Future Leaders: the importance of an evidence base

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Last week we Future Leaders spent an excellent two days in Leeds talking communications leadership with Professor Paul Willis of University of Huddersfield. This was quite timely for me as reflecting on this has helped me crystallise a thought that’s been forming over the last few months. Over the last couple of years I’ve heard many other comms professionals talking about the issues they face and two common themes have emerged:

1. Communications doesn’t get taken seriously at senior level

2. We don’t evaluate as effectively as we would like

And I have a hunch that the two things are probably related.

We comms people like to please, we like to say yes, we’re problem solvers and crowd pleasers, rabbits out of hats are us. And perhaps we feel that if we say ‘no’ then we’ll be seen as unhelpful or difficult and then someone else will do it using clip art and / or people will start to ask questions like ‘why do we even have a comms team if they can’t sort me out a leaflet for tomorrow or a new brand for next week?!’

But legal say no, finance say no, HR say no and no one says that about them. These are other professions and people respect their opinions and take what they say seriously, few ask why we have them. So what’s the difference between them and us?

Well they have governance, and policy and legislation. They have facts and figures, whereas anyone can do comms…

If we did the research and the evaluation, if we got the strategy agreed at the start of the year and took the time to show people what the outcomes of our efforts were then perhaps we’d be in more of a position to have our professional advice (it’s not opinion, it should be more evidence based than that) listened to and heeded.

Communication is fundamental to achieving organisational objectives, especially in the public sector. Everything we do has to be communicated effectively in order to ensure that what we do and what is expected of us match up. Because when they don’t our residents start making placards and end up in ‘angry people in local newspapers’ or our staff become demotivated and disengaged and our ability to deliver is reduced.

If we evaluate and measure and show the value (in £ if we can) of what we do then when someone does ask ‘why do we even have a comms team? or ‘why can’t I have a press release?’ there will be an evidence based response that shows it. “We reduced the cost of recruiting foster carers or adopters by 50% saving £xm”, or “we made the organisation £xm by advertising our visitor attractions” or even more fundamentally “we managed organisational reputation to enable us to continue to work effectively with our stakeholders” (and we did it while doing all that other stuff as well).

We have to show the value of what we do so we have the legitimacy to be at the heart of an organisations leadership function, not just a transactional service.

Dave Glanville, Senior Communications Officer, Leeds City Council

Posted on 11th February 2019