Do you remember how you became familiar with the whole concept of “homework”?
I remember there was a time, maybe when I was in grade school, that I looked forward to having homework. I believed it was a hallmark of being a “grown-up” student if I had the privilege of taking my workbooks home with me after school.
Fast forward to high school and the concept of homework took on a completely different meaning to me.
I’m sure it did for many of us when we went from doing multiplication charts and spelling tests to trigonometry and English literature.
Homework was officially a chore—it was something that stood between us and our freedom of being young and carefree with our friends after school.
But I learned that homework is not something that ends with the school bell or even after you get your college degree.
Homework can come about as a result of simply doing our jobs as communicators.
For instance, I was tasked with helping my supervisor draft a proposal about integrated marketing communications in the higher education setting.
I had no prior knowledge about how marketing communications works in a higher education institutions, let alone how it would look as an integrated model. What did I do?
Luckily, I have access to my university’s library. I rolled up my sleeves and thought like a student again—what has been written or studied on this topic before? What do other universities do to integrate their communications? Has anyone presented best practices at any of the major higher education conferences?
With a little help from the library journal library and Google (because let’s be honest, we all Google things to kick-start our research), we were able to draft a well-informed proposal for our department leadership’s review.
That research, or homework, helped inform a better proposal because it was based on current data and facts that supported our claims.
As communications professionals, we do this sort of homework all the time without thinking about it.
We research best practices or prior institutional accomplishments to establish our benchmarks for our strategies. We can’t simply pull random numbers out of the sky (although that’s been known to happen…admit it!)
Homework can also come about as a result of voluntary action on our parts.
The past few weeks, I’ve been preoccupied with homework from a graduate course I enrolled in this semester. And I’ve also had homework for a supervisory development course I’m taking as part of an HR professional development program.
My homework in this sense was actively sought on my part because, personally, I simply craved a scholarly outlet to stretch my thinking and to learn something new.
It’s no secret that as we age, our minds and the way we remember things change, but that doesn’t mean we cannot learn new things.
Homework can help reinforce learning and cause us to stretch our mental muscles to develop new ways of thinking about problems or issues as they relate to our professional and personal lives.
I’m learning more about this concept as I have started taking classes toward another graduate degree in adult and organizational development. And it’s been interesting because I am learning how adults learn as a learning adult myself!
Homework might not be the same tedious process it was when it was fraction tables and vocabulary lists.
It can actually be an important component of our daily professional lives and also help enrich our personal lives, whether we recognize it or not.
What kind of homework do you do in your job? Have you taken on any non-work related classes or projects that have required homework as well?
Have you ever noticed how the daily corporate vernacular takes on war-like characteristics?
“Let’s divide and conquer this project.”
“It’s time to take a deep dive into this story for better content.”
“Be ready to hit the ground running when the corporate announcement goes out.”
Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain about corporate speak again.
(But seriously, I could do a “part two” of that post in a millisecond…)
No, this post is about a little piece of paper I have kept taped to my cubicle or attached to a bulletin board for more than five years now.
What is this little piece of paper, you ask?
It’s a photocopy of a Power Point presentation handout from a “Lunch and Learn” by one of the partners of a communications agency where I worked previously.
He presented about how a pharmaceutical product comes to market, from research and development to marketing and launch. But the part that stuck with me during his presentation was his explanation of objectives, strategies and tactics.
He explained the objective-strategy-tactic relationship like going to war in one slide and then in more real-life healthcare marketing terms in the next.
And sometimes, creating a strategy document to a challenge or an opportunity is a lot like creating a plan of attack.
Here are the combined examples with the partner’s definitions of objectives, strategies and tactics:
Objective: Goal with a measurable endpoint
Ex 1: Take the bridge over the river from the enemy by noon tomorrow.
Ex 2: Convince 75% of opinion leaders to participate in product trials within 12 months.
Strategy: Means used to achieve the objective
Ex 1: Persuade the enemy they will die if they don’t surrender.
Ex 2: Use peer influence to persuade opinion leaders they will not be on the “cutting edge” unless they participate.
Tactics: Tools used to execute the strategy
Ex 1: Parachute in elite troops beyond the bridge overnight; constant sniping; frontal assault in the early morning; rear assault by elite troops once the frontal assault has the enemy’s full attention.
Ex 2: Invitational advisory boards chaired by regional authorities; white papers; direct requests by known experts; solicitation by patient advocacy groups.
See how the battle escalates through the stages from objectives to tactics?
A lot of myadjustment to working in alumni relations has been about thinking about this new line of work with the same mindset I developed working in PR and corporate communications for many years.
The first step I learned when approaching a project has always been with asking myself—what are the objectives? What is the strategy? How will we reach those goals?
Then, I consult my little piece of paper with the two slides from that partner’s presentation that I have memorized over the years.
But whether we’re writing a new product launch proposal or an outline for an alumni speaker series, the guiding principles of these three pillars remains the same.
We should always have a goal in mind and determine what we want to accomplish from the start.
Then, we can build a plan of attack (or simply a plan, if you’re not partial to the military jargon) to achieve those goals.
That’s not to say strategies or tactics may be off in reaching our goals. And that’s okay. You can look at your objectives again and design new strategies and tactics around it.
The idea here is to keep challenging ourselves to build better plans and to keep challenging ourselves not only as communicators, but as strategic thinkers.
Sometimes, just knowing we are capable of reaching real, tangible goals is what it is all about.
And knowing is half the battle….sorry, I just couldn’t resist throwing that in at the end here!
What do you think of this presentation of planning? How do you approach a project and set your objectives, strategies, or tactics?
Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was festive and fun. It’s too bad that it lasts one day, but at least there’s the December holidays to look forward to. And that means it’s time to break out the various holiday decorations, lights, candles, and sweet treats. So, if you’re taking a break from decking your halls this weekend, here are a few links and articles of interest to share–enjoy!
Five Marks of a Great Writer (by @geoffliving):
This was a good post to find while sifting through my more than 200 missed posts from the holiday weekend. As writers of various media, we can always find something to improve upon or to strive for.
Mr. Livingston has been at this writing game for some time, so it’s helpful to read what he suggests are the hallmarks of a great writer, regardless of the medium. I especially liked the fourth hallmark of how a fun sentiment will keep readers coming back, since that is what I find true with most any writer I’ve consistently read over the years.
What Makes a Good (Giving) Website (by Susan T. Evans via @mStonerBlog):
Working on a new website design or overhaul is hard work—and when it’s done within an educational institution, it’s even more work, as I’ve discovered this year.
Yet, there are some universal tips to keep in mind when creating an ideal website, be it for philanthropy (as with the “Giving” website) or for an institution itself. Ms. Evans clearly articulates what makes for a compelling Giving website in this post and provides some great institutional examples to illustrate her points. Her post is also helpful for anyone reconstructing or redesigning websites, so it’s worth a read if you need some inspiration or a fresh idea.
Getting Strategic with Content Planning (by @karinejoly via University Business Magazine):
Here is an article that made me want to stand up from my computer screen and start clapping this week (I usually have about two or three of those a month).
The blog post links to an article Karine Joly wrote for University Business Magazine, so it will require a little more time to read but it is well worth the effort. Time and time again, I have tried to communicate the need to organize communications strategically and this article spells out the reasons why that approach can be successful, especially in higher education institutions. But it’s also applicable for large organizations with multiple communication outlets.
Either way, content must be considered from a strategic viewpoint, otherwise we’re all just out there aimlessly shooting and not hitting any targets.
And for my fourth item of interest, I have to share that I found out that the Cinematic Titanic featuring Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is coming to a theatre nearby Philadelphia.
If you’re as big a geek for MST3K like me, then you’ll appreciate this compilation of their best bits of bad movies: