Nothing beats the feeling of getting a good end-of-the-year review from your boss(es). It is a palpable experience that everyone looks forward to.
However, having a good year performance review is not sufficient. The goal of a communications strategist should be to sustain the momentum and indeed beat the previous year’s result.
So, how can a communications strategist sustain his/her performance, maintain relevance and remain invaluable to the organisation?
There are organisations that are however blind to the value of the communications team, or at best see it as a cost centre for mundane activities such as entertaining business visitors on courtesy visits or the business leadership team visiting external stakeholders. Organising birthday parties for the CEO and friends, making and serving tea at company’s meetings, are a few other misconceptions about the role of the corporate communications team.
As practitioners, we should rather be seen from a strategic point of view. We want to be the people influencing and shaping critical policies that could have an impact on the operations of a business in various ramifications, from strategic stakeholder engagement to creating an enabling environment for the business to thrive. Reputation management of the organisation and the C-Suite executives to retain existing shareholders, attract new investors, strategic media relations functions, effective and proactive crisis management operations are but a few of the key responsibilities of communication strategists.
While the debate continues on the relevance of communications strategists to an organisation, we the practitioners are expected to bring our relevance to bear through impact, support and influence of the performance of the business, despite being a non-commercial unit in the firm.
Here are some tips for communications strategists to maintain relevance through enhanced performance year-on-year:
1. Wipe, Return to Point Zero and Reboot
No matter how good your previous year’s performance is to your organisation, as you begin the journey in the new year, your first point of duty is to wipe, return to point zero and reboot.
This is very important because humans by nature are tempted to cruise on autopilot and repeat all that was achieved in the previous year as exact steps to be followed in the new year.
This is nothing but a solid foundation for failure. Do not get me wrong it is not that you cannot repeat what was good and what worked well previously in the new year. But that should not be a default mindset.
As communications strategists, we deal with people and as humans we tend to change based on new information, new developments in the environment, update in academic capabilities, the environment, new technologies, among others. These changes in individuals will likely give birth to how the stakeholders think, relate and even consume information. This is one reason why communication strategists are expected to be on top of their game so as not to be caught repeating the same strategy. Practitioners should rather update themselves to take the lead in providing strategies to enable others to align with the current realities.
We must therefore start each year by questioning everything we did in the previous year from a perspective of what worked well and otherwise. While it is good to repeat what worked well in the new year, it must be done from a continuous improvement mindset. It is at this point that we will need to wipe, return to point zero and reboot. We must do this by questioning everything and anything we did in the previous year.
The truth is, a communication strategist can easily be swept off his/her feet whenever the business or world reality is disrupted. Let’s quickly reflect on when the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. With the index case reported in Nigeria on 27th February 2020 and spreading rapidly, a pandemic was declared that precipitated lockdowns, travel restrictions, isolation and quarantine, among others. Human existence and activities came to a halt literally not only in Nigeria but across the world.
If a communications strategist had built his/her 2020 plan on the successes he/she achieved in 2019 that earned good performance reviews, it will definitely not be applicable in the reality of 2020. While this might not always be the case, we need to approach every new year with the mindset of wipe, return to point zero and reboot. Among the few things that should stay with every communication is that the strategist is learning from the previous year. This is also a growth mindset for career trajectory.
2. Reinvent Yourself
As jaded as it might sound, every communications strategist that wants to maintain relevance in an organisation must be ready to continuously reinvent himself/herself. You either re-invent yourself or become irrelevant. The question is how do you reinvent yourself?
My simple response is in building capabilities and capacity to do much more than you have ever done. This is the point where it is safe to say you need to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Being in a comfortable situation is indeed refreshing, relaxing and enjoyable. However, the danger of complacency can creep in. This may create a situation where slowly but surely everything you think you know that made you a superstar in your organisation could deplete because you are not reinventing yourself by building new capabilities and capacity.
There is more to a new year than the previous year. No two years should be treated the same because no two years are ever the same, especially in the fluid and rapidly changing world we now live, work and play in.
Do you need to learn a new skill? Be intentional about it and go for it. Do you need to update your skills? Make plans and budget to go for upscaling courses to improve yourself. Do you need mentorship? Identify an industry player either at mid or senior level, depending on your goals and respectfully. Ask them for mentorship sessions. In mentoring, I always advise that you do not go without having something, no matter how little or insignificant it may be that you can add value to your mentor. You will be surprised how it will be appreciated. Reversed mentorship is also an option for senior industry players and leaders.
Do you need to leverage your networks to get support as part of reinventing yourself? By all means, reach out to them to get help. There is no harm in raising your hand to ask for help. This is one area where I say there is no shame in asking for help as part of your process of reinventing yourself for better and improved performance on your job.
3. Stop Averaging
It hurts to say this but it is true, so bear with me. One reason why the relevance of strategic communications is still questioned in many organisations is that the practitioners are at best average people in value when compared to peers in other departments of the organisation.
It is time to stop being average. You cannot be an average performer year-on-year and expect to be taken seriously. This might be harsh, but it is the reality. By default, for professionals in the field of medicine, engineering, technology, agriculture, law, among others, no one questions their relevance in the world order because the value they bring to the table is not just perceived but experienced empirically. For operations like communications, we need to go above and beyond, not forcefully but in an orchestrated, planned, deliberate and well thought through manner to justify our relevance.
For this to happen, you need to ‘stop averaging’ in your performance. Identify critical areas of the business that are strategic to its immediate, medium and long-term goals, and proactively provide strategic bespoke solutions from a communications perspective to support the organisation to achieve its goals. It could be in having an effective stakeholders mapping strategy to engage and identify the issues that the organisation is facing, particularly where it is culpable and exposed to regulatory challenges that can lead to consequences like fines, multiple taxations that can deplete profitability, complete or partial shutdown of operations, crisis management, employees engagement, media engagement and more.
If you are able to critically assess the business and begin to offer strategic communications business support, you will ‘stop averaging’ and begin to outperform your peers in other departments. Position yourself to be the go-to person for solutions required to advise on government relations, community relations, media relations, brands and marketing communications, sustainability, internal communications, lobbying to shape policies in favour of your organisation strategic objectives and goals.
4. Break and Shatter the Glass Ceiling
You can only break and shatter the glass ceiling in your performance when you have a healthy competitive mindset.
You must wake every day with a new resolve to make a difference. If yesterday was good, today can be better, and tomorrow you can be at your best. The goal is, you must bring your ‘A-game’ to the table every day to beat your previous year’s performance.
No one is saying you cannot be vulnerable. No, I will never subscribe to that school of thought. Be vulnerable when and where you need to be. But be very mindful not to be known as someone who has excuses for every task. Identify where you are struggling, find a way to say it without dropping the ball. Always do your best to be in time and on time concerning your deliverables. Where there are circumstances beyond your control, do not wait till the day of the deadline to give your reasons why it cannot be delivered. Do it ahead of time, flag it and be realistic about how many extensions you require to deliver.
However, this should be a once-in-a-blue-moon sort of thing. It should not become your default nature at the workplace; otherwise, you might devalue yourself, your department and your entire industry, and make it difficult for the next person(s) to have a strong footing to excel on the job.
Remember that your actions and inactions can either make it easy or difficult for your successor. You must think beyond your immediate self. Think like a leader and not as a boss. Create the path of sustainable growth for those coming behind you.
Records are to be broken not to be kept. Be consistent in your performance. Think of sports like football and think of great talents and hard-working footballers like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who, through their hard work and talents, hold the world stage to ransom by winning the Ballon d’or awards for an all-time record of 10 consecutive years between them.
Do not forget that during their time, their peak period, which is not so much on the decline yet, there were, and are exceptional and talented players like Wayne Rooney, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and others. The point is they achieved this remarkable feat because they chose to break the glass ceiling by relentlessly improving on their performance year-on-year. I recommend their spirit as the right one to drive a performance mindset for strategic communications practitioners.
In conclusion, remember that the world is ours to conquer. The working environment will never be perfect. There will never be enough resources whether human or financial. You can never have the complete and right work tools you need. Despite these, you can and should break the glass ceiling of performance. Start from where you are and with what you have. Gradually and over time you will prove your relevance and establish your place in the heart of the organisation as the strategist to get things done.
I believe this is possible! Let’s go make it a year of impact, value and performance for the various organisations that we represent or service as clients. Make it fun, enjoyable and a pleasant experience as you journey through. It is worth every bit of your time invested in doing your job.
Godfrey Adejumoh is a PR and Strategic Global Business Communications Leader, based in Lagos, Nigeria (firstname.lastname@example.org)