It’s Not ‘One and Done’ for Communicators

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Have you ever been working on a program, campaign or project of any sort that requires you to engage employees, stakeholders or leaders? It’s likely that this effort has taken time – planning, drafting, editing, approvals – but now you’re ready to go. You hit send on the first email or host the first town hall or post the latest video online – and then nothing. No likes, comments, feedback and no one is taking the action you wanted them to do. Your manager is asking for metrics, results and feedback. You’re scratching your head about why it’s not doing what you planned it to do. What happened?

There can be many answers to why the initial communication did not get traction. Did you do enough research about the audience? Is the call to action clear enough? Is it something that people can actually understand? Before you throw in the towel and call the effort a failure, stop for a minute and think about it this way – you didn’t see immediate success because you put all of your high expectations on that one tactic.

Someone once said that you need to tell people something seven times in seven different ways for it to click. And like it or not, it does apply to our work as communicators.

That’s why any communication needs a plan with multiple, different activities to reach the audience and convince them to take the action that you want.

Getting discouraged is not an option. Keep pushing the message out in a variety of ways. Evaluate the success of each method and adjust your plan as needed. Eventually, it will be heard.

Words Matter

“I don’t have time for you.”

This phrase sends the little hairs on the back of my neck into the scared straight position. It conjures up some rather uncomfortable business situations.

The first time I heard this was when I went to get my boss’ attention about a potential issue arising with one of my internal clients at a major corporation. I don’t remember what the exact issue was, but I do recall that I felt like I needed guidance on how to resolve the problem and that I needed to let my boss know before the sh*t hit the fan.

I walked to her office, knocked on the door and said something like “I need to talk to you.”

I probably should have recognized her “hair on fire” appearance but she was always stressed out (that’s an entirely different post) and often looked like she was a deer in headlights.

She stood up from her seat behind the desk and looked at me. “I do not have time for you. Figure it out yourself,” she said and then she brushed passed me obviously going to put out a fire somewhere else.

I stood there, shell-shocked.

My career was built on me “figuring it out” so that didn’t bother me as much as the first part of that statement. She was the boss, the manager, the senior person to whom I reported. Surely, she was supposed to have time for me, right?

I somehow figured out the solution to my dilemma and went on with my day and career. She never did ask me what the problem was, and she didn’t last long in the role.

I went several years between “I don’t have time for you” situations. The latest was different in both the problem and the way the leader approached me.

The challenge was getting permissions for access to a client’s network (my access was in danger of getting locked as the client extended my contract). I tried all of the sources I could reach to ask about the process and went to the leader asking for his advice.

Again, I probably should have been aware that there was a lot going on for this leader as the team prepped for a big leadership meeting. However, in order for me to help manage the other work so that they could work on the meeting, I needed to have access to the network.

Instead of the “hair on fire” situation, this leader said matter-of-factly: “I simply do not have the time for this right now.”

I braced myself for the “figure it out” statement to follow but it didn’t.

Instead the leader told me to continue working and once the meeting was over he would address the network access internally. No fireworks, no drama. Just leadership.

As leaders of people we’re often challenged by managing our own work, the needs of the level above us, and the people who report to us. It’s important to remember that seemingly simple interactions between leaders and employees can make lasting impressions on those employees.

I rationalized that the first leader was under pressure and I should have known that. The truth is, no one should have to play mind reader. Simple, straight forward communications would have made this situation so much better.

Sometimes we all fall into the trap of thinking that good communication is only the “thing” we produce and distribute to various stakeholder groups. In reality, the success of any team is based on its ability to communicate. For example, the first situation could have been so much different if the leader had stopped and said something like “I can’t talk to you right now. Talk to XX and see if you can come up with a solution. I’ll be back in an hour and we can discuss at that time.” Or even, “I need you to take control of the situation and figure it out while I handle x,y,z.”

Being good communicators – not just in writing but person-to-person – requires time. We need to be ready to dedicate whatever is necessary to doing it right and moving ourselves and our teams forward. I personally am working on banishing the phrase “I don’t have time” from my vocabulary.

5 Reasons Why You Need A Communications Plan

Do you have a communications plan for your business?

You should.

Why?

Without a plan, how do you know when you’ve reached your goal or desired outcome? How do you know if you were successful?

The concept of planning immediately creates anxiety in some leaders because they fear the time commitment or being locked into certain activities or simply because they believe communications planning and execution is someone else’s job. I don’t care if you’re a go-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person or a methodical rules-follower. If you need to go from point A to point B, you need some sort of guide to get there.

Here are five reasons why I encourage you to embrace the action of developing (and executing) a communications plan:

1. It provides structure.

2. It requires you stop and think about the impact whatever you are going to do has on each of your stakeholder groups (employees, customers, media, investor, etc.)

3. It eliminates the “Wild, Wild, West” scenario of everyone doing everything – or worse, no one doing anything – to convey important information.

4. It elevates communications professionals from order takers (you’ve probably heard phrases like this: “we need a press release”, “I want a video”, “employees are not doing what we want”, “why is everyone leaving?”) to strategists.

5. It makes defining success less willy-nilly because the results are measured against the goals outlined in the plan.

Putting together a communications plan does not need to be difficult. Just remember the 5 Ws and 1 H (who, what, where, why, when and how). Now go to your keyboard or notebook and start planning!

What’s the Cause Behind the Cause?

Literacy – the ability to read, write and speak English – has been a passion of mine since 2012 when I took a course with the Literacy Volunteers of Monmouth County. I was training to be a tutor because I couldn’t understand a world where someone could not enjoy a good book. Over the years, I learned that there is much more to being literate.

It’s not just about getting lost in a good novel.

It’s about being able to read a job application or street sign.

It’s about being able to take your child or parent to the hospital and explain what’s wrong with them.

It’s about being able to pay bills because you understand what’s happening with your money.

It’s about being able to do what most of us take for granted.

My misunderstanding of being literate is not just my mistake – many people don’t understand the scope of the issue in the United States. For example, it’s not just immigrants that have the challenge of low-literacy; it’s many people born in America who made it through school without being able to read or write. Read Kim Davis’ story.

Why am I telling you this story and introducing you to Kim?

Because it is very simple to say that you’re a supporter of some cause or organization but to really understand the reason why that organization exists is far more challenging. We need to look beyond what is right in front of us and dig deeper to come to a true understanding of what we’re advocating with a check, a walk or run, or donating our time in some other way.

It’s not easy but it is worth it.

What cause are you passionate about? Do you challenge yourself, family, friends, co-workers to find something to engage their heart and minds?

Tell Me … What Do You Do?

My family and friends often ask me “what do you do all day”? Not that they question if I go to work but more so because they don’t understand what a business communicator does. Business communicators can be writers, strategists, content managers, public relations specialists, marketers or people with skills in each of these areas.

However, unlike, doctors or nurses or plumbers or teachers, there really is no clear definition of what communications professionals do. And television or movie characters don’t help because they just show glamourous people doing something in an office or running around town after a high-powered executive or someone that is just a “fixer” for corporate issues.

Here’s a quick look at how to answer the “What do you do?” question:

1. We are storytellers. Whether it’s for a customer, a reporter, an investor or an employee, we are the craftsman (and woman) building the message, framing the story. We’re the masters of engagement … and wordsmithing.

2. We see the big picture and help leaders see it too. In many situations, communicators have their fingers on the pulse of the organization, industry and community. We know what is working well and what isn’t. We guide the conversations to support the company and leadership mission.

3. We are idea generators and problem solvers. Doing the same things over and over is not only the definition of insanity; it is also boring. Communicators need to find the balance between traditional activities and breaking through the clutter that inundates the industry, the investors and employees. Innovation is critical but so is finding the solution to a multitude of things from bad press to unhappy customers to negative employee morale.

4. We are relationship builders, negotiators and peacemakers. A good healthy dose of emotional intelligence is a good personality characteristic for business communicators. We’re often in the position to influence – the media, the conversation, the direction of an employee program – but that means we must build relationships, understand a wide-range of personalities and how to mediate.

5. We are multitaskers. With more companies looking to do more with less, communications teams are often small which results in a great deal of work done by a few people. The work consists of planning, strategy, writing, editing, coordinating with vendors, reporting on what we’ve accomplished and even ordering food for meetings or making sure microphones work at events.

How do you describe what you do? Do you have insights or ideas about what business communicators do – or should do? Share your thoughts here.