the pursuit of finding more value falls.    The C-suite’s top priority isn’t about improving value via communication or six sigma – it’s about the fundamental mission of the organization, which is usually about money or market share and how to change something there.  Communication is a means, not a mission.

Take a dinosaur organization whose mission is to increase profit from a lousy low.  Sure, the communicator who wants to build their value and skill set, remain current, and do something truly majestic will want to escape from “boring, more-of-the-same, poorly executed, strategically thin, firmly siloed communication” (KK) and “influence the strategic agenda of their organisation” (KK).  But the heavy politics, inescapably pre-set agenda and laborious cost / programme / people cuts will take the heads in the Board Room away from creative communication – even though it can help a great deal.   It’s like thinking about fine, sugar-coated chocolate when you’re trying to eat dry peanut butter on thick brown bread.   Most people / sponsors just can’t do both at the same time and need to follow a hard, simple programme of a few key activities to stay focused.   Additionally, they will probably never have been exposed to the results of GREAT communication work before and so will never have seen the evidence of its the potential (back to Dan’s point 2) – so the C-suite will say they get it but won’t put their money and energy where their mouths are unless they are in a position to take a risk.

The CEO for this profit improving mission will definitely have risen from the traditional ranks – and rightly so.   In terms of making a direct and positive contribution to the realization of the business’ key strategic profit influencing activities  – dare I say it, the communicator would probably be a bit quiet at the table.  Instead, as an Executive, the communicator will likely get sponsorship to design and implement a digestible array of traditional communication activities to support the mission, which will probably suffice.  Given half the chance, the communicator might implement a kick-ass out of the box communication set of solutions that work a treat.  In terms of snakes and ladders – that would be our biggest ladder.

Take on the other hand, the forward thinking international organization who need to make a merger a big success in order to realize dramatic growth plans.   Let’s just hope the C-suite likes and trusts their Head of Communication, who just threw a six…

CommScrummers – a blog entitled “Context is King” was planned a few months ago but for some reason it didn’t surface.   The meaning in that was, that a good look at the business and its needs is required before any conclusions are drawn about where communication fits best.   Let’s not look at our theoretical potential, but at our real business challenges – and how we can work, one person at a time, to build the faith that will lead to evidencing what we think we are capable of achieving.


18 thoughts on “Clear boundaries or borderless and unlimited? What’s your view?

  1. Learned Scrummers — I’m as enamored of navel-gazing as the next guy, but this post takes the cake (or perhaps the Lint).

    In our zeal to be (or become) strategic communicators, we make the mistake of thinking that other people in our organization WANT that sort of advice from us, as opposed to wanting our tactical skill applied strategically.

    Let’s face it, most of us are liberal arts people, social science-trained in some cases, but oft times mere ex-journos valued for our technical expertise. We understand how the media will play out, or how employees will react, and we can give advice and counsel on that basis.

    An anecdote from personal experience: I’m in a meeting with a colleague, our boss and the CEO to pitch a leadership conference. The idea’s to get everyone in one room to hear the new strategy for the company and issue marching orders for them to go back and communicate. Cascade — in an organization that traditionally self-selected strategic messaging based on their own fiefdoms, regardless of how important to the overall company a corporate initiative may be.

    The cascade was necessary because the only credible voice in the company at that time was the CEO — everyone else asked “what’s the CEO think?” about all kinds of silly things (and some not so silly, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley and business ethics programs). You couldn’t budge without his nod.

    But the CEO really couldn’t care less about we communicators making change — he wanted his exec team to do it, grassroots. He didn’t want to tell leadership that communicating effectively was part of their management remit. He refused to even contemplate adding communication skills and behaviors to annual reviews. To him, it just wasn’t that important.

    Make no mistake, he believed effective communication was critical — and he often observed (in public) that there were execs whose comms performance left a lot to be desired. But he didn’t believe that his communication department was equipped to help them. He saw us through a certain prism, with the primary color spectrum in clear view — and no appreciation for any of us whose talents or skills didn’t fit that RGB color scheme.

    (this, coming after my teaching more than 5,000 managers communications skills with 18 different companies) I was happy for the hour-long discussion, but the outcome was hideous.

    I don’t think my experience is very different from that of others. It takes an authentically enlightened senior leader to see us as other than mere scribes-on-command.

  2. kevinkeohane says:

    I think your experience is in fact probably different from that of some others, Sean. But your post sort of puts the “which faction am I in?” cards pretty firmly on the table – which is fine. The topic is worthy of discussion – so thanks for teeing off the comments!

  3. As I have noticed from elsewhere ( some people get rather agitated when you start discussing the issue of what we want from our comms leaders.

    I managed to prod a wasps nest when I suggested recently that maybe there’s more to being a senior comms person than being able too write well. I stirred things further by saying that in fact delivery skills shouldn’t define us and nodded towards the excellent points made in your rolling maul above.

    I think Dan puts it into perspective best when he talks about us a meta-profession. Although I think in some places it is more meta than others!

    There is a danger with Sean’s position is that you give up pushing the boundaries altogether. And when do you then draw the line? Do you back off when the CEO doesn’t get the need to think Brand and HR in the same sentence or do you roll over completely and let them publish the world’s worst newsletter?

    If you have a role as a professional it has to challenging complacency about your remit. If you claim to be an educator you have no choice but to be an endless questioner – even if that involves a spot of navel gazing amongst friends.


  4. …and maybe not hitting send too soon. A pint for anyone who can spot the deliberate typos!

  5. Kevin – lol. I almost never consider myself a member of a faction. I’m pragmatic like that. I left a position because they stopped buying what I was selling: the broader, more strategic view of internal comms. BTW, I kept pushing from my perch at that company to improve managerial communication, working through the business units and HR.

    Liam — I don’t think we should give up, but I understand why some people look more toward self-preservation than expanding perceptions and definitions of our profession. Early in my career, a CFO told me that internal comms were “a warm fuzzy for employees” — not a strategic tool. That certainly didn’t lead to me giving up – lol.

    As with any cultural change, shaping the perceptions that leadership has about us is a long, steep climb.

  6. commscrum says:

    Quality dialogue here… Excellent to see Liam and Sean rucking up as well.

    A few things to remember:

    1) Old school managers and leaders are alive, well, and pervasive in most mature industries. These folks GENERALLY tend to believe that they are good communicators, and the value professional communicators can add to them is limited.

    2) “What the boss thinks” may be the most important perspective driving an organization or a subcomponent part. But there are other perspectives that can be used to shift things with the right degree of leverage and application

    3) Few bosses are omniscient, particularly about the changes and changing dynamics underway in the organizational communication realm

    4) If we are going to have any influence about “what the boss thinks”, we need to communicate in a way that leverages the language and priorities that the boss uses, and identifies genuine gaps in the boss’s actual knowledge that he or she will recognize.

    Basic stuff. Often forgotten either when intimidated, frustrated, or overly enamored with external developments.

    Best from Copenhagen,


  7. Mary Boone says:

    I apologize for the long post here, but you all have hit my “Play” button. If you’re in a hurry, skip my post and move to a shorter one.

    From my perspective, recent world events such as the global financial meltdown and environmental disasters are highlighting the complexity and interconnectedness of our organizations and our world. In order to meet the demands of complex global challenges, leaders are relying increasingly on communication functions to help them build resilient brands and cultures, engage a broad range of constituencies, and fully leverage their internal talent. Communication executives are now responsible for far more than broadcasting messages and shaping public opinion using speeches, press releases, and responses to media. Now they are also expected to significantly impact behaviors, brands, and cultures.

    CEOs need CCOs to not just inform, but also to help them galvanize highly diverse networks of people – including contractors, governmental organizations, strategic partners, customers, part-time employees, virtual teams, volunteers, outsourced functions and many other relevant constituencies. Technology is essential, but not sufficient, for activating these networks – a critical challenge is enabling high performance collaboration. These new leadership expectations require that communication functions serve as a center of expertise for enabling the high performance collaboration that is essential to shaping cultures, building brands, managing risk, and delivering bottom-line results.

    In short, as the world increases in complexity, the field of communication is experiencing a critical inflection point as it becomes more central to the core value propositions of organizations. Effective communication and collaboration are now essential to organizational success and, in some cases, even survival.

    I see the central question for communication leaders to be “How can we shape the evolution of our profession?” Some associated questions might include: “Have we done all that we can to prepare our functions and our profession to meet the demands of the complexities we are all facing?” “Are the skills and talent we have assembled up to the task of providing not only the traditional “broadcast” capabilities but also expertise in high performance collaboration?” “What are we doing to build “authentic enterprises” (as described in the Arthur Page Society white paper)?”

    My work and research centers on the intersection of communication, organizational behavior, design and IT and I have been working with Dave Snowden in the area of Complex Adaptive Systems for almost a decade. We wrote an article for Harvard Business Review entitled “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” (and I was pleasantly shocked when we received an award from the Academy of Management for it). In this article, we talk about how principles from complexity theory can help leaders.

    As a communicator, I see our role as central to the development of resilient organizations in a complex world. And believe me, CEOs need us. I recently had a CEO say to me “I want this Leadership Forum (a gathering of their top 300 global leaders) to be a force multiplier for effective execution of our strategy.” This was music to my ears. There will be more requests like this for communicators because the CEOs who aren’t asking for this type of assistance won’t be there anymore and yes, I believe that some of the new ones coming in will be former CCOs.

    It’s not a matter of either/or when it comes to the actual skills and talents we must apply. We clearly need traditional “delivery” skills such as writing, but we also need to have communication people who can consult with CEOs to not only understand strategy but contribute to its formation. In other words, we need BOTH generalists and specialists and we need to build organizational structures that optimize their deployment for the right situation at the right time.

    And I believe the Academy can be working right alongside us. While there may be some academicians who are clinging to old models, there are also some greatly enlightened ones who can help us lead the charge.

    You can probably see from the above which “camp” I’m in…

  8. Greetings from the 2nd happiest place in the world [according to Lonely Planet] and congratulations to those of you living in the happiest place Vanuatu – wish I was there…

    As usual lots of good and compelling stuff. So, now that my blood pressure is mostly back to normal and Mary has said much of what was on my mind…

    I think maybe this post should have been called ‘Back to the future’.

    Today, a few of us are very privileged to be able to work at senior levels of organizations on strategic business issues. Most of us are not. And there are two reasons that have been highlighted here:
    1. What organizations need and what they want from us are different.
    2. Many of us are not ready.

    Tomorrow, it will be a different story. What organizations need and what they want from us will be the same. And it will be an increasingly strategic system view [this doesn’t mean we won’t need the tactics btw – I’m from the “and” camp]. So, how do we as a profession prepare ourselves.

    I was fortunate to come to communications from an early career doing turnarounds in Retail operations, then from an MBA to HR/OD and then Business Strategy Design work. I stumbled into it kicking and screaming [internal communications for me was the back end of the back end of the dog – sorry] and found a place where it was actually easier to ask executives the tough business questions and influence strategy because it’s really real – “You’re going to stand up in front of 40,000 people and announce what?” And sometimes it’s meant insinuating myself in places – away from my function – where I wasn’t particularly welcomed at first.

    I’m not sure if I’d come through a traditional communications career path I would have had the business/system view that it takes to do what I do today. And, I wonder how many CommSrummers came through a “traditional” track?

    I do think that as Kevin said “we have an obligation to take opportunities to influence the strategic agenda.” But do we have what it takes. Conversations here notwithstanding, I don’t see that many internal communications professionals who are able to provide strategic counsel to CEOs. They don’t have either the personal or professional credibility. So why would a CEO listen.

    The question I’m left with then is: “How do we as a profession prepare ourselves for the future?” It’s coming very fast. Oooops I think it’s here.
    Lindsay: I was intrigued by the “Context is King” idea you mentioned. In a course I taught and then a seminar I led at McGill University on internal communication strategy the push back from students/participants on the context piece was incredible. The idea that you’d need to understand the fundamental forces in play on and dynamics of the business was completely unpalatable. What’s that about?

  9. Indy says:

    I note some others have published righteous indignation on their blogs. I have finished a certain draft, so now I have time to wade into the debate. And this is almost certainly a rant.

    1) Let me introduce you to a CEO. He started out producing visual stuff, things that were on camera. Let’s say he moved into TV… He has won a few Emmys. Moved into management of other communicators and now he’s the CEO of a major firm.

    I sense that Lindsay articulates exactly the objection that many communicators bring – the context is wrong – can this man really handle profit and loss? Does he know about the business? It’s just unbelievable… what’s Indy blathering on about, fantasising a communicator as a CEO.

    Ladies and gentleman, it is my honour to introduce Sir Howard Stringer – CEO of Sony.

    2) This brings me to the topic of “what is a communicator?” I don’t agree completely with Liam’s post, but I note that none of the people piling on (that’s a technical term from American Football) at Shel Holtz’s site deigned to answer any of my questions. So, that perhaps is the answer… Howard Stringer produced TV shows and documentaries… he isn’t a writer, so he’s not a communicator…

    (A small ranting aside… one of the writers, Roger D’Aprix, complained about the quality of Corporate Videos. Given my recent experiences in advising on the cultural content of some corporate videos, I have to suggest that in the places that the quality of corporate videos is questionable, then it’s partly because they are commissioned by high-ranking communicators who are are writers who think that they know everything about communication, but couldn’t write a short piece on visual grammar without a lot of googling.)

    3) Mary has said all the things I usually bang on about, if you skipped her long comment, go and read it… she really covers the philosophical grounds for why communicators should have broad horizons… and anything that was missed, I think Deborah covered…

    4) In sort of answer to Dan’s name check of me and keeping Alan Richardson’s comment in mind….

    I’m not a communicator, Shel Holtz made that perfectly clear. Let’s look at some bits of my CV. Photographer? No writing involved, doesn’t count… Designed and implemented IT systems to transfer information and knowledge around an organisation? Writing skills not important, doesn’t count… Diagnose cultural roots to communication problems and then run workshops to help teams from different cultures communicate… Not much writing there, doesn’t count… Advise on the translation of brand concepts across cultures, all the persuasion was really verbal… doesn’t count…

    Maybe that’s why I’m happy to colour outside the lines, including over into communication space, and call myself a management consultant…

  10. Indy. I think this is where we need a ‘like’ button…. D

    • Dan Gray says:

      Defo, Debbie!

      Indy, that’s an absolute belter of a comment. (I duly doff my cap to Mary too as clearly yet another kindred spirit!)

      This gets right to the nub of what I was trying to articulate last time out, about styling ourselves more as management consultants (if pressed, that’s what I’d call myself too).

      Look at the examples KK gives in his follow-up post on DTIM ( – experiences that chime 100% with what I’ve been up to out in Riyadh and, no doubt, the stuff you are doing too.

      This is the grown-up way to demonstrate real added value – what you might call “X-led business transformation” (where X = brand/culture/communications/sustainability/…/all of the above).

  11. Update from Montreal. Just listened to a webinar by Gary Hamel on Reinventing Management [you have to join MiX to have access, but well worth it and the hour to listen/follow] – ] I was uplifted and energized. The implications for communicators – huge and in line I think with this and other discussion on or around CommScrum.

    Then I went to the Stockholm Accords final document and felt like the air was sucked out of me.

    Glad you’re here CommScrum.

  12. G’day all, my comment – What Mary said (okay plus a little Indy and some cherry picking from others!). So I’m not going to say it all again, just flick straight back to Mary’s comment now.

    But I need to say that all of the arguments above are the same for everyone, and this is where I’ve had disagreements with comments on previous CommScrums.

    An accountant needs to be able to do much more than the books before becoming a CEO or CFO. A recruiter needs to be able to do much more than find good people before becoming a CEO or HR Director. And an auditor can become a CEO, consultant or leader, as long as they don’t just limit themselves to auditing.

    So it is with communicators. I too have moved out of the strictly communication space because communications led me to much more – leadership, management, environmental analysis, strategic and business planning, organisational alignment, stakeholder relations etc.

    So Dan and Alan, I don’t think being a communicator makes me any more qualified than a HR, L&D, OD as a management consultant, but I’m not less qualified either. What makes me qualified at all is the Geoff Barbaro factor, that I chose paths to travel, including comms, to develop the knowledge, skills and experience to make it work.

    My first ever blog post was on the importance of rejecting labels. Really it should have been about the importance of being what you want to be and ignoring those who would label you. If you want to be an internal communicator, auditor or accountant, good for you. If you want to be a CEO or C-Suite member, great.

    And I’m not going to be labelled by anything called an Accord!

    Cheers, geoff

  13. Adam Hibbert says:

    Ugh. I wonder if we aren’t talking at crossed purposes here, a little? Perhaps it would help to separate the function from the individual?

    Of course an individual senior communicator may grow into a management generalist and make a move into the CEO role. That’s about the individual, not so much the discipline that boosted her into orbit – the booster stage is *left behind*.

    Can a comms leader sit at the top table and play an equal part in the formation of strategy, or lead it as CEO? This I’m less sure of. That’s because I take that wider conception of organisational communication to be fundamentally that of a *mediating* function.

    We certainly need to work to make ourselves indispensible to processes of strategy formation – to condition what goes into that room to be decided.

    But I’m wary of thinking we can both make the business decisions, *and* mediate between management and employee. That situation, for me, seems likely to tilt the organisation towards the kind of cultish stuff Jesper Kunde used to advocate (and David Arnott to criticise) back around 2000.

    “Dear, dear, Adam, do calm down – good and kind folks such as us couldn’t possibly participate in such dystopian stuff” I hear you typing. But for example – Dan, what is this ‘authenticity’ of which you speak? Sounds romantic to me, with all the uglier political ramifications that memeplex implies.

    To my mind, mediators need to keep at least a toe-hold on something that’s independent of either end of the relation they’re mediating. Or we’re fatally compromised.

  14. kevinkeohane says:

    Nice to have you back Adam!

  15. Adam Hibbert says:

    aw, shucks.

  16. […] we all know what needs attention and why – perhaps best articulated by Mary Boone in her great comment on our ‘glass ceilings’ debate a while […]

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