How important is connecting the dots within organizations? in what ways can we get employees to gain organizational clarity? I had the opportunity to pose these questions to Zora Artis, a globally acclaimed communications, brand and marketing leader and the 2022 Chair IABC World Conference and Past Chair IABC APAC Region. Watch this interview to learn more about this critical aspect of communication. Zora is a strong advocate of organizational alignment and the role of internal communicators in taking people along.
Welcome to the 18th edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight Series featuring Zora Artis. As an award-winning communicator and Australia’s leading Alignment Strategist she has worked with leaders, executives, and boards for over 3 decades to ensure their organization’s structure, leadership, people, brand, communication, and culture, synchronize to support their strategy and purpose. Her goal is to unlock organizational value, create professional alignment, and build personal connection.
Watch this interview with Zora to learn more.
About Intraskope’s Spotlight Series
In this series I interview key thought leaders on topics interrelated with internal communications such as culture, crisis, change, executive presence and leadership. The goal is to help unravel why they matter, what can leaders and communicators learn from experts and how we can put insights to practice. Watch these short interviews and get better at understanding these key topics and how you engage with internal communications.
I invited Zora to address the need for communication alignment and what it takes for leaders and organizations to get there. She also shared her thoughts on the evolving communications function and why communicators must invest more in gaining alignment.
“It’s all about organizational clarity and bringing people together around a shared purpose and values to achieve better results for an organization so an aligned organization is one that is a high performing organization. I mean it’s one that does deliver on its promises to its people to its customers, to the broader community, to stakeholders overall. So, it’s not just about the bottom line, when we’re talking about alignment with corporate strategy”, says Zora.
“I’m based in Melbourne, Australia. My background is in marketing, branding, communication and in business. I have a 30-year career. I The practice that I run is based is a strategic consultancy, and I work with Board Directors executive and senior leaders to unlock the value in their people, their organizations and their brands through better alignment and communication. And I’m passionate about connecting the dots.”
- A lot is spoken about communication alignment with corporate strategy. What does it mean and what does it take?
I think you have to go back to what alignment is all about. And to me, it’s all about organizational clarity and bringing people together around a shared purpose and values to achieve better results for an organization so an aligned organization is one that is a high performing organization. I mean it’s one that actually does deliver on its promises to its people to its customers, to the broader community, to stakeholders overall. So, it’s not just about the bottom line. When we’re talking about alignment with corporate strategy, it is about ensuring that our people get what we are about, so they understand our purpose and our story, our corporate strategy that aligns to the purpose and they get it, they buy into it. They’re prepared to share and they ultimately live it on a day to day basis. So not only do they understand what the strategy is, what you’re trying to achieve, how it how it’s going to be achieved, but they also understand what their role is in that and they enthusiastically are part of that whole process. I don’t believe that you can look at alignment from a perspective of “it’s a one-off exercise”. We can’t just do this as a project and achieve it and then move on to the next thing. It’s an emergent thing – it happens over time and you can consistently have to work on.
2. Why is it important for communicators to ‘connect the dots’ inside and outside the organization?
I genuinely believe so. I’ve come from a background in in marketing and brand and business before I stepped into the comp space. So, I’ve always had this rather holistic perspective, that it’s important to have a good overview of what’s happening around you whether it’s externally or internally and then looking at how the two mesh together. There’s an analogy that I like to use that I picked up I picked up last year because I am passionate about alignment. I did a program through Oxford’s Said Business School on strategic alignment. Last year, we were talking about different analogies and one of the analogies that we were using is the dance floor analogy. So if you’re busy on the dance floor, you’re dancing with a partner or other people you’re really immersed in that. Right if you take a step back and you you’re up on the on the balcony observing the dance floor. You get a completely different perspective. You can see much more you can see what’s happening. You can see where the opportunities are, you’re able then to connect the dots. So, when you’re looking outside, you can have you can have a better appreciation of risk in that in that case, risk is not always negative. It can also be opportunity. You can see what the trends are. You’re not being insular, so you don’t fall asleep at the wheel and from a competitive perspective. You can take advantage of the opportunities that are out there or trends that are happening. You can see what’s happening in other sectors and bring that back into the organization as an opportunity for your organization. It’s about learning as much as possible beyond your immediate parameters. So being really curious, be curious about not just what’s happening in your organization, but what’s happening outside in your own market, but also in the areas that impact the market that you’re in or impact. Maybe substitute areas that could potentially have an impact on your space. So, it’s not wanting to have that view completely.
3. Please share an example of an organization that has done ‘alignment’ well and what are the benefits you have observed?
One of the standouts to me is an engineering and design thinking firm called Oricon. They’re based across Australia, New Zealand and Asia. They used to also be in the Middle East in Africa, and they have about 6000 staff and they’re they’ve been recently voted, Australia and New Zealand so Australasia is most innovative company. They’re outstanding when it comes to strategic alignment. So, they’re very progressive in terms of their approach in terms of how they put together what they call their DNA. It’s their purpose, their values and their vision. They all understand what that is. They have clear goals that they’ve set up. They have three you know, three, I think three key pillars today strategy that they all completely understand, and they all understand how it really works for them during the COVID process during COVID Early on in the COVID process because of their footprint in Asia and they’re also looking outside and they work with lots of different types of industries. They had a sense of what was happening. So, they were they were well positioned for COVID and how they were going to approach it. They looked at their first priority was looking at the health and safety of their well-being of their employees and the well-being of their employees. They understood the inherent risks that they switch from communicating a crisis response to building abroad, much broader resilience. I can hear my dog is mad sad. They also shifted from you know, to communicating into that remote working space but reimagining how that future of work is for them now and later. And then they recognize their people through that whole process. So, they have a lot of focus on the experience the employee experience within the organization but also the client experience. So they put a great deal of emphasis on that and making sure that people within their organization understand where they’re going and what their part in that process or that journey is there in terms of their results. They maintain their employee engagement through last year. They said that most of their employees were actually felt that they were well supported through the pandemic. And they achieved they delivered on budget in terms of their financial year. And they’re also ahead for this this year. So, you know, they didn’t go backwards, they went forwards. And they managed to achieve you know, they got the most innovative award as well. So, they managed to completely change and adapt to the situation and really adopt what we would call the future of work into the into the today and now that’s how they are working. So, they’re an amazing organization. There are several other ones but that one’s a standout and it’s not a massive global organization. It’s a mid-sized company. It’s a private company, but it’s a very progressive company needs to stand out to me.
4. How can communicators get better with gaining alignment and providing line of sight to staff?
I think it’s about being quite transparent and open I recently I recently wrote a blog post after being quite privileged to been involved in a conversation with Sally Sussman, who’s the Executive VP and the chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer. And they only recently redid their strategy about a couple of years, just maybe two years ago now. They redid the strategy with the new CEO coming on board in that same period, Albert Bula and he’s been with the organization for a couple of decades I believe, but He’s new in the CEO role. And the communications team was integral in redefining their purpose statement, the purpose is still the same, but their purpose narrative in the statement is, has altered how they how they communicate their strategy. was a core to what they did. And they are constantly sharing and telling the story about around their work. They’re challenging their people. They’re sharing the progress. They have really put the term transparency has now become commonplace in their organization whereas if you’ve worked with pharmaceutical firms, and I’ve worked with different ones over the years, they don’t necessarily share a lot of information openly. This situation has completely flipped that on its head because they’ve had to end it’s really benefited their organization. they’re listening, they’re looking for innovation. They’re challenging their people to live their values and you know, live that purpose genuinely have that purpose. So you know, it’s about giving the employees the opportunity to actually participate, to engage to help them co design.
Give them the opportunity to test new ideas to occasionally fail, but what did they learn from that sort of stuff? So, it’s that listening piece to that observation pays, having a look at what’s happening in the organization. Identifying those gaps and opportunities that exist for alignment. It’s one of those things that you constantly must be on the lookout for.
There’s a process that I do which is looking at gaps in terms in alignment. There’s a diagnostic tool that I use in a facilitation process. And that looks at alignment in teams, whether it’s executive, senior or functional teams, and you go through and understand if there are gaps. In understanding to a purpose to values to strategy, to Team behaviors to cohesion, psychological safety, a whole series of different things. And you go through that and you look at and you say, Okay, what’s missing? What’s important to us? How do we address that? So there’s a whole range of different ways that communicators can get involved and make sure that the organization is as aligned as it can be. So communication is the thread through alignment, alignment needs to be owned by the CEO. But it’s the communication professionals who are the ones who enable it to happen, and they help the leaders and they help the middle managers and you know, everyone understand what’s going on. Got it on a thing a different angle to this, you know, what is what are some of the signs that tells the communicator the things are?5
5. What signs tell a communicator that there is misalignment and chaos?
You’ll find that if you look at the understanding of strengths to understanding of the strategy, for example, you’ll have the executive leadership team and the senior leadership team will have really high scores, and then everyone else will drop off. And that will show that’s an obvious pace that it shows you that there’s misalignment in the organization right it shows you that people don’t understand it. But you will recognize misalignment as well when you say that your teams are performing or they’re not achieving the goals and objectives of your you’re wanting them to achieve or they’re working. They’re clearly working in silos as well. So, there are there are obvious signs there or you see that people aren’t necessarily putting their hands up to get involved. They just don’t feel that they should. They’re not feeling connected. There are clear signs of misalignment but generally it’s underperformance, you’re not achieving the right, the right goals, you’re not hitting the targets, or you’re hitting the wrong sort of targets. It is about looking at sometimes looking at the numbers but also looking at the behaviors that are around you, and sick and looking at it and with that, holistic perspective and going okay, if I analyze this, what does this what does this actually mean? So, there’s a whole series of look at that.
6. What are your tips for communicators to be viewed as credible and trusted advocates to leaders?
My number one tip would be to really understand the business understand the market that URI and the competitors in what’s going on but understand how the business delivers on its purpose and delivers to on the in terms of the bottom line. And what’s the impact that you can have? So you need to understand the numbers. You need to expect the same language as the executives and the senior leaders. They say you’re; you’re speaking in the same way that they are. You’re able to interpret you know what a complex situation might be and simplify it in a in an easier way. Tell it in a in a simple, everyday language that people can understand it. Be comfortable, be comfortable being able to put together a business case in a way that executives that shows executives that you understand not just the bottom line impacted understand risk. And I don’t mean just reputational risk, I mean strategic risk, operational financial compliance through a whole range of different things. I remember being asked to do some work for a public company here in Australia, who asked me to go in and do stress testing and validation on a whole series of different brands scenarios for their organization, and so they had nine different scenarios. And it was an organization that was about to undergo its next five-year transformation plan. What I did with these brands scenarios directly impacted that transformation plans. They had worked on it for six to eight months, and then they asked me to come into it. As soon as soon as I started talking to them about risk and risk appetite. They said you’re the right person for the job because you absolutely understood it. For example, if an organization is saying we want to be we’re very customer focused and very customer centric – currently looking at where you sit now, how would you define where you sit now? In terms of your risk appetite from one to 10? Where would you be and in this case, this organization which is a conservative organization, a really good secure investment from an investor perspective, that very much very conservative, don’t do very much in terms of having a public stand. said Okay, so, how would you define where you sit if you if something happens when you go public, how would you define that from a risk appetite perspective, where would you sit and I said, Okay, two out of 10 and not to die, okay. If you’re then going to really be customer centric, that means you would need to do X Y Zed. So, in that case, where do you need to be from a risk appetite perspective? And they said, seven. I said, Okay, you need to now change from a two to a seven. So that then means this is what you need to do. Are you prepared for that? So, you know, you’re providing him advice that takes into account things that they might not have thought through. Then, you know, your job is to try and make sure that they understand what that really means, what those implications are, and sometimes it’s beyond just the comms remit. It could be broader, but that’s okay.
Watch the complete video interview on YouTube or read the complete transcript above.
Missed the earlier episodes? Watch them here: D. Mark Schumann (Culture), Peter Yorke (Executive Presence), Sia Papageorgiou (Leadership Communications), Dianne Chase (Strategic Storytelling), Gloria Walker (Communication Planning), Rebecca Sangster-Kelly (Stakeholder Management), Ray Walsh (Localizing Employee Communications), Prof. Matt Tidwell (Reputation), Geri Rhoades (Manager Communications), Erik K Meyers (Business Acumen), Russell-Olivia Brooklands (IC Practice Governance), Paul Barton (Public Speaking and Business Communication), Cyrus Mavalwala (Digital Communication), Elvera N Makki (Social Impact Communication), Philippe Borremans (Communication Preparedness) and Magdalena Petryniak (Influence in Communications) and Priya Bates (Communicating Diversity & Inclusion).
You can also look up the ongoing Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series featuring practitioners from around the globe sharing best practices and perspectives.
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