Eight tips to push back on ‘just putting stuff out’

by Michelle Atkinson

We all know the importance communications has in helping our organisations achieve real impact. Nowhere more so than during Covid-19.

But to do this we need to be strong – saying no to the ‘just putting stuff out’ and focusing on what really makes a difference. To do this our teams need to stick to clear, agreed, well communicated priorities which everyone’s is signed up to. 

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

But as humans, and especially communications professionals, we don’t like saying ‘no’. If we don’t, we risk not delivering for our organisations, undermining our profession, and potentially making ourselves ill by taking on too much.

Ideas on how we do this was the subject of one of this year’s CommsCamp workshops. We agreed that it’s a tale as old as time and there is no one silver bullet. Here are our eight top tips:

  1. No plan? Then help them get one. If your organisation doesn’t have a clear plan or priorities, or has one which includes everything (familiar?) – help them decide. Ask senior leaders what they want to achieve, how they will know its achieved, what it looks like, and ask them what keeps them awake at night.
  • Get the organisation to categorise the work. Some organisations categorise their work under Gold, Silver and Bronze systems or High, Medium, Low, with definitions and illustrating where they’ll spend their time. Don’t forget to communicate it widely. You’ll still need to push back and beware any booking forms or processes you put in place, to ensure they don’t create even more work.
  • Develop a forward planner/news grid, based on those priorities. Regularly refresh it, and share it. If you have conflicting priorities with different departments, ask them to decide which is the greater priority. Or explain the implications of doing ‘x’ over ‘y.’
  • Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. That way you know what you are doing is having an impact. If it is, communicate it in your organisation’s language – it’ll give you more authority when saying no. If it isn’t, ditch it.
  • Plan for 80 per cent of your time. Use the rest to focus on other areas of impact e.g.  horizon scanning, training, sharing best practice, evaluation and some work that can’t be planned in
  • Manage relationships and assert yourself early. Speak up. Be a leader of your organisation – talk their language and give communications advice. Don’t be a comms rep. If are an inhouse, you need to bring people with you by developing relationships. If you’re interim, you can afford to be direct from the start. The whole team should know and be interested in the business too.
  • Arrange an external review – change often only tends to happen when there is pressure from outside. The Local Government Association offers a free peer review for those in local government. External agencies also offer such reviews. One organisation involved internal audit to demonstrate the value of the communications team as part of their Covid-19 response
  • Consider your position. Some organisations are inherently chaotic. If they aren’t taking your advice – you may need to reassess your position and work for one that does.

Michelle Atkinson is head of communications at Durham County Council.

Picture credit: Sara Aida Ospino Martinez.

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