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7 ways to turn your comms team into a competitive, self-improving machine

Someone recently asked my advice on stepping up to lead their first team. I suggested to keep it simple and focus on building strong foundations and a culture of improvement. Having been lucky to work in and lead numerous high performing teams over the years, here are my suggestions:

1. Strategy

A clear comms strategy sets direction, shapes decision-making and ensures each piece add up to a greater whole. It should cover vision, scope, goals, channels and accountabilities. It should be simple: 1 page is better than 50. You might think every comms team already has this. Sadly, in my experience shinier objects too often win out.

2. Calendar

A comms calendar makes the strategy actionable. It helps ensure promises are met, resources match priorities and content is appropriately themed and scheduled, so messages cut through noise. It also reduces the risk of optimism-bias, and enables you to confidently say ‘no’ or ‘not now’ to unplanned requests.

3. Measurement

A popular in-joke among communicators is that we don’t do numbers. That masks real embarrassment that we are miles behind where we should be (how many miles, no one knows). Today, though, there is no excuse, as we are awash with metrics. Besides, it's not all about numbers: qual > quant much of the time.

4. Distribution

Often under-appreciated, distribution done right ensures messages are optimised for each sub-audience in terms of format, timing, language and channel. It can also help manage risk by acting as extra version control and accelerate learning by embedding measurement into content. Worth investing in.

5. Self helps

Self help books are popular for a reason - they are empowering and make life better. Comms teams can provide the equivalent in the form of protocols, guides and templates, styleguides, tipsheets and factsheets, exemplars, playbooks and case studies. To make life even simpler, they can be made easily accessible via a self-service digital hub, freeing up time for all.

6. Targeting

Sometimes it feels like mass communication is what comms teams are for, but targeted messaging is often more effective. If the goal is, say, to boost employee engagement we can zero in on a particular sub-audience, eg middle managers or employees hitting the 5-year mark. Another option is to personalise a message for each sub-audience by including an editable line just for them.

7. Experiment

While there’s no magic formula, the nearest thing in my experience is building a culture of experimentation. This helps in four key ways: a) improves speed and efficiency by avoiding premature-investments, b) increases the likelihood of stumbling upon a hit, c) accelerates feedback and learning, d) reduces fear of failure, nurturing a culture of psychological safety.

This is just a start. It omits plenty. Your suggestions welcome :)

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