Monday, November 02, 2009

Stop, think and focus

Over the past year I've sen most organisations batten down the hatches on organisational communication, pulling what work they are doing back in-house and focusing only on getting through the day to day challenges. It has been tough all round: many teams have dealt with significant redundancy programmes in their organisation while themselves being cut to the bone. Other challenges I've seen have included managing the communication agenda of leadership teams that have become more directive and less inclusive - and the consequent difficulties in maintaining employee engagement. And every organisation I've worked with has faced the daily challenge of having to do more with less to reach targets that are ever more difficult to attain.

In some notable cases - and to their great credit - the in-house teams have thrived, taking on work they would normally have outsourced, and rediscovering the skills and passions that initially drew them into organisational communication. But, a year and more down the line, everyone's tired and many communicators are running close to empty.

In any recession - and I've been through the last three (arguably four) - employee communication is an easy cost-cutting target. Leaders make the right noises about communication and engagement being a massive priority, but then cut back on budget and resourcing anyway. It's tough for the team stuck in the middle of the maelstrom to keep on delivering, and doubly tough to remain focused and objective on whether what they're producing is delivering the outcome the business actually needs. The issue is not just to deal with today's challenges, but to ensure that the organisation is in the right shape to met the different challenges it will face when the upturn kicks in.

And here's the dilemma many organisations are facing: at the moment, calling on external consultancy support simply isn't an option - it's seen as too costly and wasteful - and against the spirit of the organisation in managing costs and preserving internal roles. However, now is exactly the time when organisational communication teams could benefit most from a fresh, experienced pair of eyes to assess how their communications are performing and how well aligned they are with the needs of the business.

Over the summer, I worked for two organisations on quick diagnostic projects - the aim was to stop, think and focus. It was about making small course corrections rather than reinventing the communication wheel. The object in both cases was to look at the business strategy; do a deep dive into what was being done in terms of communication (through desk research and 1:1 interviews with key communication influencers) and to feedback through a highly interactive senior workshop. The feedback session became the basis for an action plan where senior leaders took responsibility for the necessary aspects of course correction.

The sessions were really effective. As an outsider, I could give objective feedback, pulling no punches, and detail where communication was and wasn't working - and why. Once issues were out in the open, the internal teams worked at developing solutions that could be delivered inside the organisation - not by pricey external consultants.

I refined the process over the course of the two projects and now am confident that it's works and is replicable and scalable. One project was for a sizable business and the other for a division of an organisation. In both cases, the key was identifying actions that could be acted on by the existing in-house team within their budget using existing resources. In both cases, I worked on the available budget my clients had - it was well below what I would have charged in the good times, but I knew i could still make the figures work for me - and deliver something very beneficial for the client.

Talking to a couple of Leapfrog Associates last week, we began calling the proto-service 'Austerity Consultancy' - somehow it fits the times.....but isn't the most saleable name. Now I'm driven in my communication makeup by a focus on outcomes over outputs, and realised that this is what this service is all about. So, austerity consultancy has become O/O Assessment - a process to ensure your communication outputs and planned business outcomes are aligned.

My mantra on business communication is only to invest time in those things that will actually drive the business forward - it's about understanding the impact of what you do and being able to measure that impact. And in this economic downturn, it's about doing a few things well.

If you're interested in finding out whether O/O Assessment could work for you, give me a call or drop me an email. It's low-cost, low risk and could really re energise your team to focus on what really matters to your might even save you a few ££ along the way.

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