By Remy Raitt
Communications is a booming sector around the world, and retaining talent is key to any successful organisation. To better understand this industry in South Africa, the VMA Group Africa conducted research into the South African landscape, exposing issues that impact the communication world today.
According to the 2015 VMA Group Africa research, one out of two communications professionals leave their organisation because it doesn’t provide career growth or because there’s no adequate training available within their field of expertise.
Employees want to improve
Daniel Munslow, a principal consultant at VMA Group, South Africa says; “South African employees are clearly focused on their careers and the importance of skills development and a challenging work environment.” He says that if employers want to hold onto their communications employees, training programmes and skills development opportunities need to be put into place. “Further, skilled communicators know that to grow they need to elevate their role to an exco positioning,” he explains. “If the company doesn’t recognise the strategic, board-level responsibility of stakeholder engagement, good talent will move to where it is.”
The good news is that 60% of the communicators surveyed in the country are spending more this year on skills development than they were last year. “This is in line with global best practice, which advocates skills development as the key proponent of improving and investing in an in-house capability,” says Munslow.
Recognising the value of human capital
He says the 2015 CEO Conference Board research, which surveyed over 900 global CEOs showed the number one business driver that keeps them up at night is human capital. “This was not the case a few years ago, where CEOs were occupied by operational efficiencies, innovation, and managing a regulatory environment,” he says. “They have realised that if they get their human capital engaged, through strategic business communication, the rest will follow – engaged employees are more involved, and as a result focus on business results more than employees who are not. This drives efficiencies and better customer services, which drives sales.”
Known as the employee profit chain, this kind of engagement shapes corporate culture and inspires employees to join business leaders in achieving the organisation’s goals.
Communicators aren’t order takers
“South African communicators are very positive about the future, and 58% of respondents said they expected the influence of communication to increase in their businesses in the next two years,” Munslow says. “Given the strategic role communication plays in reputation management, internal communication and leadership training, it supports that notion that executives leverage off the communication function to drive reputational priorities.”
That said, many are frustrated by the fact that they are regarded as operational ‘order takers’ rather than trusted advisors. “Global and South Africa-based research shows that there is a trust gap between leaders and their employees,” says Munslow. “Very often, leaders rate themselves as better communicators than their employees perceive them to be. These leaders need the communication function to provide strategic advice on what they should be doing to increase their profile, visibility, and consequently trust in business.”
Speaking the same language
“For many years communication has not spoken the same language as business,” says Munslow. Instead of key business drivers, reporting is primarily about outputs and activities. “For many communicators, the shift to presenting communication as a business language is a challenge; but many leaders find it difficult to pinpoint the strategic importance of communication due to some of these factors.”
In order to change this, Munslow says communication strategies must be elevated beyond planning. “They must start addressing the issues that keep leaders up at night and propose solutions to key business challenges. Leaders want to hear about how communication will achieve his or her personal and organisational objectives and goals; how communication can make, keep and save money; and how aspects of the business will fail or not progress without solid communication. To achieve this, a solid foundation is measurement. Something many organisations do not have.”
Munslow says the main aim for communicators should be to convert from being a tactical player to being a strategic business advisor.
“Organisations where communication doesn’t feature at this decision making level find it increasingly challenging to drive integrated stakeholder engagement and especially employee engagement.”