Communicating Well is Our Responsibility
Heading into our third decade (yikes!) of working in the field of communications, we’ve had a bit of a revelation this past month, both in work and as we’ve observed what is going on in the world around us. We thought we would share it with you because we think it will help rewire the way we think about the task of communicating.
Throughout our careers, one of the most challenging and frustrating realities we’ve had to deal with has been our experience that in the majority of situations, companies, organizations, and projects (large or small), the topic of communications is generally an afterthought. Although it is frequently referred to as being a ‘key activity’ (which it is), it often receives the least amount of attention and investment. It’s also one of the areas that managers struggle with the most. They know it’s important, but the effort it takes to do it well often leaves it as one of the last items on the to-do list to be tackled. And we get that.
What we’d like to propose is that we reframe this scenario with the concept that communicating with our teams, stakeholders, clients, or whoever it is that is impacted by our work is not just a ‘key activity’, it’s our ‘responsibility’ and a critical piece of servant leadership. Let’s consider for a moment what happens when the information that people need is absent, late, piecemeal, or just plain incorrect. When we don’t receive the information we’re looking for, it’s human nature to assume the worst-case scenario and operate from there. If we get some, but not all, then we’re left guessing and trying to fill in the blanks. And if the information we do receive is incorrect, we are misinformed and that can result in all kinds of unintended consequences.
As leaders, we owe it to our people to give them the information they need fully, accurately, and proactively, when at all possible. And with the exception of our politicians perhaps (a whole separate topic), we believe most of us have this intention. But with workloads that seem to only get heavier as time moves on, our best communications efforts end up being done off the corner of someone’s desk. Not ideal and guaranteed to add to the stress level of all involved. The good news is it doesn’t have to be like this! As with a lot of important things in life though, in order to do it well, there’s going to be some heavy lifting upfront. But the commitment to that upfront effort will make it soooooo much easier to have the discipline to communicate properly and consistently. And those two words ‘discipline’ and ‘consistency’ will be the keys to your success.
Where to start?
There are three fundamentals to keep in mind:
1. Build a plan
2. Make it strategic
3. Work the plan
Yes, it really is that simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
What makes communications effective and efficient is having a plan. Taking the time to identify the who, what, when, why, and how gives you a solid framework to follow no matter what the situation and makes it much easier to be consistent.
Communications are not a stand-alone effort. They should always be done in support of an activity, goal, or initiative. So, when you’re drafting your plan, take into account what your messaging will be in support of (that becomes your ‘why’) and how the timing of that message aligns with the activity it’s supporting.
Once you have the plan built out, the desired outcomes will only happen if you ‘work the plan’. This is where discipline and consistency come in. If you’re doing things right, your audience will come to expect regular communications and that will help motivate you to keep it up.
One last note, and it shouldn’t surprise you to hear us say this 😊
Enlist some seasoned guidance. There’s no substitute for the value brought by experience and best practices. Now that doesn’t mean you need a full-time communications staff member. In fact, very few organizations have enough work to justify carrying someone in that role year-round. But contracting an expert to get you through the inaugural run will ensure you’re not wasting time making mistakes that could have been avoided. And if you’re already struggling with capacity or the right skillset in-house, consider having someone on retainer. You only pay for them when you need them, and by working together regularly, they come to know you, understand your organization and become a trusted partner.
“Communication works for those who work at it. “