Strategic communications and business insights are inextricably linked
When you find a model that works, replicate the hell out of it, right? My near decade in executive and internal communications at McDonald's taught me a great deal. One of the most important lessons I learned was that communications teams and business insights/research teams should be inextricably linked. And when I say inextricably, I mean it.
Think about it like this. Why would you NOT pair the people who discover insights and inform strategy through data WITH those responsible for communicating the rationale and strategic imperative of the data? Read this last line again because it's a mouthful, but the most critical point here. When it's put this way, it's hard to argue with the approach. Now, here's how to make it a reality within your organization.
Performance measurement: Here's a radical idea – attach communications performance metrics to the business insights/research partner. Make those on both ends of the equation responsible for the ultimate business outcome. That's what they're here for, right? Affecting organizational change and outcomes.
Right-brain, left-brain: Fair or not, communications has a reputation as a "soft" discipline. Many communications people are saddled with a reputation that right-brain is what they're capable of and nothing more. The two hemispheres don't mix. I'm calling B.S. here. The solution to this "problem" is exposure to data, it's collection, and application. Learning becomes possible when there's a teacher. And educating others should be an expectation in ALL roles.
Office space: To take the above a step further, communications and business insights/research should be seated right next to each other. Doing so encourages collaboration between those on the front-end (insights discovery) and the back-end (insights communication). It also greatly reduces the risk of communications being brought in in the middle, which can compromise communication efficacy. Oh, and let's not forget that strong personal relationships make for better working relationships.
Leadership teams: Communications must be involved with initial business strategy discussions, which happen when leadership meets. Business insights/research should be too, but that's a much easier sell in many organizations.
Here's a parallel. A chef feels ownership and responsibility for his dish when he's able to select the ingredients and decide on the preparation technique. You wouldn't hand him a grocery bag someone else packed and expect his absolute best meal. Well, the same applies to communications people who should be at the prep table AND where the meal is served. That's getting the most from your communications expert – the person responsible for making change stick through deep understanding of the problem and solution.
Many times, communications people walk into a strategic solution that's already underway. And sometimes, communications folks aren't even invited in until the plan's baked and it's time to make the case to the audience. Reduce or eliminate this possibility by attaching communications and business insights/research at the hip.
Final word: Leadership is about nurturing environments and systems that allow people to flourish. Make this a reality by teaming those who discover insights and inform strategy with those responsible for communicating the rationale and strategic imperatives. Now, that’s a business insight right there.