One Mission, 357 Communicators and a Question
My mission is simple.
I want to be there for thein-house communication specialist who instantly feels overwhelmed and unsure of where to start when the boss asks for a communication plan for a new project.
Imagine the situation.
The communicator sits nervously across the table as the boss unveils the complexity and importance of the project. A wave of doubt crosses through the mind of the specialist as they instantly wish their college classes had taught them exactly what to do and how to respond in that moment.
My hunch is you’ve likely met that communicator– though you may have not known it at the time.
It’s a lonely feeling when you’re short on the skills and experience to navigate a professional situation with confidence. Experience can be a great teacher. But it isn’t always easy. We call this struggle, and for some reason, we’re afraid to show it as communications professionals.
Candidly, and all too often, there are not enough resources to support newer communicators, especially when they are first-in-role, the lone communicator in the midst of other professional disciplines or work for a leader who may not have the skills or experience to guide them through the challenge. Honestly, I remember the feeling of being a bit alone and unsure early in my career. Struggle was a regular part of the professional diet.
My mission, and how I choose to respond, is to build a training solution to help the communicator navigate through the situation I shared above. I want to reduce struggle and help newer communicators with the course I wish was available earlier in my career.
Let me tell you, the struggle is definitely real. But don’t just take my word for it. As part of my own due diligence, I kicked off a basic online research effort, starting with one simple question:
When it comes to creating communication plans, what is the single biggest challenge you’ve been struggling with at your workplace?
Thanks to graciousness of 357 communicators from around the world, I received thought-provoking answers and insights. Oddly enough, only onecommunicator admitted to not having a challenge – that’s only one. The other 356 surfaced challenge and frustration. Here are some of the highlights:
More Support & Engagement Please – Communicators identified that their function and the need for communication planning wasn’t always well understood or supported. The relationships with their clients and leadership were challenging, as a result. This by far was the largest challenge surfaced by communicators (two out of every five respondents).
We Don’t Like Being Late to the Party – The issue of time – whether not having enough time or frustration about being invited to join projects too late in the process – was voiced by one out of every five communicators. Our daily work lives are stressed.
Business Problem Solving– Failing to understand the business objective for the communication plan to begin with was also a prevalent issue with respondents. Communicators also identified jumping to tactics and not extracting clear business objectives from business owners.
Plan Structure & Organization– Differentiating between objectives, strategies and tactics was surfaced by multiple communicators. They expressed challenges in properly organizing the components and format of a plan into a cohesive, working document.
These issues may not be new to you. But they can be challenging for any communicator and are even more overwhelming to a newer professional. Said one communicator, “To be honest, as a young professional, I have yet to learn what a communication plan 'looks' like. I have never gotten the same hands-on experience in any of my internships or workplaces with communication plans… So, my question is – what is communication plan, and why do people keep asking me to make them?”
Said another communicator, “Very often, it is one of the first few tasks I got asked to do when just onboard a new role – without in depth knowledge about the company, its strategy and business plan.” As a newer professional I can remember feeling a bit out on this very same limb. Mastering the format, let alone the business, internal relationships and process required to successfully complete a plan from development to execution, was challenging enough.
Further, it’s hard for one communicator alone to change the way a company embraces communications planning. As one communicator said, "No one realizes how important (communication plans) are. Everyone wants 'better communication' but no one wants to invest time or resources in the pursuit of it.”
Removing all the barriers and challenges faced by communicators clearly won’t happen overnight. However, my belief is that communication professionals can move the needle toward resolution, and less struggle, one communication plan at a time.
A well-constructed communications plan and the disciplined and transparent process used to create it can help organizations move forward to a place of shared understanding. A communication plan can intertwine an agreed-upon, optimal communications narrative with organizational execution and response. It can literally and figuratively get everyone on the same page.
Each communication plan offers a practical path away from our desks and into the core of the business – into the native environment of the project owners and business leaders.
Each plan is also an opportunity to educate our clients about how we do our work as communicators and an opportunity to build upon professional strength.
A communication plan can be the ticket into the discussion where problems are identified, and solutions are discovered. This is where the communicator can become a business problem solver and a strategic resource to leaders.
The experiences raised by communicators responding to my basic research effort were very familiar. I was touched by the candor of many of the responses as well as what seemed like absolute passion and dedication to our craft.
Here are some powerful words to consider. One communicator expressed the single biggest challenge with communication plans this way: "Having the courage and skill to tell the head honcho why their words or formats or structures will fail, and to gain their trust to do your job as the professional you have trained, strained and sustained to become."
You have to have courage and persistence as a communicator. I believe you can grow these attributes in your career one communication plan at a time. I also believe, that the reception and trust our organizations and leaders invest in us can grow in the same way.
While you can learn a lot from struggle, it is not always the best path to success as a communicator, especially when you’re on your own. I firmly believe in reducing the friction and overwhelm that communicators can experience at the start of their career. This is why I chose my mission to build a training solution focused on communication planning.
What is our collective mission?How can we, as communications professsionals reduce the struggle for those who follow in our footsteps, whether in our workplace or the company in the next town?
I invite you to reimagine the situation I shared with you earlier. Were you that communicator sitting nervously across the table earlier in your career?
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some of the insights of the 357 communicators who responded to my research question. Perhaps some of the comments will be familiar to you and your journey as a communications professional. Perhaps you’ve heard peers or team members expressing similar points of view. Many comments rang true for me.
To those who participated in my research, you have my absolute thanks and appreciation. I hope your voices will spark some discussion and, hopefully some added support and guidance.
To learn more about the insights from these communicators, including observations and recommendations about how communicators can strengthen their communication planning muscles, click here.
Registration for my online communication planning course opens in January. Interested in joining the waiting list? Click here to let me know.
In the meantime, let’s start a discussion.