Thursday, November 7, 2013

Manage the perception to achieve business results

Manage the perception to achieve business results by S Narendra
S Narendra
* S Narendra (Former Information Advisor to Prime Minister of India)

I am happy to be back among fellow professionals of Chennai. I compliment the Public Sector PR Forum for the meticulous care with which the Forum and the brains, arms & legs behind the Forum, has set up this workshop, exhibition on PR and the presentations.

The theme of today’s workshop constitutes the core concern of the communicator of an organisation, call him by whatever designation you like. He requires professional standing and courage and confidence to bare this subject, particularly to an organisation or to a person who is employing you and me.

If the employers care to have value for the money, he or she will encourage us to provide more of image . A person is a very poor CEO who shoots down the messenger of bad news. No Prime Minister in any monarchy dared to tell the emperor that he had no clothes. I am not suggesting that an organisations communicator’s role is to convey only the bad news. Often in our personal lives, the mirror tells us what any human close to us failed to tell us, including the fact that our fly is open.

In the orient, especially, east Asia, if some one loses face,. He will not show up in public again. In the old school of management, when "company" was not yet a Corporation as is the fashion today, the balance sheet nominally, gave a value to the goodwill enjoyed by the company. In the sale transactions, an amount was paid towards ‘goodwill’. In assessing a society by country’s growth, economists have developed the concept of ‘social capital’ built. It is not just the sum total of numerous development indices, but the capacity of a community of citizens to actively participate in a democratic discourse.

In the teaching material available to us whether it is management or communication and Public relations, we borrow heavily from the western experience and literature. It is rich and required. Image management or Perception Management have acquired a mystique appeal, sound complicated and somewhat alien. It is because we don’t relate such terms and concepts to our own language and traditions. If I utter the same words in our language, I am sure all of you here would say "oh! I know it. It is old hat "

You have heard the word "pratibimba". ‘prati" is representation or copy original is ‘bimba’ the ‘substance’, the inner light, energy. Another word ‘swayam prakasha’ leading to ‘sarva prakasha’.

Le us go to the meaning of "Image". The Dictionary says it is ‘likeness’, ‘ an appearance’, ‘that which closely resembles anything’ a representation in mind. It is ‘pratibimnba’.

From this we can understand ‘perception’. The word is derived from ‘perceive’ i.e. to become aware of through senses; to get the knowledge of my mind. It comes from Latin ‘per’ i.e. thoroughly and ‘capere’ i.e. to take. The dictionary does not help much. It says perception is ‘the power of perceiving’.

I said earlier that ‘perception’ is to become aware of through the senses. In our language it means that whatever the communication the mind receives through ‘indriyas’ or the sensing organs about the outer environment.

On  ‘ auditing’, I read some books to simplify this. All of us seem to be afraid of this function performed by an outside agency. It relates examination, most often of accounts by an authorised person. Examination itself means a careful, detailed, formal study designed to uncover pertinent facts or information. It is scrutiny at its best.

We have chosen a very difficult topic for discussion today. It is a conjunction of two words or two different words. In Physics, Image is a reflection of something or an object. How does , one subject something that is a representation in mind to a careful, detailed, formal study designed to uncover pertinent facts or information. Are you a mind reader or a psychic you may ask.

We in the business of PR are the authorised persons or auditors, since it is our job to bring about an ‘understanding’ of the organisations goals and its working during the different publics. We are addressing the cerebral world as well as the inter world. Adi Shankara cautions the human against the deceptive reality – a rope being mistaken for a snake. It is sagely caution in Business.

‘Image’ has 3 aspects to its. First is the self-image. Every Organisation sets goals, assembles resources from a variety of sources, uses such resources to achieve the goal. Often the goals set define the ‘Image" and there is a self-perception of what you think you are. That is ‘ Bimba’. While interacting with the environment, the organisation transmits or communicates the goals along with the image.

Image as perceived by others is a complex mixture of the organisation’s interactions. Its competitors interactions, expectations of the ‘I’s in the circle, Image is Corporate Identity ‘plus’. In marketing and advertising, we often use the word ‘Brand Equity’. Again, I would stress that ‘Image’ is something more than this "Branch equity’.

Experts call this as the ‘PERCEPTUAL ASSETS’ which affect business results. Personality, I feel it is somewhat constricted view of the Assets, a typical financial auditors view.

Now comes the question of how to audit the Perceptual Assets or liabilities for drawing up a MIS – oriented balance sheet. The typical auditor’s report concentrates on the financial results, the ‘dividend’ to the shareholders. Over centuries auditors have developed Matrices, the result of their endeavour is like an ‘autopsy’, a post-event examination. On the other hand, Audit of ‘Perceptual Assets’ is like an internal Financial Advisors or Company Secretary’s monthly or quarterly ‘Memo’. We loosely understand them in our profession as ‘Feed-back’.

No Matrices have been formulated, no homework for establishing benchmark, are available. It is routine, often intuitive, dependent on the style of top management, not driven by the Organisation’s communication division. More often than not it comes in various ways from the Marketing Division.

It is a fact that today there are not many credible Research Organisations which can provide regular assessments of the Image Perception

The task I set to ourselves today is to think about this topic in a conceptual level; Arrive at an approach to a Matrix. For example, for those serving in the Corporate world, I suggest this. Generally, the PR man releases a photograph and C.V. of the new Chairman or top executive when he takes over. You may even arrange a TV sound-bite. You are anxious to ensure publication or broadcast. You have created a self-image at that very moment. How many of us think beyond that day/ While sending the clippings to the top executive, how many of us make a note of what he told the TV or the Press? Is the person compared to his predecessor? to his peers in the profession? How many of us advise him before he gives the sound-bite?

While PR is one of the tools in Perception or Image Management, PR as it is commonly practised in a way goes against Perception Management. In an Organisation, Personnel is Managed; Finance is managed; sales and marketing are managed; Why not Perceptional Assets Management/ Can we not address the Perceptional Management over long time/

The first variety of PR, I mentioned is the ‘Arms and Legs’ variety of PR, not the mind and heart level of PR.

Perception can increase or diminish value. Financial success of a company and success of a company are different. One strategy recommended is to manage the perceptions of those people who allow your company to achieve business results. Business results may be development of a strategic vision, a mission, higher sales, creating a legislative environment, employee agreement. Each of them have perceptual framework of values, needs, performance. Management experts are emphasising that a business that looks to the future will spend more resources to get the information from outside the organisation than from within. ‘Listening’ Organisations that change their perceptions while attempting to manage their perceptual assets will prosper. Meanings are in people. The content of your message and what is perceived out of that are with relevant to today’s world of communication, the way people receive their information is changing. The other factor is have we learnt to break through the sound-barrier, which is more than information dissemination.

It is important to see ourselves as others see us. Having acquired the capacity, the PR and communicator of the Organisation should be in a position to give value to the Management and in a position to tell that the emperor has no clothes.

If he or you can’t tell this, call in an outsider, a consultancy. All of us have the experience that the organisation rarely believes that the cure they are seeking is available right in their back garden. Therefore, it is useful to have an outside Consultancy. But it should not be allowed to overshadow our role as the Corporate Communicator,

*      separate ‘issues’ from ‘fads’
*      work out a time-table for bench-marking, change perception, reform-response, and adjustment
*      strategy for matching public expectation. 

In a way I can give no better advise than what Kanva Rishi told Shakuntala, while sending her Dushyanta’s palace.

Keep the senior management focussed on perceptual issues. It sometimes may queer the pitch for ourselves. If the tendency of the Managements to say ‘you do your job and I will do mine’. It is better to part ways. In perception management, persuasion plays a critical role. In the process of persuasive management, unless you and the Management are ready to be persuaded to change, you cannot succeed.   

* (This is the test of the speech delivered at Public Sector Public Relations Forum, Madras during 1998 by Mr S Narendra, then Principal Information Officer of Govt. of India and Information Advisor to Prime Minister of India -Mr Narendra, had served various senior positions and had served 5 Indian Prime Ministers as Information Advisor.)


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