Part 1: Strategic Planning
I confess to employing a little bit of clickbait in this headline because, in fact, I know nothing is free. Time is a valuable commodity. When you recognize how valuable and finite your time is, you have a better perspective on how to focus your efforts for maximum impact. While these strategies require an investment in time, they won’t require extra budget dollars. They don’t even require a communications team. Communications is a specialized field, yet I would argue that each of you is a communicator and could benefit from these tips.
Understand the “why”
If you could choose one tool in your planning toolbox, go for goals. I’m shocked how many times these basic questions get overlooked in our work: “Why are we doing this? What is our goal? What are we trying to accomplish?” Instead of being an afterthought, knowing these answers should be where you begin. When you are trying to accomplish as much as you can on lean resources, it’s imperative that you understand the reason you do the work you do, and that you define what success looks like. In my experience managing communications, people naturally gravitate toward the what – a specific tactic or action in mind – before they’ve even thought about the why. Answering the why question helps get you back to big-picture thinking, shining the spotlight on whether your ideas meet your desired goals.
Invest heavily in planning
It’s true what they say “If you don’t know where you are going, any path will take you there”.
Planning helps increase efficiency. The advantage of working in such a cyclical environment is not having to constantly start from scratch, at least not if you’ve invested time to document how you’ve accomplished that work in the past. Consider automating everything you can in advance for tasks or events performed regularly. It frees up mental energy, giving you more time to be proactive and creative.
I have never regretted time invested in planning. I schedule a few blocks of time in the summer with my team to focus on annual strategic planning and longer-term dreaming. We invest a few hours during winter for a mid-year assessment. We meet as a group and individually every Monday to keep our eye on what’s in our work flow right now and for the next few months, so we always have a clear sense of how we need to be spending our time. You can’t afford to let your in-box dictate your work life.
Get on the same page
When you work around the same people every day, there can be a false sense that everyone is on the same page. Yet often this is not the case. By nature we are self-interested creatures, and often view things from our own perspective. A culture of strong communication looks like everyone rowing the boat in the same direction, and it doesn’t happen by accident. Whether you are dealing with an issue, a problem or an idea, investing time to articulate your unit’s “position” can help you avoid misunderstandings and get your group all working toward the same thing. Try these thought questions:
What does our organization have to say about this?
Think about how you would quantify your unit’s position in a few sentences–an elevator pitch or a brief holding statement. Spending time at the beginning to clarify your stance or philosophy is smarter than trying to get on the same page in a time of duress or in a reactionary manner. All you need is a few sentences. For more complex issues or projects, talking points are a great way to standardize your messaging, and ensure that staff at all levels of the organization all have the same, consistent narrative. This usually consists of bullet points of key information or sometimes in the form of an FAQ.
What do we want people to know, feel and do?
This powerful and effective question helps you quickly and simply drill down to the next actions you need to take.
Create an “undo” list
You read that right. Start thinking of the things you are not going to do anymore. If you are planning your time and efforts strategically, you’ll be more selective about taking on new projects because it forces you to prioritize. Most colleagues I know are already working to the edge (or beyond) of their capacity. Regularly re-evaluating the results and value of what you are currently producing can help you identify the areas that are less critical to your goals. We just can’t do it all. It dilutes our work, our energy and our people. Get your delete button ready, and simplify liberally.
Dream big, just in case
Being a dreamer in a resource-stretched work world can be hard on the soul. Do it anyway! You never know when a new opportunity or funding might come your way. A little pragmatic preparation can help you take advantage of those moments. Concentrate on ideas that are fairly feasible, even if only in the future, and articulate what would be involved to make it happen. Even if it takes years, it’s more likely to become a reality if you know what you want and you understand what you need to get there.
Stay tuned for my next Campus Communications Hacks post about managing customer relationships!