The Capabilities Great Communication Professionals Are Made Of

Adrian Cropley

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Adrian Cropley

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The Capabilities Great Communication Professionals Are Made Of

As communication professionals we really need to step back and take our career planning seriously. We often get caught between a rock and a hard place when we realise we’re so busy doing, there’s no time to plan or develop our competencies. I freely admit being on autopilot during the advent of social media, which was a dangerous place to be. I was left scrambling to provide advice to my organisation around the latest trends or worse, not being able to include new channels of collaboration into strategies. I felt like I had to run to catch up on the knowledge I lacked. I know with the advent of AI we will need to be on the front foot and focus on building our competencies and understanding our role as communication professionals.

We don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to those skills that are core to our profession. Whether we work in corporate communication, PR, media, or any discipline where communication is the focus, we need to make sure we have the capabilities to do our job. When was the last time we checked in on where our skill gaps might be or in fact what those core competencies actually are? Luckily in the last few years some great frameworks, models and tools have been developed to help us build our competencies, develop our career and deliver value to our organisations. Let's explore some.

The Global Standard of the Communication Profession and Career Roadmap

In 2011 when I was Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) I commissioned a team of senior professionals to work on  a signifcant global initiative to define career paths and related competencies and establish the Global Standard of the Communication Profession.

Both the Career Road Map, which formed the foundation of the IABC Academy and the Global Standard, are based on quantitative and qualitative research with a broad range of stakeholder groups, including over 6000 IABC members and input from the Global Alliance and other associations members. This work, which is the culmination of thousands of hours of volunteer time committed by senior communication professionals, paved the way for the Global Communication Certification Council and certification of communication professionals.
This was the first time competencies had been defined for core communication management principles and a career purpose built to define the role of a communication professional.

Career Purpose

“Communication professionals represent the voice of an organization as it interacts with customers, clients, employees, partners, shareholders, competitors and the community. The communication professional brings the organization to life with a brand voice that aligns its verbal, visual and digital messages and activities with its mission and vision. By clarifying the brand, communication professionals also help ensure the organization runs efficiently and effectively.

Communication professionals build a strategic communication plan based on thorough research, they communicate with a variety of audiences in a range of styles, they develop and edit content, and they assess where and how to communicate and how to evaluate the results of their work. They act as the organization’s conscience and strive for its financial, social and environmental sustainability.”

The competencies were defined under six key principles:

“Communication professionals around the world embrace a shared career purpose and six core principles as the building blocks of their work. Informed by our passion for engaging audiences with strategic communication, our purpose and principles focus our work and form a global standard. Applying that standard enables us to cross all borders, align with diverse cultures and effectively serve organisations of all types and sizes.”

These principles are:

  • Ethics
  • Strategy
  • Analysis
  • Context
  • Engagement
  • Consistency

Global Standard of the Communication Profession

You can read more about the definition of each principle, however the foundation is very much governed by the career purpose as sense of who we are as communication professionals and therforefore where we need to build our skills.

The competence model for strategic communication management

“Strategic communication is a critical business driver that influences business results. Whether your dream job means leading the communication team or being the ‘go to’ senior advisor that contributes to multi-faceted strategies, some elements of intellectual capital will get you to the C-suite faster than others.”

Sia Papageorgiou FRSA – Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence

The Cropley Competence Model for Strategic Communication Management developed in 2015, brings together all the components necessary to establish meaningful, measurable objectives that support organisational strategy, analyse the business environment and audiences, determine approach, develop and implement tactics and measure results. Seven specific areas were defined with a number of competencies within each of these areas.

Competency Model

The competencies are based on years of research and global best practices, including the Global Standard of the Communication Profession and the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence’s work with a global client base.

The main focus of this model, is to identify a very specific skillset required of communication professionals when taking a strategic approach to communication and therefore raising the perceived value within their organisations for the communication function. The career evaluator app is a free app that allows you to explore and rate yourself against these competencies.

The Communication Value Circle

The Communication Value Circle is the result of research published in 2016 by Ansgar Zerfass and Christine Viertman, Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Leipzig, Germany.

The research found four themes (roles) for communication professionals within their organisations:

  • Support business operations internally and externally to ensure fulfillment of the mission.
  • Build reputation, brands and corporate culture to establish corporate identity.
  • Foster trusted relationships with stakeholders to deal with uncertainty in the marketplace.
  • Listen for shifts in external and internal environments to adjust strategy and planning if necessary.

The Communication Value Circle framework demonstrates something quite unique to other frameworks. It defines communication as a part of the value chain, where usually top management and communication professionals seldom share a consistent view or understanding.

Communications Value Circle

The report is an excellent read and shares some great insight into building our value, connected right into the business we support. Here are some observations:

  • Communication professionals need to explain how communication contributes to corporate success.
  • The framework can be used as a tool for planning and managing communication strategies. It can also be used to clarify the value of communication.
  • The value circle can be adapted to suit your organisation, closing the gap between top management and communication understanding of the value-add.

Mary Hills, ABC, Six Sigma, IABC Fellow and Dr. Amanda Hamilton-Attwell, ABC, CPRC, IABC Fellow, both members of the CSCE Faculty have customised the framework for their markets in Chicago, USA and Pretoria, South Africa and have said, “we now talk communication value with business decision-makers that aligns with their business strategy and delivers current and future value. The time to talk real business value has arrived.” You can read more about this in their article: Finally, A Framework for Thinking Strategically about Communication Value

The Global Capability Framework

In 2018 the Global Alliance released the Global Capabilities Framework for Public Relations and Communication Management, which was the result of a two-year research project led by the University of Huddersfield (UK), with partners in eight countries across six continents. I was very happy to contribute to this piece of work and look at the synergies between what we had done in 2011 with the Global Standard and what was coming up in this research.

The framework takes a high-level view of what communication professionals can deliver:

Communication Capabilities

  1. To align communication strategies with organisational purpose and values.
  2. To identify and address communication problems proactively.
  3. To conduct formative and evaluative research to underpin communication strategies and tactics.
  4. To communicate effectively across a full range of platforms and technologies.

Organisational Capabilities

  1. To facilitate relationships and build trust with internal and external stakeholders and communities.
  2. To build and enhance organisational reputation.
  3. To provide contextual intelligence.

Professional Capabilities (those expected of any professional)

  1. To provide valued counsel and be a trusted advisor.
  2. To offer organisational leadership.
  3. To work within an ethical framework on behalf of the organization, in line with professional and societal expectations.
  4. To develop self and others, including continuing professional learning.

This is a great framework to focus in on the competencies that corporate and academic trainers can develop as part of curriculum. In addition to the standard global framework, the GA have released country frameworks, for Australia, Argentina, Canada, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA.

No matter what stage you are in your career now is the time to take an honest look at your experience and knowledge and focus on your skills, capabilities and the value you add to your organisation. The insights you gain will help you make thoughtful, responsible decisions about what professional development you need to take your career to the next level. More information about the app, including links to download it to your iPhone or Android device are available here.

Adrian Cropley OAM, FRSA, SCMP, is the founder and CEO of Cropley Communication and the Centre for Strategic Communication Excellence. With a career spanning over 30 years, he has worked for and advised CEOs and communication leaders globally, including many Fortune 500 companies, on strategic communication and change, as well as building training offerings targeted to communication professionals. He led the development of IABC’s Career Road Map, kick-started the global ISO certification process for the profession, and was the founding chair of the IABC Academy.