Internal communicators should never do ‘owt for nowt’

As internal communicators we are often asked or instructed to do communications which have no clear objective or a demonstrable return on the investment of our time. We should never be doing ‘owt for nowt’.

I was born, and have lived in Yorkshire in the North of England for much of my life. It’s a down to earth, no nonsense sort of place with a curious regional dialect which has its roots deep in Old English and Norse.

One of my favourite pieces of Yorkshire wisdom is a saying which my late paternal grandad often quoted to me. It goes like this.

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt.  Eat all, sup all, pay nowt.  And if ever thou does owt fer nowt – allus do it fer thissen’

Broadly this translates as keeping your ears and eyes open and your mouth shut, never offering to pay anything towards a shared restaurant bill and most importantly never ever doing something for nothing in return.

As I’ve segued towards independent practice this year, I’ve become more acutely aware of the value of my time, knowledge and skills. I’ve often had my grandad’s voice appearing inside my head….’never do owt for nowt lad’….as a persistent reminder of what my time and skills are worth when I’ve offered to do something for free, even if that’s been a precursor to paid work later.

That inner voice has made me feel somewhat selfish from time to time even though I’ve worked as a volunteer for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for years and have freely given up my time, skills and knowledge to help other internal communicators be better.  I have plenty of IC Citizen credits in the bank, so I’ve no reason to feel guilty.

However, being more aware of what my time is worth has also been an uncomfortable reminder that sometimes I’ve been doing ‘owt for nowt’ as an internal communicator in other ways for years, and I’ll wager that you have too.

How many times as an internal communicator have you been asked or instructed to do something which has no clear objective or a demonstrable return on the investment of your time, skills and knowledge? Here are a few of the sorts of requests I’m talking about. I’m sure they’ll sound familiar.

Let’s just put it on the intranet so that everyone can see it [and ignore it for all time…..assuming you can find it in the first place].

Quick, send out this press release we just issued, to all staff. No, we’ve no time to change the messages so it’s more relevant to them. It’ll do as it is [even if the prose is all wrong and it’s written in the wrong person].

What do you mean it needs to include a call to action, staff will just work it out for themselves [and don’t question my authority!].

Design me a colourful logo for my project to make my communications stand out more [and make it look really important even if it’s ‘off brand’…and what does that even mean anyway?].

Have 650 leaflets and 900 posters printed and distributed with this complicated infographic to aid understanding. I’m a ‘communications expert’ and did this in a previous job, so it works, trust me [I also had some cash I needed to spend quickly, so I don’t get my budget cut by Finance next year].

The CEO says we need to do a message about car parking etiquette today [because someone had rudely parked in their reserved space this morning and they are the most important person in the universe, so just do it or else].

Send out this communication to create ‘engagement’ [one of the most overused words in the English language].

And finally, my favourite of all time….

You need to send out this communication for me so that we can raise awareness [of my vanity project].

Guilty as charged?   

The thing is we have all sometimes invested our time and skills in doing internal communications which have no payback. It’s an annoying part of organisational life, but we should be trying to push back on these spurious requests so that we never do ‘owt for nowt’ and help our stakeholders understand the real power of internal communications done well.

I’ve blogged before (and for free!) about how to do this and help stakeholders take a step back and really think about what they are trying to achieve with their communications in ‘We need posters and leaflets’ – a simple misunderstanding. I’ve also blogged about setting objectives and measuring what matters in internal communications in Don’t feel bad if you can’t measure everything.

We also need to be explaining to leaders and other stakeholders that they are paying out something to get nothing when they ask us to do pointless communications work with a meaningless objective such as creating awareness. I think that might be a theme for another free blog.

Remember. Never do owt for nowt.


Image credit 1820796 from Pixabay

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