TUESDAY 2 JUL 2024 9:00 AM


Drew McMillan, director of communications and engagement at Deloitte, shares the secrets to successfully leading a communications team, and having fun while doing it.

Building a top-notch communications team. Easy, right? Reams of papers, frameworks and models exist to guide us, much of which I agree with but they can get pretty theoretical. So, here’s a viewpoint from a practitioner who has sometimes got it right, and on occasion, failed. Badly.

First off, find the right people. It takes time, effort and some risky hires. Look for emotional intelligence and a love for learning. And don't overlook the value of those who can join the dots when others cannot. The best communications pros in my experience can craft a message that’s highly relevant, build long-term relationships, and know when (and how) to change course when – inevitably – things aren't heading in the right direction.

Next up, key indicators. You need to know if what you're doing is working and how to report performance to your stakeholders. So, I recommend an independent audit of the ways and means you currently communicate in your organisation. Done properly, this takes both time and investment. But it’ll give you a baseline to measure the impact your team makes in future.

I try to be realistic (but as bold as possible) with expectations of my team. Use the information you've gathered from your audit to develop an improvement strategy. Make sure your strategy includes as many tools as possible and that every objective has a measurement component. 

Then there’s my favourite bit: coaching. No one can walk into a job and instantly understand everything. Give them a buddy to guide them into your organisation and make sense of all those ‘unwritten rules’ in any culture, allow them time to settle in, set clear operational goals and provide a mentor.  

Finally, it can’t be said too often: outcomes matter more than outputs. Many of us have stakeholders who only think in terms of views and hits, and perhaps – just perhaps – that’s our happy place as comms professionals, too. But I suggest it’s not where value is created. Outcomes can be harder to measure, yes, but it’s where we should focus our efforts and can take most pride. Who doesn’t want to genuinely shift the dial in the right direction through effective communication?

Leading a high performing communications team is about strategy, not just tactics. It's about pulling together and empowering your best thinkers, mavericks and creatives to develop integrated plans. Celebrate people who can play to their strengths and respect differences. Build a team who help each other feel trusted, respected and heard. And try to have fun. Always.