You don’t need to work in a company big enough to have lots of different sites to know what it’s like to work somewhere with ingrained communication problems. People are weird. We make assumptions. We doubt ourselves, and that doubt seeps into our actions and the way we communicate.
As a team, you may value open communication, but stumble when you try to put it into practice. What is open communication anyway? Isn’t it just about saying what’s on your mind? Giving your honest opinion?
What is open communication?
Open communication isn’t something that an agency or any other organisation can just stamp on a values list and ignore. It requires active management. You won’t foster and maintain a culture of open communication just by having a team of strong personalities.
David Hassell, and entrepreneur writing in Forbes, said that in order to create a culture of open communication, companies needed to practice: transparency; abolish the us vs them culture; have clear quarterly objectives and key results for individuals and the company, and that managers should not just welcome feedback, but ask specific questions of people. They should hold regular face-to-face meetings with their team members too.
What it requires
People need to be able to share ideas. And that’s not just as easy as “have ideas” > “share ideas”. It’s about:
- The company supporting a collaborative environment – providing the time and space (physical or virtual) to collaborate
- Having people who are willing to take risks
- Those people being willing to take those risks in front of the rest of the team
Communicating ideas – especially more creative ones – requires trust and a willingness to be vulnerable. You may have no problem sharing an outlandish idea with your manager, but Julie has a history of undermining your contributions, you don’t want to say anything in front of her! So you don’t.
Open communication requires trust, and if two people don’t have that, it won’t work. It also requires confidence.
The benefits of open communication for PR
Creating and maintaining a culture of open communication will benefit many business areas. For PR agencies, it won’t just help develop a creative and cohesive team, it will also benefit clients, the new business process and communicating with the media.
Cultures that embrace open communication also promote trust amongst the team in other areas. For example, they lead by results, not the length of time someone is online or in the office. Productivity is more important than presenteeism.
Communicating goals and responsibilities allows other members of the team to offer support. It also gives individuals permission to be assertive and to protect their time. Under this kind of leadership, team members are more likely to share their ideas and feedback as they know that their input is respected, valuable and just as valid as those of their co-workers. This will lead to more effective collaboration and allow people to be more creative.
Stronger media relations
A recent Cision webinar led by Michael Smart emphasised the importance of media relations. There should be no such thing as just “sending a release out”. Every email needs to be tailored to the recipient. The sender should know who they’re emailing, they should know what benefit the information will have for the publication, and how it relates to other things that the journalist or blogger has covered.
Again, it’s about effective communication being more important than simply ticking things off an action list. It doesn’t matter how many journalists see the release if none of them cover the story.
Open communication is about respect. Respect for your time and expertise, and that of the person you’re trying to work with.
An honest relationship with clients and prospects
Agencies that practise bait and switch tactics – such as pitching with a senior team and staffing the new client with a junior team instead – aren’t practicing open communication. Neither are agencies that continually say “yes” to clients and prospects (much of an agency’s value lies in consulting, after all).
When it comes to clients and prospects, open communication means that both parties are clear and honest about their goals and if it’s possible to achieve them. Both sides give regular, clear and actionable feedback. Clients provide the agency with the information it needs to do a good job, and the agency provides the client with a person who has both the time and the skill to do it.
Nothing is achieved when either side of the relationship is unclear, under-prepared or dishonest about goals, ability, tactics or advice.
Open communication isn’t just another business buzzword. It’s a valuable trait for an agency to have, but it does require hard work to maintain – both from the agency as a whole and individual contributors. But the rewards of a truly open culture are considerable.