Since the spring of 2020, Communications leaders have experienced an increased need to prioritize their teams’ work. Communications teams feel overwhelmed, overworked, and completely burned out from the volume of requests that they have been fielding. When business partners insist that EVERYTHING is important, communicators can be left scratching their heads on where to truly spend their time.
Communications leaders with these challenges ultimately face two main issues:
1. Not having a solid enough grasp of organizational priorities to start saying “no” to requests that do not align.
When communicators say yes to every business partner request without evaluating whether the request is aligned to business priorities, they often become overwhelmed by request volume. Moreover, this might validate a perception that the Comms function isn’t strategic and doesn’t add value to the business.
Additionally, by automatically saying yes to requests, communicators assume that business partners know what they need. They may have a solution to the challenge, but without evaluating the request, it’s harder to know whether they have the solution to the challenge.
To evaluate requests thoroughly enough to say no to low-value requests, communicators must be intimately familiar with what the business priorities are in the first place. This is harder if communicators reactively wait for requests to come to them, rather than proactively seeking out key priorities from business partners.
The latter is a more consultative approach to planning, and may require a shift in the way the Comms team works with the rest of the business. This will prove to be much harder without governance documents in place.
2. Not having governance documents to codify how to work with the Communications team.
Without clear guidance for how to work with the Comms team, it’s no wonder business partners inundate communicators with low-value requests. Governance documents, like service offers and service-level agreements, can help set clear expectations for business partners and enable Communications to offer various support levels.
Additionally, many Communications teams have seen their status with business leaders elevate since last year, as organizations have faced unprecedented challenges that require a strong Communications function. Unless Comms leaders clearly define the Comms value proposition, along with their capabilities, policies and procedures, their teams run the risk of losing ground with the organization once they come out of crisis mode.
Here are four steps to address these issues and prioritize your team’s work:
1. Identify your organization’s most critical priorities, business objectives, and goals.
Rather than waiting for them to come to you, schedule conversations with your business partners to surface their business priorities. This can occur annually, quarterly, and/or monthly.
Key questions to ask include, but are not limited to:
- What are your current priorities and initiatives?
- How do these priorities align with organizational strategy?
- What will help you achieve your performance goals?
- What are the target business outcomes and metrics you will use to measure success?
- Why are you focusing on these areas right now?
- Who needs to do what to achieve these goals?
- What metrics will you use to measure stakeholder behavior?
2. Assess the value of your Communications activities.
Next, with an understanding of what your business partners are trying to achieve, assess how aligned your activities are to those priorities. Are they routine activities or strategic? Will they help the organization achieve its goals or is it a business partner’s pet project?
After estimating your activities’ business value, you should then assess the opportunity for the Communications function to uniquely add value. Are there key stakeholder behaviors that need to occur to help the organization achieve its goals? Comms is often more strongly positioned to influence behaviors. Therefore, Comms should own activities that require behavior change, rather than encouraging the business to do those activities themselves.
In your assessment, you can also consider the risk associated with the activity. What is the risk to the organization if you recommend the business partners do the activities themselves? What is the risk if no one does it?
Take a look at Gartner’s tool to help with this assessment, Communications Activity Value Assessment (Gartner subscription required). Use this tool to visualize the allocation of your resources to high-/medium-/low-value activities. Then decide which activities to eliminate, standardize or invest in further to achieve your strategic goals.
3. Establish implementation support guidance for business partner requests.
You can then use the results of your assessment to create service level tiers. These tiers clearly define the implementation support your team will provide to the business based on the type of activity. For instance, the Comms team should own and implement high-value activities, like M&A communications and strategy rollouts. You can enable self-service for business partners to do lower-value activities, like simple org change announcements or site-based communications, by providing them with tools, templates, and guidelines.
Take a look at this case study, Principled Communications Service With Tiered Service Levels (Gartner subscription required), to learn how ING’s Communications team partnered with internal clients to implement a tiered service-level framework. This framework enabled them to shift their activity portfolio aggressively to prioritize high-value work.
4. Educate business partners on Comms capabilities and governance.
Finally, incorporate the service level tiers (along with your team’s capabilities, value proposition, and expectations of business partners) into a service statement. Codifying the best way to work with the Comms function will help educate your business partners. You will also have something to stand on when the best decision is to say no to low-value work.
You can see examples of how other communicators are structuring their collaboration with business partners — while simultaneously reducing their resource expenditure on low-value work — in our Service Statement Library (Gartner subscription required).
This change won’t happen overnight.
However, through consistent work with your business partners and Communications team, you can better prioritize your activities. If you’d like some additional guidance or feedback on your own service statements, Gartner is always available to help!