This post has been inspired by three recent conversations in which I have posed the question “Is it useful?” and had senior managers in three different organisations look startled and then uncertain.
I was taught the value of this ‘Useful’ question several years ago by my Director of Communications. At the time we had quite a big communications budget and a team of highly creative communications staff. The team were always willing to energetically respond to the requests to produce beautifully presented communications media in a range of forms. My Communications Director was, however, constantly challenging her team and clients in the organisation with the question “Is it useful?” The point was that we could produce a lot of material that looked great and which made the Communications team and our internal clients feel good, but was what we produced truly useful in content and the way in which it was delivered to stakeholders? Many initiatives stumbled when really tested hard against this criterion.
In my recent discussions this issue arose twice in the context of communications. Once it related to communication to the general public and once to industry stakeholders. In both cases a lot of communications material had been produced and the agencies concerned felt they were communicating well. However, in one case the target audiences was not really aware of the communication at all and in the other case the feedback was that the communications, to date, did not address the questions industry needed answered.
In the third recent example the discussion centred around an agency’s risk management register. It was a beautiful and complex tapestry which made a number of people feel good in terms of its thoroughness. However, it was clear that the risk register was too detailed to inform the Audit Committee and senior decision makers of the strategic risks they faced in delivering their priority outcomes. It was a lovely artefact but not useful as a management tool.
So, the challenge, when someone is enthusiatically producing new communications, or developing a risk register, or producing a new financial report, or progressing some other new initiative is to stop and ask the question “Is it useful?” The purpose isn’t to make us feel good but to deliver a product which is of really useful to stakeholders and decision makers. It may seem obvious but take time to ask the question and rigorously test the response – you may be surprised by the outcome!
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