Comms will never quieten down. Your know that, right? So we all need to take charge of own our own time, diaries, screens and work demands. Some time away from them might just give us a fresh shot of clarity, focus and creativity.
by Joanne Ford
Hands up who had a busy year in 2018? Yep, us too. Between major sporting events, key strategy launches, ministerial visits, big planning cases and arguably one of the busiest summers for visitor numbers in years, we got to the end of the year with barely a moment to stop and look back at what we’d achieved. That combined with some changes across the team meant that we were all feeling slightly worn out and a bit disjointed. It was clear we needed to regroup and reset our focus but how do you do that when you’re still really busy?
I spoke to our Head of Communications about what I was feeling and seeing and I got a somewhat surprising response:
“Why don’t we just press pause?”
Now I don’t know about you but after 12 years in public sector comms, that’s not something I’ve heard from any boss before. Pause? As in just, like, stop for while? Well, yeah, sort of.
We agreed that for the month of December we would step back from the day to day stuff as much as possible and focus on our team’s development. We stripped back our social media schedule and held off on any proactive PR and stakeholder engagement except what was absolutely essential. Together we agreed some areas we wanted to focus on and set aside time in our diaries for a series of meetings, workshops and sometimes just chats. Individually each team member also picked something on their work list that they wanted to spend some more time thinking about and planning for.
We pressed pause and here’s how it played out.
Track 1: We’ve come a long way baby
Before we started looking forwards, we needed to take a look back. So we kicked off our development month with a session sharing our favourite moments and biggest achievements of the year. Funnily enough it was quite hard to get started. There were honestly some things we’d done, pretty big things, that we’d forgotten about until we got talking. We chatted about our highlights, what made them successes and what we had learned for next time. The result was we felt buoyed by what we’d been doing rather than blurred by it.
Track 2: Why
One of the key things we needed to do as a team was remind ourselves what we are trying to achieve. Might sound a bit obvious but I’m sure we’ve all fallen into the trap of focusing on our day to day to-do list and losing sight of the bigger picture at some point. Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with why’ TED Talk is an oldie but a goodie. We grabbed a meeting room and our lunch to watch it together then discuss our own ‘why’.
Track 3: Video Killed The Radio Star
In planning our team development month we asked everyone to suggest topics they wanted to spend some time on. Video skills came out as a favourite so we roped in a former colleague, who just happens to be a former BBC producer and has run her own video production company, to deliver a session on her top tips for producing great videos on a budget. It was great and the key thing was that because it was something everyone had said they wanted to learn more about, everyone got something out of it.
Track Four: Get Up Offa That Thing
Sometimes to change the mood, you need to change the scenery. We’re lucky enough to work in a beautiful place and for an organisation that encourages time outside whether it’s for a lunchtime blast of fresh air or a walking meeting. But even with that, it’s still easy to get tied to your desk and feel guilty about taking time away. We made a point of heading out for walking catch ups but most importantly, we spent one full day out of the office in different surroundings to really focus our minds with a series of workshops planning for the year ahead. In our whole month of development, booking a small meeting space somewhere else for a day was our only expense and it was so worth it.
Track Five: One Vision
A key objective for team development month was to make sure everyone had a strong understanding of what our organisational priorities are for the year ahead. Doesn’t sound too exciting does it? Soooo, we had a bit of fun with it and held a Family Fortunes-style quiz (complete with those classic sound effects of course) to test how much we really knew about the priorities and outcomes set out in our strategic plans. It worked. I won’t name the winners and losers, but some members of the team are still demanding a rematch! We will do it again mid-way through the year just to make sure we’ll all still keeping our eyes on the prize.
Track 6: How will I know?
It’s one thing knowing what you’re trying to achieve but how do you know you’re actually doing it? Yes, you guessed it…..you have a plan with clear measurable objectives. Again it might sound obvious but with different backgrounds and levels of experience across the team we agreed we needed a consistent approach to comms planning and, in particular, evaluation. We looked at successful plans we had delivered as well as examples from others, such as the handy comms2point0 essential guide to comms planning, and updated our own template communications plan.
Track 7: This is how we do it
We spent the second part of our away day putting that approach into practice by tasking two members of the team with coming up with a campaign brief that together, in one room, in one hour, we created a communications plan for. Including those all-important SMART objectives of course.
Track 8: Nothing’s gonna stop us now
Ok well maybe not nothing. There was still a fair bit of work going on throughout the month and team development is an ongoing process, but instead of limping into the Christmas break feeling flat and exhausted we definitely finished on a high. We ended with a clear focus on what we wanted to achieve in the new year and how we were going to do it. We followed up in January with a team day recapping everything we’d discussed and each setting some personal goals for the year.
A few months into the year and inevitably, things have gotten busy pretty quickly. It’s easy to get blown off course but as a team we are closer and stronger than we were a few months ago. We have agreed to keep the momentum going with a commitment to having regular development sessions throughout the year whether that’s a lunchtime TED Talk and chat or bringing in others to deliver professional training sessions on key topics.
I know what you might be thinking: it’s alright if your boss is the one who suggested pressing pause in the first place but how do you convince senior management if they are the ones piling on the pressure? I admit we have been pretty lucky but pressing pause isn’t easy, with that buy-in or without. Finding a way to at least turn down the volume for a little while every now and again can make a huge difference to how your team feels and performs. And if you can’t do it as a team, do it yourself. For example follow the brilliant Bruce Daisley’s top tip of having ‘monk mode’ mornings where you stay away from the office and email to focus on just one thing. Either way, taking some time away from the day-to-day stuff can have big benefits for you and your work.
Try it and see what happens!
Joanne Ford is communications manager at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park and you can connect with her on Twitter at @jomacdonald79
image via Kumar McMillan