Engaging and Motivating Your Communication Team

A changing profession and more of a need than ever to engage and motivate our teams

My first job in public relations was in 1998, working for an event promotions company. I recently found my former supervisor’s letter of recommendation that commended me for my work ethic and, “…using her own personal internet resources to conduct research.” To jog your memory, those were the days when pitches were sent via fax, mobiles were only used for talking to someone else and your home internet service was limited to a certain number of hours each month. The fact that I used a portion of my 10 hours of personal monthly internet access for a job was a big deal at the time.

In today’s world, the pressure for practitioners to be connected non-stop is only increasing due to the rapid advances in technology and personal and societal habits. So how, as leaders, do we engage and motivate our teams when they really don’t have the chance to slow down?

KMO, what?

My research and work in employee engagement and organisational culture is based on Clark and Estes’ KMO framework: knowledge, motivation and organisational influences. A gap in any of these areas can lead to poor performance and disengaged employees, therefore it’s important that communication leaders recognise and address potential problems.

Knowledge influences

Picture this scenario: you hire a new communication strategist and their job is to write stories for your company report and your website. They are new to posting on websites, but you’ve been busy in endless meetings and forget to train them on your custom CMS. Wanting to show initiative, they decide to figure it out on their own, but makes an error, accidentally deleting a page on your site.

That lack of basic skills training (knowledge) hindered their performance. Your new employee is likely upset and embarrassed, and depending on how you handled the situation, they are potentially feeling defeated, affecting self-efficacy.

Motivation influences

In another case, your graphic designer is overwhelmed with projects because they just can’t say, “No.” People within the organisation like their work and friendly demeanour, but you’re worried they will burn out, so you decide to coach them on how to turn away projects that aren’t mission-driven. During your meeting, they look at you and say, “Sure, but what’s our mission again?” Ouch.

Truthfully, this happened to me years ago and I was beyond mortified, especially since this team member had already been on the job for three months. I realised that I hadn’t taken the time to review our mission, vision and values either during the onboarding process or in our regular planning meetings and our organisation certainly didn’t emphasise this. Lesson quickly learned because research has demonstrated, time and time again, that there is high turnover and low morale when employees cannot align their work to an overall purpose. If employees can’t see how their work is making an impact toward the organisation’s goals, how are they supposed to stay motivated during the tough times?

You also need to determine what motivates your team throughout specific phases in their lives because situations change. What motivated me 10 years ago (fancy title, power in the organisation, high salary) is not what motivates me now (flexible schedule, great benefits, helping others). Things change for people, and it’s important to check-in with your team regularly.

Organisational influences

How we communicate organisational influences such our processes and policies, cultural models and cultural settings, plays a part in both engagement and retention. When a new employee starts, do you go over the cultural models or “unwritten rules” of the organisation with them? Trivial things such as where to park, where to store their lunch and who the keeper of the coveted printer toner is, help new employees immediately feel like part of the team. If they feel left out of the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” (cultural settings) of the social context that comprises everyday life of their organisation, they will often feel isolated, left out and disengaged.

Additionally, we must review our team’s job descriptions with them to ensure alignment—after all, if they don’t know what is expected of them, how can we measure their performance? How can we coach them to be the best they can be if we don’t help them set—and reach—their goals? And these goals don’t have to be limited to our own organisation: they can be skills-based goals (master Adobe Illustrator), job-related goals (win three IoIC awards next year) and career goals (become head of internal communication). Think about how engaged and dedicated your team will be if you show a general interest in them, not just their output.

Empathy leads to energy and productivity

Speaking of output, when was the last time you encouraged your team to take their lunch breaks? To not answer emails during vacations? To get up from a frustrating project and take a 20-minute walk to clear their heads? Yes, there are times we must absolutely power through, but as senior practitioners, we need to be on the lookout for signs of burnout in our team. Most of us have experienced it at one point in our careers, and as leaders, I truly believe we need to teach our teams that it’s okay to step away. It’s okay to disconnect occasionally. It’s okay to take care of ourselves. In fact, it should be a non-negotiable.

When we’re empathic, we’re more likely to have energic and productive employees. Why? I’ll share the answer to this question and more at #PRFest, and you’ll walk away with strategies and tactics you can immediately implement.

Come along to PRFest, where we will be talking a lot about looking after our people….. Book your tickets here.

Guest blog by PRFest speaker Dr. Amanda Holdsworth @CommunicatEDPro