Communications organizations that need improvement – in terms of talent, capabilities, and processes – often look to the outside for answers. And to an extent, that’s not a bad idea. Looking to the outside can help give perspective, identify best practices, and facilitate benchmarking opportunities.
But looking exclusively outside an organization can overlook the insights available inside. Staffers within a communications organization, perhaps similar to staffers in other functions, are often quite astute as to their own function’s strengths and shortcomings and are pretty savvy about what is required to make meaningful improvement.
You might think staffers would rate their capabilities highly, if for no other reason than survival and resistance to change. But we’ve found people are often remarkably candid, forthcoming, and insightful.
For example, my firm recently facilitated an internal benchmarking assessment for a client. We asked virtually everyone inside this large comms organization about their work. We identified 38 specific responsibilities of the function and asked them to rate each one by its level of importance and by how effective the function was at executing these responsibilities.
We were able to plot on a two-by-two chart all 38 attributes in terms of importance (the x-axis) and effectiveness (the y-axis). We could quickly see in the upper right quadrant the work the team thought was most important and was being executed most effectively.
This exercise provided insight in three key areas:
Alignment. We could quickly determine if the staff and company leadership were in alignment on prioritization. For example, just because your staff says performance measurement isn’t very important or that more staff training is, that doesn’t make it so. As a result, the first, crucial outcome of the exercise is to identify what is required to gain internal alignment on business priorities. You might be surprised how often considerable realignment is required.
Assessment. It’s remarkable how often staffers candidly critique their own effectiveness. They know when they’re world class, and when they’re not. We’ve done research and asked about effectiveness in areas like strategic planning, media relations, social strategies, employee engagement, storytelling, and more, and I’ve been stunned by how often the effectiveness scores come in around the 50% line.
Capacity. Every function thinks it’s understaffed and virtually every employee thinks he or she is too busy. But most also acknowledge too much time is spent on low-value activities. The alignment exercise described above should facilitate a discussion on how to eliminate work that is low in importance, especially if it plots into the lower left quadrant, which suggests you may not very effective at it anyway.
If you go through this exercise, what do you do with all this information?
I suggest it’s a wake-up call. Good employees know what’s good, and they won’t seek to build their careers in places that don’t enable their aspirations. A self-assessment is a good start to drive meaningful, positive change.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at email@example.com. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.