February put Sweden on the map again. And for positive reasons, as an important research study (conducted between 2014-2018) by the Department of Strategic Communication at Lund’s University was published: “The communicative organisation”. With over 8,000 respondents participating in a quantitative survey study as well as 170 individuals in the qualitative part of the study – the large amount of empirical material makes this study unique within the current field of communication research.
I’ll be honest with you: since I graduated and got my Bachelor in Swedish and Communications Management 2014, I haven’t exactly cared so much to stay in touch with the academic area or what’s been going on over there. However, when I noted this research report last week I figured that now would probably be an excellent timing to try and stay updated. Perhaps the same goes for you too?
If that’s the case, then just keep reading and you’ll find a recap of – what I thought – were the most interesting parts from the study, as well as some thought and reflections of my own.
First things first though. Yet another report? What’s the report about and what’s the rationale for investing so much time into researching communication? Shouldn’t there be more than plenty of material available already?
According to the authors, so far, there have been few other research studies within areas such as strategic communications, corporate communications and organisational communication with the corresponding amount of empirical material (data).
Eleven Swedish corporations and organisations, among them furniture giant IKEA and construction company NCC, to name a few familiar names, have participated in the study. Thanks to the large amount of empirical data collected, the authors says it’s now possible to contribute with more ”nuanced knowledge about progress, shortcomings and challenges in the communication practices at our workplaces”. Also: It should be pointed out that the project has not only focused on communication managers and their view on things, it also included co-workers’ and managers’ perspectives.
The authors adds that a lot of studies within strategic communications tend to focus only on one group at a time.
The report is structured around seven ways of creating a “communicative organisation”. In this post however, I will not be including all of them. Rather I’m interested in continuing on some of the discussion topics raised in the report.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the most interesting findings!
Finding: Difficulties explaining and measuring the value of communication
If you’re working within communications, it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that communicators are struggling to explain the true value of their work and how it contributes to the organisation’s success to their co-workers. Still, only 10,4 percent of the respondents in the survey rated measuring and evaluating their efforts better as the most important improvement area, furthermore – only 0,6 percent of respondents said that they were also actively working on it.
Let’s pause here for a while. I have no reason to doubt the researchers, however, as I’ve got my own background mainly in listed companies I couldn’t help but wonder what these numbers would have look liked, had there been more listed companies involved in the study? Perhaps I would have been one among those 0,6 percent had I been in the study as well, as I don’t really recognize that lacking of measuring and following up on things.
On the contrary. I think this is instead something that we communicators tend to do a little bit too much sometimes. A lot of times there just too much focus on quantitative data instead of applying a quality focus. Obviously, this is just my personal opinion and experience of things. But going forward, I still hope we’ll see studies involving more listed companies as study objects, in order to gain further understanding.
One of the reasons I’m writing this is that already when I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis, I was annoyed by the large academic focus on researching municipalities rather than private companies. Obviously, it’s harder to gain access to private companies in order to conduct research, but in case we’re looking to find deeper knowledge and applicable models forward, I still believe we have to broaden the scope.
Finding: Future challenges
Which strategic areas are the most important from now on and until 2021? The following were listed:
1) Build and maintain trust
2) Link together the organisation’s strategy with its communication initiatives
3) Manage the digital development
Apart from the three topics mentioned above, the researchers also stresses the importance of these aspects:
- new communicator roles and demands for increased competence
- paradoxes and tensions
- digitalization and artificial intelligence
- reflection and further learning in order to reach excellence
My reflections on the findings in the report
Reflection: on roles and “mainstreaming” content….
As could be expected, several of the “normal” challenges we’ve already heard about a thousand times of course also popped up here: Managing digitalisation and AI. Time will have to tell what happens here, but one interesting aspect that I thought worth spending some time pondering about concerned several new communicator roles.
Obviously, for anyone working in or with communicators, that challenge is already here. Working on the inside can be frustrating. Especially if you work together with a counterpart (or parties) that does not understand the differences of different roles and responsibilities. Personally, I’ve thought a lot about how everything is talked about as content these days. Please read that the right way. Talking about content is of course nothing new to anyone of us anymore. That’s not what I’m getting at here.
However, the problems arise when we tend to start talking about EVERYTHING as content, regardless of the underlying communications discipline.
Let me give you an example of how this can be problematic. Let’s say organisation X has a problem. The root of the problem is not really a communications problem, but communication will still be an important part of that organization’s efforts to solve the problem. Organisation X gets to work and starts pumping out information. However, as they are lacking in certain important competences, the nature of the material that comes out may perhaps only be in the form of content marketing.
Nothing wrong with content marketing of course, that is, when that is included as one part of an integrated plan. A plan that also takes into consideration the challenges of working with complex targets groups, for example investor relations. You simply can’t provide a potential investor only visionary market plans and colorful press images, you will have to add much, much more substance, numbers, proof points and results.
I fear that by only talking about “content” as we tend to do these days, we are more and more missing the important and underlying knowledge areas. We’re more and more forgetting about the different roles and competences required, the ones that are absolutely crucial in order to actually create and produce the content later on.
Reflection: The draining power of “invisible” work
One of the findings discussed in the study was that as many as 60 percent of managers and 25 percent of communications themselves thought that too much resources were invested into communication, in relation to the actual results.
Considering that the study also found that managers and co-workers mostly thought of communicators and their competence from a technical perspective (communicators work with digital channels and media relations) perhaps these numbers are not so surprising.
A simple analysis from my perspective is that a contributing aspect here most likely must be the difficulties of measuring all of the invisible work that is put in during a normal day as a communicator. For example: continuously managing and coordinating projects and activities is a typical example of a task that nobody would ever expect to take so much time. Yet, it’s something that all communicators do. When its functioning, nobody thinks about things being ”managed or coordinated”. As soon as the project management fails however, that’s when the pure value of those invisible efforts are shown…
Supporting, educating and coaching managers, management and other co-workers is another invisible aspect. There are lots of “invisible” requirement put upon communicators in organisations. A problem here is that sometimes these working norms are so familiar to us that we don’t even realise our own behaviours. To this, I don’t have any solution to present, but as always, insight is the first step towards changing.
In combination with a work sector that is not always aligned with reality. I think we also ought to talk more about roles. Roles and work processes will always be integrated to some extent of course – but if you are hiring someone to write, but in reality the conditions at work are such that this person instead ends up coordinating things non stop, then that is of course where part of the desired results end up too.
How are we supposed to solve these issues then? The authors does not claim to have all the answers of course, but at least leave us communicators with a good piece of advice: Be in charge of the communications development and stop acting like an accessible support function!”.
Have you read the report? If so, what did you think about it? Did you agree with the findings or do you have completely different experiences? Would be interesting to hear your thoughts!
PS. In case you want to read the study and learn more, you can find all of the material (in Swedish) on the Swedish Communication Association’s website: https://sverigeskommunikatorer.se/fakta-och-verktyg/forskning/kommunikativa-organisationer/