Imagine this scenario: you’ve successfully initiated a DEI communications strategy at your organization, and your executive team is ready to post messages about diversity on public social media platforms. One of the first posts is to celebrate Black History Month, and a comment on the thread calls them out with a practical question: How many leaders, who are black, are there at the company?
This theme of public accountability is becoming more prevalent on both internal and external social channels, and rightly so; if organizations want audiences to believe that they care about something, they need to be prepared to prove it. But how? External communications especially need to be grounded in the corporate narrative in order to provide rationale for why the organization is speaking up, or speaking out. This works, provided the narrative is comprised of both identity and direction. Gartner research has identified these two components in narratives that are consistently used to describe the organization:
Furthermore, leveraging the corporate narrative ensures that a message is based on core foundational elements that are (hopefully) reinforced by HR and internal communications, as well as throughout the organization (marketing/advertising, suppliers, etc). Think ERGs, awards programs and overall company culture, as well as ad spend.
Communications leaders should expect to be called out more frequently, and for reputation to hang in the balance. In fact, I’d recommend that communications embrace these comments and have compassion for the intent, which, as long as worded inoffensively, is to hold the organization accountable. Leaders can be ready with statements on who the company is and what they believe (identity components), and how that connects to what they’re actually doing to support objectives (direction).
Truly the only answer to the type of question in the scenario above is an honest one, and if an organization feels comfortable providing that, they can connect it to who they are and where they’re going to provide context for what may appear, at a surface level, to be an unsatisfactory message for the commenter and all others following.
As a B-grade example, an organization could respond to an accountability-intended comment with the following:
“Thank you for your question. At [X Company] we believe in [XYZ], and support these values with [culture/people initiatives/ERGs, mission, purpose]. Because of this, we are committed to [priorities, strategy, goals] in the future. We look forward to sharing our progress towards these goals here in the future.”
An A-grade example would look like:
“Thank you for your question, we welcome being held accountable to the values and priorities we share on social media. At [X Company] we believe in [XYZ], and support these values with [culture/people initiatives/ERGs, mission, purpose]. Because of this, we are committed to [priorities, strategy, goals] in the future. We currently have [X] leaders in our organization representing BIPOC identities, specifically [X] black leaders. We are committed to [X plan] to bring a presence of diversity up in the [specific timeline] because [why it is authentically important to the organization]. We recognize that we still have more to learn and do, and based on our values (ABC) and culture, this will be a priority. You can follow our progress by tracking our [ESG reporting or specific organizational initiative] here [link]. Thanks again for prompting a productive discussion about where we want to be, and how we can get there together as an organization.”
When viewed as an invitation to reinforce organizational identity and direction, productive, transparent dialogue can be an opportunity to build reputation. The corporate narrative is essential to ensuring that dialogue happens with consistency.
Are you also grappling with how to tackle this challenge? Please share your thoughts or get in touch. We’d love to share how organizations are approaching these challenges and help you solve yours.