I work with churches every week desperate to fill or "fix" a communications role with someone who has the passion and skill set to help with their communications activity. Unfortunately, many candidates who take on that communications role aren't equipped to succeed once they’re in it.
Here are three common landmines I've seen sabotage best laid plans and promising new hires:
- Purpose. (They don't have a clear awareness of what's at the heart of their motivation and if it lines up with the expectations of the role.) Are they more energized about helping people make connections or creating things that look great? Are they more energized about advocating a clear brand story across the life of the church or driving killer project management? Are they project or system driven?
Chances are, your hire is strongest in one or two dimensions which motivates their work. It’s important to have self awareness because that drive affects a person's viewpoint, narrative, team-building capacity, ability to navigate tension and more For example, if you hire that person who lives for design, you might experience frustration when their strategic plans are gorgeous but void of vision or direction.
Action step! Get clear on what defines the personal motivation of your communications hire. Then, make sure it lines up and fits with organizational needs. They don't have to be good at everything, but they do need to surround themselves with processes, advisors and specialists who make sure their discipline gaps are covered.
- Destination. (They don’t know how to steer conversations to clarify the ultimate communications “win” beyond a finished product.) For example, what problem are we solving? Are we focusing on clarifying the message or creating more content? How can we organize communications activity around the outcome versus the output? Is there another way to get at this for a bigger return on investment? What defines excellence in our environment? Is this a tool or just cool? What does success look like? What cross-promotional opportunities are we missing? How can we make this easier for our guests in the life of the church, not just one event?
This is best! The best communications champions know how to ask these types of “leading the witness” questions at a different level than project management. They steer more productive work and collaboration by spending the most time facilitating productive stakeholder conversations, contextualizing and translating the shared win across teams and less time executing stand alone projects. They practice facilitating conversations and creative problem-solving that leads to a longer lasting impact for multiple stakeholders in the whole organization, not just one person.
- Psychology. (They are unprepared for the “people” side of the job.) A successful communications function requires keen soft skills for leading change, building momentum, implementing systems, getting buy-in and leveraging cross-departmental dependencies. There is a big part of the job that requires steady empathy and firm boundaries to help gently take down walls between silos. The best communications advocates know how to say “no” with a “yes” heart as demands from individuals grow to unsustainable levels. They work to find the most helpful solution, not just the solutions that keep people happy.
Soft skills matter! A communications role at the director level spends a lot of time in the tension, negotiating competing values, right sizing requests, solving problems and diffusing fear. They provide feedback, think through flow, block and tackle end arounds and elevate clarity so the creative specialists are free to fly and create great work. If your hire doesn't have this EQ, they're actually functioning in a coordinator role and will need someone to supplement and develop the soft skills on their behalf.
Whether you've hired a do-er or a director, an artist or an editor, there are things you can, and should, do to map a plan to minimize these landmines and help your new communications hire (or existing communications point person) succeed in their role.
If you're looking for help on-boarding your new communications hire or need help scoping the right framework before you fill that role, I'd love to help. Grab a free 30 minute spot on my calendar and let's talk through some options that make sense.