Organizational communication is proving to be more difficult than many pros may assume. For example, the Disinformation Governance Board from the Department of Homeland Security ended before it started due to a gross miscommunication of intent, strategy, and carefully curated leadership. An unfortunate trend in communications-driven industries is that most professionals lack the inability to communicate clearly, concisely, and effectively.
My tenure in the communications world has taught me the value of understanding one’s audience and meeting people where they are. The 6th-grade reading level, gimmicky communications strategy in B2C campaigns isn’t appropriate for G2C or even B2G communications. Yet, laziness and fear abound in myriad industries, and the desire to be the smartest person in the room based on repetitive experiences with no personal growth ultimately hinders organizational growth and innovation.
The way forward is directed by aligning stakeholder interests between business, government, and customers (the general public). In order to achieve this, we must take a look at current communications practices to identify opportunities to transmute the energy that drives stakeholder interest alignment.
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The gimmicks and tricky calls to action work well on the general public with an average 7th or 8th-grade reading level. The average consumer is overwhelmed with work, family, personal development or the lack thereof, and various other distractions that lead to a short attention span. Consumers want their packages delivered the same day, their food cooked within five minutes, and 110 likes on a social post within 15 minutes of posting.
The world is driven by instant gratification and sensationalism en masse. So, quick gimmicks, slap-stick ads, funky catchphrases, and dramatic headlines drive the conversation as well as revenue. The stakeholder interest alignment is typically a business creating a product or service that people will try and buy with little to no thought. The style is one of excitement and happy-go-lucky salesmanship. It can be fun, yet equally disingenuous.
Working with the private sector in communications with the public sector was…illuminating. The private sector brings its tried-and-true strategies from B2C communications to government with minor tweaks. The dire need to fulfill constituent needs in short time frames and under high amounts of pressure along with the laissez-faire free market that limits government influence on business create an inherent disconnect in stakeholder interest alignment.
Private corporations have one God – money. All parts of a business are focused on increasing revenue. Government has many gods – a spiritual higher power, international alliances, the constituency, morality, science, ethics, etc. Government makes its goals and needs publicly known through public policy products, announcements, and agendas. Rather than businesses speaking directly to how their products and services can help achieve public policy goals and benefit the lives of constituents, businesses focus on selling their products and services to what appears to be a bottomless pit of funding open and ripe for the taking.
This is where we see the glaring failure of the Disinformation Governance Board come into play. The elites in government around the world are notorious for being out of touch with their policy agendas and communications strategies. Experience has shown me that the disconnect comes from the echo chamber of highly educated professionals who are used to communicating with one another at a certain level of literacy and wit that is out of reach for the public at large and often unrelatable.
What the public understands that governments are apprehensive to accept is that government is its own industry with its own jargon, its own products and services, and its own interests and systems. Public servants immerse themselves in their studies and practice, often forgetting the need to relate to their customers and audiences – average citizens. Some public servants condescend to their constituents in moments of egotism. A basket of deplorables comes to mind, and the MAGA movement provides a painful illustration of the detrimental effects of messaging that disregards stakeholder interest alignment.
Campaigns exploit the nature of B2C communications during election season by hiring advertising and marketing consulting firms that specialize in turning complex concepts into disturbingly simple soundbites that are often misleading. One must wonder if government even cares to align interests in its communications.
Fixing the problem: stakeholder interest alignment
Business and government have a common goal – influencing public opinion to serve their interests. The public has its own goals, which mainly revolve around popular sovereignty and accountability from business and government. What should be obvious is the solution to have business and government leaders align their interests with popular sovereignty and take real ownership of their leadership positions by embracing accountability and ethical practices.
The above diagram shows businesses lead the way in determining and aligning interests in communications overall while business and government have a common, general target audience. Business and government have a unique relationship that leads not only the country but also the world in innovation, lifestyle, standards of living, culture, and more. Business, government, and customers may have different interests, but these interests don’t have to oppose.
Organizational leadership needs to seize the opportunity to put ego and personal self-interest to the side and bring about holistic stakeholder interest alignment. With every policy designed, every product developed, every campaign laid out, core interests of stakeholders must be considered and aligned. Research based on authentic lived experiences from all classes of society must be conducted and seriously considered in business experience design and communications strategies, especially public policy development.
The key to stakeholder interest alignment is empathy-driven compassion. Non-profits tend to run fundraising campaigns on sympathy-driven compassion campaigns, pulling at the heartstrings to coax unsuspecting donors to empty their wallets. Empathy-driven compassion encourages leaders and practitioners to step outside of themselves and connect with others’ lived experience. When listening to stories from customers, ask yourself, “If this was my life and my experience, how would I feel about it?” This requires a removal of all personal biases created by one’s own experience and full cognitive and spiritual alignment with another person. All humans experience struggle and trauma. When listening to a story of another person’s struggle or trauma, simply remember what your own trauma felt like and then connect with the person you are building rapport with.
With a heart-to-heart connection, leaders and practitioners can better gauge how to hit the sweet spot of stakeholder interest alignment. Remove the ego and self-interest enough to empathize with the self-interest of the masses and provide ethical products and services that truly solve humanity’s problems. Holistic interest alignment will absolutely drive results. Be willing to adapt to change, for that is the only way the fittest survive.