There are a list of skills that are needed for a comms team. But how do you start the work in transforming the team, bringing people along and making the changes?
by Dan Slee
Just recently I blogged about the 40 skills a comms team needs to have but something kept on troubling me.
A few years ago, I would have sat back happy. That’s the future. Anybody in their right mind can see that makes sense. Job done. Form a line.
But, no actually. It’s one thing to have an idea of what the future looks like. It’s another thing entirely to bring others along with you. The thing is, all people aren’t keen to bin the press release and run arms out stretched to embrace the digital future. Besides, it’s not all about digital hoverboards or inky press releases. There’s somewhere in between. That’s where most teams are.
Three categories of swimmers in every team
I’ve come to realise that people fall into three categories. Firstly, the keen people who can see the future and are busy making it happen. They are a joy. They dive in.
Secondly, there are those who go along with if their line manager says it’s fine. Risk-averse some training with a certificate at the end gives them a green light. They’ll lower themselves in if they are allowed to.
Thirdly, the disengaged. Internal comms surveys point to 20 per cent being unengaged with their jobs and a further 20 per cent being actively unengaged. They’d really like it if the plan sank. They’ll get in if they have to and swim only when pressed. More than likely in tight circles.
It’s a broad theory that got some external validation recently from Euan Semple whose work I greatly admire. To paraphrase his advice? Work with the first category. They’ll bring along some of the second. Ignore the third. They’ll only sap your energy.
Ways to get people swimming
Just recently, I was at the excellent Barcamp Not For Profits in London. An unconference aimed at those in and around charity digital comms people. As ever, it does you good to get out and talk to people who are not in your usual circles. The session I pitched was the issue of how to get everyone to buy-in with the Brave New World. Or in other words, how to get people swimming. Should it be two people in a room drawing up a plan? Or something more inclusive? These are a few thoughts from there and a few others.
It’s better to bring people along
It’s never great to be consulted at. Two people in a room deciding on how your job will change can only bring uncertainty and mistrust tempting though it may be. Can you sketch out the future and get the team to contribute? You won’t get everyone but you will get more, I’ll bet. Leave the door open to everyone and try and build a coalition.
Learn to let go
And when you are building a coalition and asking people to come along with you they may do things you may not do. That’s fine. Trust them. Back them as much as you can. If this is going to really work this is likely to happen by you getting out of the way as much as possible.
Failing is fine
Support those who do want to change. Back them. If they fall off the horse help them back on. If falling off a horse was a shootable offence serial champion jockey AP McCoy would never have got out of the stable yard.
Set a course and stick to it
This is more hardline. Once you’ve set out where you are going to you may get opposition. Stick to the course if that opposition isn’t constructive. Those who don’t want to change may well leave. A year or two back I remember the academic research that showed that traditional PR people were leaving agencies that were moving to be digital in order to join other non-digital agencies. You have to wonder about the long term strategy for that.
Thanks to people who contributed to the Barcamp Not For Profit Session @spirals and others who organised it.
Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.