Communication managers not good as strategists

April 15, 2013 - 06:40

Communication managers would like to play a strategic part in their companies. They do so only to a limited extent believe Norwegian heads of business and industry.

Leaders are not impressed by their communication managers. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The growing army of PR advisers and communication officers in Norwegian companies like to present themselves as strategic advisers to senior management.

We also see that communication managers have manoeuvred into management, particularly in larges enterprises.

How vital are the communicators for the organisation’s success? To what extent do communication managers take part in making strategic decisions in the enterprise?

Professor Peggy S. Brønn at BI Norwegian Business School, together with Øystein Pedersen Dahlen at Oslo School of Management, have conducted a study to map how other managers in the enterprise evaluate communication managers and the communication function.

More than 1300 managers

In 2009, Brønn sent a questionnaire to a selection of 5000 managers in small, medium-sized and large companies throughout Norway. The researchers received a total of 1343 complete responses.

Only 22 per cent of the enterprises surveyed had their own communication department or a person with dedicated responsibility for communication.

According to the researchers, this is due to the study’s selection reflecting the fact that most Norwegian companies are small and medium-sized.

About two-thirds of the companies in the selection stated that they had fewer than 19 employees, while 12 per cent of the enterprises had 100 or more employees.

Sales most important

The managers were asked to evaluate what functions most contributed to the organisation’s success.

PR and communication were here compared with eight other company functions on a scale from 1 (does not contribute) to 7 (contributes to a great extent).

Norwegian heads of business and industry believe that the sales function contributes the most to the success of the enterprise. The sales function had an average score of 5.71 (of maximum 7 attainable). Sixty-five per cent of Norwegian managers responded with the top scores of 6 or 7 regarding the significance of the sales function.

Following sales, there is nearly a tie between finance/accounting and the personnel/HR function. These sectors were followed by strategic planning and marketing.

PR and communication were ranked at a modest 6th place when Norwegian managers were asked to evaluate what was the most important factor for the organisation’s success.

Communication here placed before security and IT, with the legal function at the very bottom of the list.

It should be noted that managers in companies with their own communication department not surprisingly rank PR and communication higher than those companies that do not have this function.

Internal communication at the bottom

When managers were asked about which communication disciplines were the most important for the enterprise, communication skills came out on top, followed by market communication, brand development and marketing.

Peggy S. Brønn. (Foto: Nicolas Tourrenc)

These are the only two areas that had an average score of more than 5 (of maximum 7) regarding perceived importance for the organisation.

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rank fairly low on the list of important communication disciplines.

At the very bottom in terms of importance we find internal communication, which has to make do with 2.8 of a maximum score of 7. Only 12 per cent of the managers surveyed believe internal communication is very important for the organisation (the percentage that answered 6 or 7).

Far away from decision-making

Less than half of the managers (44 per cent) stated that their communication directors or managers were involved in making strategic decisions in the organisation.

Far more, about seven out of ten (72 per cent), answered yes when questioned about whether their communication manager contributes in proposing alternatives. Nearly just as many, 66 per cent, stated that the communication manager actively promoted issues.

About half of the managers (55 per cent) believe that the communication manager also contributes when various action alternatives are assessed.

A little under half (49 per cent) believe that the communication manager contributes to clarifying issues related to strategic decisions.

“The results indicate that managers believe that the communication director has something to contribute to the decision-making process, but that they in reality do not take part when decisions are made”, the researchers point out.

Room for improvement

The heads of business and industry were also asked to evaluate the communication manager’s performance in strategic areas. Here the managers were asked to use a scale from 1 (very poor) to 5 (outstanding) to evaluate the strategic skills of their communication managers.

The communication managers are given the best testimonial when it comes to having a broad overview of what goes on internally in the organisation. Here nearly one-fourth of the external examiners (24 per cent) awarded their communication managers the top score of 5. On average the communication managers achieved 3.82 (of maximum 5) for their organisational insight.

The communication managers received surprisingly poor feedback regarding their ability to analyse the outside world, a topic that is a crucial element in the field of communication. Here the average score was a modest 3.72 (of maximum 5).

Norwegian managers were the least impressed by the communication managers’ ability to be future-oriented. Only 11 per cent of the managers awarded the top score of 5. The average score in this important strategic field was a modest 3.41.

“The communication manager becomes a pure messenger if he or she is not included in the entire strategic decision-making process”, Brønn points out. She is head of the BI Centre for Corporate Communication at BI Norwegian Business School.

According to Brønn this may also entail that the communication department in reality plays a reactive and defensive role instead of being a driving and proactive function in the organisation.

The study was conducted in both the private and public sectors. This article has presented the results from the business and industry study.

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