Drucker’s “Managing Oneself” applied to communications management

I was recently perusing the archives of the Harvard Business Review and came across a classic piece by management theorists Peter Drucker, On Managing Oneself [pdf].

Even though it was written in 1999, before the social media and mobility revolution took off,  this chapter from his prescient book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, seems more relevant than ever.

His main point is that to build a life of excellence at work and at home, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I work?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What can I contribute?

The answers to these questions are neither simple nor intuitive for many. We are trained, especially as communications managers, to think in terms of our job description and our role as implementers.

Here are my interpretations of how Drucker’s questions could be applied to communications management:

  • Strengths. We define our strengths in terms of how we match the job we are supposed to do, rather than for our profound understanding of the organization’s story and how that story is related to brand, relationships, reputation and trust.
  • Work. We define our productivity in terms of how good we are at the tactical implementation of someone else’s ideas. Communications managers are often the only people in an organization who have a true “whole organization” perspective on how a management decision will resonate, internally to the organization and externally in the public. Think of BP, where legal was consulted instead of communications – it took over 60 days for BP to communicate with the public and that communication, delivered in the form of full-page ads in major newspapers, was written in legalese.
  • Belonging. We accept the idea that we belong in a service role, implementing and publicizing ideas we had no part in developing – ideas that were developed by the senior executive team. Communications managers, having the “whole organization” perspective, should be providing counsel on the strategic management decisions being made – simple errors that can have negative impact on trust can thus be averted. Think of the guest workers decision at Royal Bank in 2013.
  • Contributions. We judge our contributions in terms of efficacy instead of strategy. When communications managers set up metrics programs, it is important to remember that you should be measuring “measurable strategic objectives” and not “tactical outputs”. Metrics do tell the story of your work to colleagues and managers, but only if they are well-chosen. Many of the old metrics used by communications managers are oriented towards output, which is only a measure of tactical efficacy (eg. number of press releases, tweets, newspaper mentions, etc.), not strategic thinking.


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