50 shades of... comms

Many small organisations, secretariats and SMEs need to rely on a single communication professional in their teams. In addition to turning into circus-style multitaskers, how best can we involve colleagues in the context of bigger communication projects?

When I started at CENTR in January 2015, I had already been told that I would be responsible for the new website project. After several months of analysis, evaluation of our needs and development options, we finally kick-started the project in September 2015.

The project was more monstrous in size than what one could imagine at first sight. The main issue was information organisation: over the years, a lot of content had cumulated without a proper search function or tagging system. Another thing was that considering our members are in the domain name business, having a decent, functioning website was pretty much a mandatory requirement. In addition, most of the content is for members only, so we had to design a flexible but reliable and trustworthy access level structure. We also needed specific functionalities in the CMS: a user manager, events tool, survey tool, integrated newsletter, etc. Of course, we also needed the usual website upgrades: improved user experience, automated functions in the CMS, a mobile-friendly site, a fresh new design, etc.

The CENTR secretariat is manned by five people: four in Brussels and one in Melbourne. One of these staff members is the Communications Manager (yes, that’s me!). Considering the magnitude of the project, I knew I would have to involve my other team members, even though they felt safely shielded against the upcoming chaos of the new website because I had been designated Queen and Absolute Master of the project (unofficial title).

The tricky thing about communications is that everyone can quickly become an expert. Try proposing a new colour palette and logo, and witness the skies rip open and thunder strike upon you and your wild ideas. Everyone has an opinion (design always triggers strong emotions) and everybody knows best. The best approach to this serious risk is proper channelling of each team member’s inner comms energy.

How I got my colleagues involved against their will

What I did is that I approached the website project as the sum of several sub-projects, depending on the functionality or tool that needed to be developed. This allowed me to tap into each team member’s own strengths and areas of interest, and “delegate” the ownership of some sub-projects to each of them.

For example, Patrick (our Data Analyst) is responsible for creating and managing surveys among the membership, which members use to benchmark and exchange best practices. It made much more sense for him to lead the development of the customised survey tool than me, since he knew best which functionalities the tool needed. The big advantage for him to be so involved was that he was content with the end result (never perfectly happy, because everything can always be improved, but still satisfied!).

The same goes for Linda, our Office Manager, and events: she knows the type of information that needs to be displayed for event management. I worked closely with her to identify the elements that could be automated, which information had to go where, what functionalities we needed for event registrations, etc.

In the end, what I needed to do was to focus on what’s in it for each of my colleagues. This gave them a feeling of ownership in the project, and it made them feel included and valued for their expertise. The ripple effect was that I was also valued for my own expertise in communication, which gave me the buy-in and credibility to lead and successfully complete the project. Within the timeframe and budget. I think we all deserve a team medal for that!

In essence, I think there are “50 shades of comms” within each of us: it’s the communication specialist’s job to leverage each team members’ comms potential for the greater comms good. But I would like to highlight that this principle also applies to bigger teams (which have the luxury of having communication departments): never underestimate the rainbow of skills within each of your colleagues, regardless of their job titles. Think outside the job description box and you will be pleasantly surprised by the highly valuable skills your team can contribute to a project.

This article is based on a presentation that was made at the European Communication Summit, which was held in Brussels on 29-30 June 2017

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