communicationsGuest Post by John Friedman

Inspiring communications focuses people on the real value in your products or services. 

Three months after I joined and spent my first three months traveling – at no small expense – around North America, I stood in front of the President to answer a simple question; what had I learned about what the company did. It was a new industry for me – and my first for-profit company.

I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and told him “What I learned is that people in this company do not know what it does.”

“You’ve got 60 seconds to explain that, or you’re outta here.”

“Well, sir, you think you make concrete, wallboard and asphalt … but that is what you make, it’s not what you do …” I began, and then proceeded to tell him about the value and impact those items had on people … “the homes where children play, the schools where they will be educated, the houses of worship where they may one day be married, the offices that they will work in to support their own families, and the roads and bridges that they will use to get to those places.

THAT is what you do. And that’s a better reason to come to work in the morning than if you can get a few more linear feet off a production line.”

I kept the job.

You see, what I had discovered was that the senior leadership of the company was so focused on the “30,000-foot” view that they had lost the ability to see the value of the grassroots approach. And the people in the field and on the front lines were getting messages from their leadership that were, for the most part, disconnected with the impact of the products.

A company makes certain products and/or services. They may be diversified or specialized, but they also need to remember that what they make is not the same as what they do.

The products and services themselves have no intrinsic value – their value lies in their impact of peoples’ lives; both intended and unintended.

Like the classic example of the three masons, it is important to help employees to remember why what they are doing matters to people every day. The value that they bring to their task is far more than the ability to bring home a paycheck.

And knowing how what you make impacts peoples’ lives is the core of defining your corporate responsibility – knowing how people who use your goods or services benefit from your products and maximizing that positive impact, while reducing the costs (including environmental) of producing and delivering those goods or services.

It’s not just an issue with for-profit companies.

I went to work for another organization that was going through a rebranding effort. They wanted to refresh their logo and image; which was fortunate because their mission was again focused entirely on what they did – they measured the quality of healthcare. However, they were missing the key point. 

Their methodology, over the years, had been adopted by healthcare organizations and they could show (and did show in their annual report) improvements in key metrics like preventive care. So, I proposed that their mission statement link what they did with the outcomes it achieved; “measuring quality, improving healthcare.”

Again a more powerful mission; one that is results focused and not action focused.

The same holds true for personal careers. I no longer introduce myself by title or say that I am a “communications and corporate responsibility professional” – I applied the same thinking and came up with “I help companies live their values and engage in authentic conversations with their stakeholders.”

I encourage you to try this approach and see how it works for you. Then, share your results and questions in the comments below. 

Image: via Unsplash, Creative Commons CC0

John FriedmanJohn Friedman is an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience as both an external and internal sustainability leader, helping companies, ranging from small companies to leading global enterprises, turn their values into successful business models by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices.