Five essential traits of a high performance communications function


As the saying goes, fish perceive water last. When you’re swimming in the waters of your organization, you’re so immersed in its dysfunctions and idiosyncrasies that you might lose sight of what a really high performing communications function actually looks like.

Let’s take a look at the five essential traits:

The first is alignment. The best communications teams are tightly aligned with their organization’s goals and priorities. Basically, they’re doing the right things, and doing them right. This practice is anchored in a solid, current strategic communications plan that reliably directs communications decisions, messages and tactics toward a clearly established North Star.

Communicators are committed to fueling organizational performance and are agile enough to adjust to changing priorities. This includes having the mindset and skillset required to perform in ambiguity since very often the “thing” we’re asked to communicate about isn’t fully defined yet.  

This relentless and responsive commitment to alignment sets up winning conditions for excellence – creating a win for the internal clients, a win for the communications team who feel empowered to do meaningful work, and a win for audiences who are well served.

The next characteristic of a top communications team is strong governance. The communications head has a direct reporting line to the CEO, and the scope of responsibilities and accountabilities is clear. The team may have a formal charter that helps establish the scope of services and rules of engagement.

Everyone’s on the same page that the communications lead is ultimately the steward of the organization’s reputation and brand. As such, their guidance on issues of messaging or communications strategy is followed in the same way that staff naturally follow the budget guidelines established by the finance department.

High performance communications teams operate in an environment of high trust. Their expertise and scope of practice are respected, and they’ve earned trust by consistently delivering, including a track record of impeccable quality assurance. In this context, the communicators feel strongly empowered and enabled to perform, to challenge and to innovate. (If you want to strengthen your team’s empowerment and alignment, an option is our new Communications Team Retreat program).

Communicators are attentive to building and cultivating strong relationships with their internal clients and business partners. They genuinely care about their clients’ success, have deep knowledge of their business issues, and make it a practice to proactively identify opportunities to add value. The relationships and expertise that communicators develop make them ideal connectors – they’re uniquely positioned to see points of integration across the organization that others don’t perceive. This vantage point enables them to provide insightful advice and forge creative solutions to business problems.

Another tell-tale sign of excellence is appropriate capacity that matches the organization’s expectations and needs. You can draw a straight line between the organization’s requirements, say in internal, stakeholder or external communications, and the available financial and human resources. The team’s relative weighting of capacity across its various audiences is also calibrated appropriately.

An important feature here is that communicators are liberated to focus on high value work – they have reasonable approval processes, and their work is supported by a solid project management system so that they’re protected from being consumed by the churn of the communications function.

Finally, high performance communications teams are equipped with the required capabilities. The communicators have the skill, knowledge and mindsets needed to contribute maximum value. This includes consistently strong consultative skills and a background in results-based strategic communications planning. The team embraces a culture of learning and continuous improvement, including having the courage to experiment, evaluate and evolve their practices based on insight and evidence.

For more ideas on becoming a high performance communications function, check out our free Results Map® Communications Function Maturity Scale, blog, Results Map® System and team workshops. Feel free to drop me a line to bounce ideas and explore options that can support you and your team.

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