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How to engage talent in your PR teams

I have inherited and built a number of PR teams across my current and previous roles, and employee engagement and development is something I am incredibly passionate about.

I have put a lot of time, effort and learning into being in a leadership role, and one of my greatest learnings is that high performing PR teams are not built by chance, they’re built with intention; it takes time, energy and constant improvement.

When looking to build a high performing team, there are a few key ingredients to get right, such as the right:

  • Talent
  • Culture and values
  • Processes
  • Structure
  • Communication
  • Engagement

However, in my opinion, the two most important elements are effective communication and employee engagement.

You can have the right processes, values and structure, but if you don’t communicate well, or have a disengaged employee, it’s unlikely your team will be performing at its best.

Below, I take a look at communication and engagement, and outline some of the frameworks and tips that have helped me.

Effective communication is key

There are many different types of communication within a workplace - passive, aggressive, assertive and more. In my opinion, everyone within a business should try and lead by example and promote assertive communication. It’s the most effective way to build relationships, and it uses skills such as listening, empathy and negotiation in a direct, respectful and honest manner. It means being able to say what you want, need or feel, but not at the expense of others. It’s a win-win for all.

Here are some of my favourite assertiveness techniques that focus on empathy:

  • Stick to the facts and don’t make it personal
  • Express your own feelings and state them positively
  • Reflect back on other team member’s feelings if appropriate, for example “it sounds like you feel disappointed about that”
  • Acknowledge and respect the other's point of view. Use “I” phrases, such as: I understand; I appreciate; and I realise
  • Avoid labels and “always” statements, such as “You're always out to get me, Alex!”
  • Describe the action and not the person or motive

This is very important when delivering feedback. We should be fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Leaders should be taking every opportunity to upskill, feedback and look to improve and reinforce behaviour and performance.

When delivering your feedback, consider the 24 hours/one-week guideline. Wait 24 hours before delivering feedback if the behaviour has triggered an emotional reaction in you. Emotions can cloud judgement and make feedback personal rather than behaviour-related. Ensure that any feedback is delivered within one week of the behaviour you’re referring to. If you wait any longer, they may not remember the incident you’re referring to, or they might think you’re bearing a grudge.

One particular framework that has helped me improve my delivery of feedback is the SBI model. Here leaders deliver feedback in three specific stages:

Situation - Describe the situation where the behaviour took place. The more specific you can be about where and when, the better.

Behaviour - Help them understand exactly what behaviour you’re talking about. Avoid making it personal and avoid judgements.

Impact - Share with them the impact of the behaviour on you and/or others, and the business. It’s important to help them appreciate the consequences of the behaviour.

Engagement underpins it all

Staff grow, improve and produce “best in class” work if they’re engaged in the role. I try to work with teams to offer maximum satisfaction in their job (“I like my job”), whilst earning maximum contribution to the agency’s success (“I help the agency achieve its goals”).

What this means is that individual employees need to find purpose and satisfaction in their work, whether that’s working towards a promotion, a pay increment, more responsibility, positive feedback, work/life balance or anything else. Meanwhile, employees need to contribute towards client and agency successes and growth.

Aligning employees’ values, goals and aspirations with those of the agency is the best method for achieving the sustainable employee engagement required for all parties to reach their goals. It’s a good explanation for why high contributors might look for work elsewhere and why satisfied employees might not contribute much.

This is Blessing White’s X Model of Employee Engagement, and this YouTube video explains how to go about it better than I can.

Written by Alex Jones, head of digital PR at digital marketing agency Semetrical.

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