Catherine went into her first job interview since it happened surprisingly confident, although she was aware of the need to keep it positive. Her concern was that any inquiry about the incident might release a tirade of honest but negative emotional remarks that would diminish her chances of a job offer.
The interview, which had started with a rather awkward phone call the week before, warmed up to a comfortable but not overly personal conversation shortly after Catherine arrived. Instead of relying on the comments she had thought up in the car to drop in conversation to build some rapport with the Vice President, Catherine was ad-libbing like a pro — of course, she is a pro.
The real validation came for Catherine when the VP asked about a typical day at her current job, what kind of projects was she involved in. This was a great opener for Catherine to highlight the creativity she brought to the job and some of the innovative aspects of communication she was practicing. Catherine was helping to build internal branding and work culture, designing digital media campaigns, and managing consistent signage displays for multiple new offices, just to mention a few.
After Catherine finished describing the bulk of what she does in a typical day on the job, the VP asked how large her staff was, to which she reacted with a rather bewildered expression. Catherine had no staff. She saw the look of understanding in the VP’s eyes as the conversation circled back around to why Catherine was leaving that job. She reiterated her reason, that there was no understanding and little support for what a communications department should do and how vital it is to the organization. The VP shook her head in tacit agreement.
Why Communications Matters
Communications is a vital part of any organization, and just like engineering, it must be handled by a qualified professional. Unfortunately, the communications department is often left out of the discussion when important decisions are being made.
Without the right support from leadership and access to all of the information, organizational communication breaks down rather quickly.
In Catherine’s case, she joined a start-up as the first communications professional they hired. Unfortunately, they waited almost a year to make this addition to their staff. She was already behind schedule just setting up the basic branding tools like business cards when she came through the door, but she was up for the challenge.
Then, she spent months educating the leadership about what projects should involve communications. As a department of one, she was put on every workgroup and had to attend every meeting just to find out about upcoming plans and initiatives. Most projects were being rolled out without a workflow or an appropriate timeline. Either the CEO or the regulators wanted the impossible and had no room for compromise.
During Catherine’s tenure, several other departments were staffed up and built out with assistant vice presidents and managers. Meanwhile, Catherine began calling herself the communications department to try to raise awareness for the importance of the job. Her attempts at staffing the department were met with disinterest and brushed off.
Most days, Catherine couldn’t breathe with all of the work she was handling herself. Working hard was not really Catherine’s concern. She expected that when she took the job. She reached a point, though, where she could barely keep up with her deadlines and all the requests. She was expected to handle everything from event management to drafting policy. Something bad was going to happen, and Catherine wasn’t getting the support she needed to protect the organization from some public disaster. (A communication disaster is almost always public.)
Somehow, Catherine’s superiors thought their focus on their core mission was enough to sustain the operation. In reality, they needed to place a little more emphasis on communications to shore up what they were building and help it grow. They got complaints from clients and employees that could have been avoided. They were doing everything: managing a website, holding informational meetings, developing policies for employees, advertising their services, handing out business cards…they just weren’t doing any of it well.
A Happy Ending
Sad stories draw you in and tug at your heart. You imagine what it would be like if you had a role in the story. What if your organization was suffering from a poor understanding of the value of communication? Could this be happening to you right now? Are you giving communication enough emphasis at the leadership level in policy and strategy discussions?
Here are some steps you can take to orchestrate a happy ending for your organization:
- Ask your communication team to do a SWOT analysis. If they are not familiar with the term, I would be a little concerned. Maybe, your leadership team should all be involved in this exercise.
- Review the analysis and ask questions. You need to truly understand the SWOT from a communications perspective. It may vary from your operational perspective, and you’ll have to reconcile the differences.
- Focus on the threats, working with your communications team to develop a plan of action. Divide each part of the plan into tasks that can begin immediately. Don’t panic, but motivate action.
- Look at your communications budget to find ways to align expenditures with priorities. If you do not have a communications budget, make one. Communications, like every other part of your operation, costs money. Those expenditures should be planned and tracked.
- Review your internal communications procedure. Don’t have one? Develop one with a communications professional. Any information sent out to all employees should go through a vetting process, first, that includes communications review for branding and standard language usage. Treat your employees like your customers. They need consistent messaging.
- Tie all of your communications projects to organizational goals by asking why are we doing this. You don’t have social media just because it is free and other companies have it. You post on social media to achieve a goal. Engagement might be your goal, but that still needs to be tied to your desired outcomes for your organization. Advertising is expensive. Keep asking why and looking for data to support the answer.
- Create timelines for all communications functions. How long does it take to create a bulk mailing? What is the turn-around time on website changes or social media posts? When you know the timeframes, you can more easily assess the resources needed to complete these tasks. Hint: you need more than one person in your communications department if you want to develop a new brochure and plan multiple events at the same time.
Mostly, ask questions and believe the answers! A communications professional will not steer you in the wrong direction because it is her professional reputation on the line. When you provide the appropriate support for communications and involve a communications professional at the highest level of leadership in policy and strategy decisions, you will find everyone’s job gets a little easier.
Don’t you just love a happy ending?