Effective communications with relevant target stakeholders and audience is an essential component in ensuring business success. But many companies in Namibia miss this opportunity for growth by failing to acknowledge this pivotal strategic function within their organisations.
The Windhoek Observer spoke to communications expert, Usi //Hoebeb of Usi Hoebeb Communications, to unpack the importance of communication, both internal and external for corporate or public entities. Hoebeb has it that the implementation of real communication strategies should be a priority for any growing and established business enterprise.
Jeremiah Ndjoze (JN): Namibia has seen serious economic challenges recently and many local companies and organisations have had to re-organise themselves, just to survive and get through these tough times. However, effective communications did not seem to feature too highly on the priority list of many a top management team in realizing change and improve productivity. Why is it so important for an organisaton to have effective communication strategies right from the get-go?
Usi //Hoebeb (UH): I view effective communication – whether with internal stakeholders (staff) or identified external stakeholders – as the very ‘soul of the business.’ Communication enables an organisation to move dramatically forward in realising its corporate objectives while positioning it for relevance, amongst the very stakeholders it serves. Let us take internal stakeholders, for example. We ought to ask ourselves; how do we improve productivity amongst staff, if this important group is not kept informed of the organisation’s goals and objectives or if the company’s weekly, monthly performance rates on both financial and organisational levels are not communicated to them, let alone them being let in on discussions about operational issues? But again, you cannot do this haphazardly and without a plan. Therefore, internal communication plays a vital role in improving productivity in an organisation. An effective internal communication strategy inspires organisational performance by linking individual g
oals to team performance and allows for more effective daily decisions being made that are aligned to the organisation’s goals. Furthermore, it would ensure that staff on all levels identify with the goals, mission, vision, and values of the company and thus have a greater sense of ownership of their actions. This, eventually, leads to the creation and inculcation of a “corporate culture” and ultimately produces increased productivity. Of course, all of this sounds very academic, but it is achievable.
JN: Achievable? How?
UH: By operating from a well-thought-out strategy, developed with the above objectives in mind and rolled out with the full co-operation and buy-in of top management and staff. In developing this strategy, the communication professional would need to review whatever communication structures exist within an organisation and develop a GAP Analysis on what outcome a communication activity should have. In our experience, we have found that these would be very lean and not geared around meeting the internal communication goals. Furthermore, various departments in an organisation have expectations on how their departmental goals can be improved through effective collaboration with other departments. But, not being communication experts, they would not be able to articulate these desires and would require a communications model to do exactly that. I will venture as far as to say that, when these cross-departmental communication endeavours fail, organisations should resort to team-building exercises to try and help
JN: Are team-building exercises an ideal communication tool?
UH: In my opinion, they can be, but not when team building activities are centered on what I call ‘war-games’ like events. Team building cannot be done on a ‘one size fits all’ principle. Based on our experiences, each organisation has its unique organisational culture which is often challenged by the diversity of its workforce. Mainly, because each staff member brings with him or her, a personal vision and values. If these are not aligned to the organisational culture and values, then a disconnect from mutual expectations would exist – from both the individual staff member and the organisation. As such, staff often loses the consciousness of the essential connection between their function and the reason for the existence of their organisation. Therefore, organisations would take their staff/work teams out of their normal work-routine, because the routine sometimes lulls them into the complacency of “just doing my job”. A corporate team-building exercise can initiate the re-establishment of this connection f
or staff and in so doing create a “Together Everyone Achieves More” (TEAM) mindset. All activities for the team building must, therefore, be designed and developed within the principles of “corporate soul-searching.” This, in essence, means that at an individual level the following question would be asked: ‘How can I, as an individual improve my contribution to my team, as well as the organisation’s vision, mission, and objectives?’
And at the team level, the following question must be asked: ‘How can we as a group/team position our company better for the achievement of its Vision?’
And finally, at the organisational (corporate) level, the question to be asked is: ‘How can we improve our strategic management processes to harness the best of our people’s capacities?’
Based on the above premise, team building concepts are not the run-of-the-mill “paintball, mountain-climbing and obstacle-courses” activities. We, for example, tailor-makes team building activities to suit the needs of the organisation, based on its values, vision and how these are interlinked with those of the individual staff members. This is a unique approach and a first of its kind in Namibia, which we recently rolled out to a major client with over 270 staff and it yielded measurable success.
Staff should return from such a session, not feeling as if a staff fun day has been held but knowing that they can really connect with each other and in so doing improve their company’s overall performance through increased productivity.
This activity should ideally be a communications function, at best in collaboration with HR but driven from a communications perspective.
JN? How important are external stakeholders in the success of an organisation or business?
UH: They are the very essence of the organisation’s success. You cannot achieve any measure of success without them. But we need to understand who they are and what their expectations are and how important they are to our business. In so doing, we can carve strategies to obtain their buy-in of our service, product or ideology. We need to understand their language and nuances and often idiosyncrasies and behaviours, so that we can develop messages aimed at specific groups. That ultimately, assists us in developing activities around specifically identified, mapped and analysed stakeholder groupings. In the end, an organisation should have a Communications, PR or Integrated strategy which would aim to position the organisation or company as being credible and relevant; a provider of quality service or product and a responsible corporate citizen. This paves the way form any marketing or sales strategy to engage with those target audiences, to effectively drive their marketing and sales agendas and targets. Withou
t effective communications having engaged in identifying audiences and obtaining their buy-in, it would be extremely difficult for desired sales targets to be met, let alone ideologies and agendas to be driven home through effective narratives.
JN: It goes without saying that the media plays a pivotal role in any communications strategy roll-out? How important is it to engage the media?
UH: It is crucial. But we also need to understand its relevance and importance. The media is not just a means to an end, or there to service corporate agendas. We need to understand the important role it plays in a functioning democracy as the fourth estate. It can reach a very large cross-section of an organisation’s target audience, direct narrative and shape opinion. Therefore, communication specialists would do well to understand that and not merely see the media as part of its marketing arsenal – unless paid for of course. Many organisations have unique narratives to tell. Stories that have an impact on the societies we live in, and therefore many an editor would be more than willing to look at an organisation’s narrative, objectively appraise it and publish, if it is newsworthy and of interest to its target reader base. However, “PR speaks” often does not get space in the editorial sections and would need to be paid for through advertising.
JN: As per your observation, is the communications profession taken seriously by Executive Management?
UH: Not as much as it should be. It should have a seat at the EXCO table, but how many companies do you know that have that seat? Those who do, achieve a reasonable measure of success, far above those who do not. So why don’t we have that seat? It is because communication is still not seen as a strategic function. The communications function should ideally be at a strategic level with the Head of Department on EXCO (E-Band) level at best or D-Band (Management) at worst, supported by a Public Relations Officer/Communications Officer in executing the activities as enshrined in the Communications Strategy. I would like to stress that there needs to be a strategy to work from, preferably a three-year rolling plan, reviewed annually, discussed and signed off by the Board of Directors, with a policy attached, to ensure conformance. And all this can be achieved in-house, if the capacity exists, or if there is willingness from the powers that be, to grant that seat at the table.
Sadly, this is often seen as something which companies can do without until a crisis hits – either through media reports or other areas such as industrial action. When this happens you require strategic thinking to navigate these waters. But here’s the thing…it could have been avoided if we had effectively communicated our ideologies and narratives to our identified stakeholders through a well thought out and developed strategy. The latter should, by the way, always include a crisis communications component.
JN: Finally, should this function be in-house or outsourced
UH: It really depends on the operational needs of the organisation or business. I have worked from an in-house perspective for companies such as TransNamib (Desert Express) and Skorpion Zinc and also from a consultant perspective for companies such as China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and NAMDIA. I am therefore privileged to understand the dynamics from both sides. As stated previously, it should be at a strategic level and if an organisation has that leadership willingness to place it there let it be an internal function and give it some teeth.
Sometimes, though, you may find that organisation would want to outsource this to external companies, such as ours, where they have an entire team working on their brand, supported by other service professionals aligned to the agency, that are providing other essential services such as event management, creative design, electronic media production, as well as, social media back-office technical support. In addition to this, additional benefits of outsourcing the function are that consultants remain removed from the effects of internal corporate politics and can provide professional advice and guidance, with the benefit of objectivity rather than being caught up in camps.