Posted by: Kristen Ridley | May 30, 2012

It may look like I’m goofing off, but REALLY, I’m working!

I had a coffee/networking chat today with a new friend and fellow communicator. We were introduced virtually by a shared contact and got together to meet face-to-face [and may I digress to say what a delightful experience that is, given how we all live so much online these days].

In the course of our chat, we talked about how a big part of a communicator’s job involves doing things that to the casual observer might appear to be “goofing-off”. We both laughed and carried on with our chat.

But on the subway ride home I came back to that, and realized that it really is a bit shocking that so many of the things you NEED to do on a regular basis in order to be a successful communicator involve activities that don’t look like work, even though they are!

For example:

Chatting people up – as any communicator worth her salt can tell you, the best way, heck, the ONLY way, to stay on top of what’s going on in the cubicles of your company, and what the employees REALLY think about just about anything is NOT to stand perkily in the back of the room at the CEO’s all-hands town hall meeting. Because while you might get a few hearty, intrepid souls with the chutzpah to stand up in front of the entire company and ask a hard question, or challenge a sacred cow, I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on it happening with any frequency. No, if you want to know what your employees really think, you need to talk to them in places where employees speak frankly: the cafeteria, the kitchen where the water-cooler lives, and, yes, the bathroom [of course, gender does come into that location, and no, I haven’t ever braved the men’s room . . . not yet, anyway!]. To get the real skinny on what people actually think, you need to talk to them in a relaxed atmosphere, and one-on-one, or at least in a smaller group than the entire company. So the next time your boss passes you in a hallway or the coffee shop in the lobby and gives you the stink-eye, make a list of the information you’ve gathered recently from those impromptu chats and match them up with communications you’ve created, or results that show the employees are “getting” your messaging. If you have a really good boss, you should ask him/her to reimburse you for the coffees you’ve bought to get that info!

Lurking – needless to say, lurking doesn’t have a terrific reputation, but I’m not talking about a creepy guy in a raincoat in a smarmy part of town. No, I’m talking about knowing which floor’s copy room is where you need to wander by right after the aforementioned all hands town hall meeting wraps up. Because if you know who the opinion-leaders are among your employees – and you should – then you know where they’ll go to say what they REALLY thought about the CEO’s speech at the town hall, and find out what you need to share with the CEO in terms of whether the employees believed anything he said – WITHOUT, let me clarify, providing ANY names  – because otherwise, you’ll never get another honest word out of any employee, EVER! Being in the right place at the right time to hear the real opinions your people have is a critical skill for the person who creates the information that is supposed to inspire, engage and gain support from your employees. Where those places are is different in every company, and will even change over time at the same company, but the only way to identify those places is to regularly get up from your desk and wander around the office. It may look like you’re goofing off, but if you gather enough solid insights, your manager will see those “walk-abouts” in a whole new light!

Net-surfing – more and more companies are starting to recognize that a certain amount of web surfing is not a terrible thing, and for a communicator it is absolutely part of your daily job. Particularly if you work at a company where the business has a Facebook page or a Twitter account, it is paramount for you to be continuously on top of what the web world is saying about your company. The only way to stay on top of those areas is to be looking at them throughout the day everyday. Even if your company isn’t Tweeting or maintaining a fan-page on Facebook, that doesn’t mean that these sources don’t have people saying things about your company. So if you work for a company who blocks Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the like, you need to have a serious discussion with your boss about getting special permissions to allow you to see those sites during the business day. As we all know, pro-active is better than reactive, and you can’t mitigate a nasty Tweet, or a customer service disaster that goes viral if you can’t even see it until you get home from work. The world is online these days, and as communicators, we have to be online too – it’s the only way to effectively protect, promote and enhance our companies reputations.

Thinking/Reading – this is another one that can really look like slacking, but despite what many other people think, there isn’t a “Communications” button on your computer’s keyboard that magically pops out the perfect communication material for whatever situation you’re facing. No, sadly, the only way for communications to be created and refined and then delivered is for a hard-working communicator to put on their thinking cap, and carefully work through all the different ways we *could* handle “x”, “y”, or “z” challenge or opportunity, before buckling down to create that messaging. We may make it LOOK easy, but it’s not, and if you do without putting in some thoughtful consideration, doing some research, and then thinking some more about how all the thinking and researching should best come together into an actual message, it probably won’t have the impact you want it to. So this is another area where, if you happen to have a manager who isn’t a communicator, you may need to set some expectation, and clarify the process early on, so if he or she walks by your cubicle and sees you staring off into space, or rifling through a bunch of books or magazines, he or she will understand that you ARE actually working, and that this is how you do the groundwork for creating a focused, specific and appropriate message to create the results the organization needs.

There are probably other things we communicators do that may look like goofing off, but are really important work-related activities, but these are the ones that jumped immediately to ming after my wonderful coffee chat with my new communicator friend. If you have others, please comment and add to the list!

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Responses

  1. Staring off into space is my favorite!!! It’s how the pieces of the creative puzzle come together for me,

    • I’m with you Susan! You can’t write if you don’t think first. Well, you can, but you usually shouldn’t 😉


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