At Northrop Grumman‘s information systems sector, Matt McQueen acts as its main spokesperson and communications liason to external stakeholders as the sector’s director of strategic and external communications.
McQueen’s career at Northrop prior to that role includes nearly a decade as director for the sector’s government and industry relations functions and more recently as the company’s government relations lead for all state and local activities.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, McQueen discusses how he applies his prior government relations work to his current role, how business development functions relate to what he does now and how Northrop defines what stakeholders are.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you define external stakeholders at Northrop?
Matt McQueen: From my vantage point within communications, external stakeholders are defined in four broad categories. First and foremost are our customers that we work with day in and day out.
The second category are those who work on the Hill, where there are a number of stakeholders who control the purse strings or can weigh in on important decisions as they relate to our programs.
The third area is prospective employees. We support the recruitment process by making sure the messages we put out there are also addressing that subset.
The final and somewhat counterintuitive area is that we view our competition as stakeholders. It is important to focus on differentiating what Northrop Grumman does and to make sure that plays well in the external space from a competitive standpoint.
ExecutiveBiz: Over the past year what have been the priorities and things you have been focusing on?
Matt McQueen: I came out of the government relations ranks so I was not a traditional communicator when I took over this organization and function two years ago. Over the last year we continued to approach communications holistically, which is not dissimilar to the first year I took over. My team and I really focused on two aspects last year.
First, I want to make sure that we are looking at it through a game theory lens to understand what each of the unique stakeholders may or may not need to receive from our messaging or external communication. My team and I worked on taking more innovative approaches to our external messaging and how it is delivered.
It was important not to completely get away from the traditional press release process and background briefings; however I found that many of our stakeholders in the media were looking for the ability to engage with more instantaneously. So we looked at avenues like Google Hangouts and Tweet chats, which are media Northrop Grumman has not typically employed in the past. We’ve certainly gotten so much smarter and better at hosting events like these.
Second, we have focused our efforts on mission and outcomes. In light of our customers and the type of work we do, it is important that people, who are consuming our messages and stories, understand the missions we enable on behalf of our customers and the outcomes that our technologies provide for our customers.
Often this industry – especially the IT solution side – focuses so much attention on the technologies, which are great but until you can effectively talk about its impact on the customer mission and positive outcomes, you’ve missed a big opportunity.
ExecutiveBiz: Describe some of the collaborations government relations teams do with the executive leaders?
Matt McQueen: Although I am two years away from the practice, having spent ten years working various aspects of our government relations portfolio, I find that we have a very collaborative process. We spend a lot of time with our internal customers understanding the business objectives. To be an effective, collaborative partner, one has to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the day-to-day business. This is something our government relations team does very well.
Although it is a function housed in our corporate office and is a shared service, we spend a significant amount of time with day-to-day internal customers in order to understand the business. And, government relations plays a very complementary role with communications and my current role.
Two years ago I took on this stretch assignment and it has been a great opportunity to come out of many years in government relations and bring in complementary and perhaps diverse thought to the communications process in order to have a more holistic approach of our stakeholders and to get our messaging out there more effectively and more directly.
That has been a success and my colleagues in government relations continue to be very collaborative partners with the larger day-to-day business, the communications function and other functions across the company.
ExecutiveBiz: What parts of business development do you help with now, if any?
Matt McQueen: My communications team and I spend a lot of time with the business development team. We view ourselves in an advisory role in helping shape the messages that we get out there. First, we partner early with business development in order to be effective in ticking the boxes regarding the needs and preferences of our stakeholders in matters like new business pursuits.
Second, we help keep them sold. This means after we’ve won something like a franchise program, it is important to continue talking to our stakeholders about the mission and outcomes. As the program ramps up and progresses, we need to help them understand the way we continue to work with the team to articulate the goodness of the program, the outcomes and how it satisfies the customer mission.
ExecutiveBiz: What experiences do you lean on from your time at Bank Austria?
Matt McQueen: It was an interesting time in my life that can be summed up in the word “translation.“ I spent a lot of time working with colleagues at Bank Austria doing translations. Austria was joining the European Union at the time and the translation of things into languages and practices that would become more EU-integrated was very important. Translation is a skill that has served me well in my current role.
It is not the literal translation, no pun intended, of the word. It is really more about translating very complex topics and concepts and making our programs and messages easily understood by our stakeholders. Translation enables shareholders to understand how we affect the customer mission and the expected outcomes from the capabilities Northrop Grumman is providing.
It is this translation ability I find I tap into, taking wild disparate data and very complex topics and translating them into messages and content that our stakeholders can consume and comprehend.