Building business fluency to increase the impact of communications

Knowledge of an organization’s business operations can earn comms pros a seat at the decision-making table.

While your communications role is multifaceted it’s important to remember that all your work, at its core, is positioned to support larger business goals and initiatives.

When you have a deep knowledge of the business functions of their organization, you’re not only set up for success in aligning your work with the goals of the company, but also able to better influence organizational decision-making.

With that in mind, how can you become more fluent about the business and how it operates?

Understanding how operations and financials intersect

When you want your work to better support wider business goals, the first step is gaining an understanding of how the business ticks from an operational and financial standpoint.

Lizz Summers, director of communications, rental division at Cintas, said that communicators should seek out a deeper knowledge of financial functions like revenue driving and cost control work within a company.

“The best people to do this with are some of your executives or your accounting and finance folks,” she said.

Beyond collaborating with employees who specialize in finance, be sure to articulate why added financial acumen benefits not just you, but the wider organization.

“You start to think differently — not just impressions on a story or connecting with media members for placements,” Summers said. “When you have that added knowledge, it’ll make you a stronger partner.”

The documents and details

As with many things in business, details are key. That means gaining knowledge about the trifecta of important financial documents for any organization —- profit and loss (P&L) statements, cash flow statements, and balance sheets.

For Karen Vahouny, communications consultant and adjunct professor at George Washington University, communicators must learn where to find these documents (before they make it to the annual report) and how they figure into the larger business landscape.

“It’s important to find out what the numbers are telling you,” Vahouny said. “If you look at the profit margin, for example, of how you’re doing compared to some of your key competitors, you might see that you’re short. A lot of this is about peeling back the layers.”

Speaking the language of a decision-maker

In the past, comms hasn’t always had a position of influence in the decision-making processes. However, fluency in business operations can help sway leadership into realizing that communicators can bring a fresh perspective to the conversation when big decisions are made.

“If you’re able to come to the table,  speak in leadership’s language and explain the value that you bring to the company in their language, there’s a much higher success rate of having them understand you,” Summers said.

With a business-fluent background, Summers added, “They can what you’re asking what you’re proposing, or even what your perspective on something else and how it matters to the overall discussion.”

While there’s no guarantee that every idea from comms will become company policy, it’s important for communicators to at least make an effort to speak the language of business. At the very least, this will help you promote mutual understanding between leaders and comms.

“It gives to what you’re saying to help it stick and have a lasting impression,” Summers said.

Once you use business acumen to get the ear of executives, it’s all about acting on it for a positive impact. Communicators need to know what key performance indicators (KPIs) are the most impactful because messaging around them can help improve not only employee performance but the bottom line of the business.

“We should know what the key performance metrics that are leadership team cares most about, because then we can help them communicate what those are,” Vahouny said.

“We can share how employees can make a difference and have an impact on those numbers, why those numbers are important, and how they affect compensation because a lot of key performance indicators at the organizational level have an impact on people’s bonuses and various compensation formulas,” she added.

When a comms pro is more business fluent, that knowledge can then translate over into story selection, platform choice, and audience targets.

“The more that you can drive in and highlight what stories impact the business, the more value you bring to the company,” said Summers.

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.