7 ways corporate comm professionals can set boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”Brene Brown

On the surface, this quote may not seem to apply to corporate communicators. Yet Dr. Brown, speaker, writer, and professor, is addressing a work issue we all struggle with. The need to consider our own workloads — and those of our employees — before we obligingly commit to more work, more projects, more wheel spinning.

Factoring in staffing constraints, the time it takes to learn new tools and technology, and the sometimes-outlandish demands from clients and executives, communications professionals are being asked to do more with less.

So how can we politely and firmly say “no” to a project that simply can’t be taken on? And how do we get others to respect these workload boundaries?

Here are a few ideas.

Just say “no.” This is easier said than done. I once worked in a company where our boss told us that we couldn’t say “no” to anything. She ended up with her highly-trained communicators organizing parties and ordering refreshments along with setting up marketing launches and media events. There is nothing wrong with saying, “We don’t set up or monitor surveys, but we can help you write the survey questions,” or “Please have someone take the picture and send it to us.”

Create a statement of work or a department manifesto. Follow the lead of engineers and information technology types who fight “scope creep” every day. A statement of work outlines the exact parameters of the project and specifies dates, what’s expected, and who will do what. A department manifesto describes exactly what your department does and does not do. For example: “We are not content experts, but we can help your content experts shape the message.”

Focus only on what you are “good to excellent” at. For example, if no one in your department knows how to edit video, outsource it to someone who does. You may be able to find a film student who can edit footage at a reasonable price. Don’t spin your wheels and waste time on something that isn’t in your skill set.

Don’t go down paths that lead nowhere. “Proof of concept” — no three words have resulted in more wasted time for a communicator. With too many deadlines and genuine projects on our plates, very few of us have time for a “proof of concept.” Just say “no” if someone wants to involve you early in a project that has not yet been approved or that has little chance of being approved.

Ask people to do things for themselves. Have employees submit photos rather than sending someone to take a photo. Set up self-service forms on your intranet. Convert design files or PDFs to Word documents and let others edit and make changes directly to the document. When it makes sense, turn over tasks to others.

Delegate outside your department. Is there someone in another department who can take care of your routine tasks? While this may only work in certain circumstances, it’s worth a try. At my company, a staff member from the Admin Department handles all stationery orders. She had previous experience working at a print shop, so we knew she would do a good job. And, our graphic designer can spend her time designing, rather than ordering envelopes.

Prioritize with leadership. Every six weeks, ask your client or the leader of the department you are working with what you need to be working on. Find out from the top what the priorities are. Use that to guide what you work on and what you don’t.

How do you set boundaries with clients? Share your ideas in the comments section.

This post was also published on Ragan Communication’s PR Daily.


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