Deciding how to maximize time is one of the more challenging questions that PR people face.
For writer John Billings, "Time is like money, the less we have of it to spare the further we make it go." For witticist Thomas Fuller, "Those that make the best use of their time have none to spare." For top communicators, time is like spare change: You always find a little tucked away in unusual places.
Where are these places and how to access them? The answer is so important it has made people rich. Kenneth Blanchard has five books in his popular The One Minute Manager series, including The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. It's about how to avoid taking on the problems that belong to others. Author Steven Covey has an empire with the FranklinCovey store chain for time-management resources.
The answers to the where and how can range from "just say no" to creating pie charts and to-do lists. For what to do with this time, six rules can apply.
Know the business. Communicators go astray if they believe they are in the business of communications. Successful communicators understand that they are in the business of their employer and that communications is a tool to help advance business goals.
Craft and execute strategies that directly address business goals. Start with the objectives that the leadership uses. In developing plans, show a direct line from them to the communications activities that will help the organization achieve them. Communications can't solve every issue. Be clear, rigorous, and work with colleagues to decide which ones can be helped along.
Understand the difference between "strategic" and "important." Important is good to do. Strategic is necessary to do. In the days of shrinking budgets and increased demand, the deciding factor should be whatever activity creates greater business impact.
Set metrics and report out. It's hard to link communications directly to the bottom line. Five dollars of communications doesn't translate into $10 of gain. Even so, success can be defined in business terms. Popular measures include employee engagement and likelihood of use or recommendation. You can't measure the contribution of eggs in a cake, but it's difficult - or impossible - to make one without them.
Stakeholder management. A couples theory from the nonprofit Imago identifies four keys for engaging successful relationships: show up, pay attention, tell the truth, and don't be attached to the outcome (meaning be true to yourself regardless of pressures). This works equally well with staff, peers, bosses and other leaders.
Defend the castle. Crisis communications is a way of life. Be ready.
It's not easy. The 2006 Communications Executive Council report, Boosting Communications' Value to Business Partners, offers a good road map on how one can best to utilize time. Like Albert Camus said in The Plague, "How to contrive not to waste one's time? By being fully aware of it all the while."
Lisa Davis is VP of corporate communications at AstraZeneca. Each month, she looks at a different aspect of counseling senior management from an in-house viewpoint. If you have any comments or suggestions, e-mail her at email@example.com.