A chain is only as strong as its weakest link…
But with PR's finding it hard to share, how do you make sure knowledge is spread among your team and there are no weak links?
The easiest way to help your team start sharing is to first look at why it can be hard to share in this industry.
1. Competitive Advantage
Knowledge is power. There are no ‘products’ in PR. How good you are is all about how good you are at forming relationships and what you know. A knowledgeable PR professional has no incentive to spend time teaching their peers. In fact they have the opposite; by sharing knowledge they often feel they are pushing themselves out of the running for that promotion or worse still, job.
PR professionals like to have the “secret knowledge” it’s their edge, their competitive advantage
Everyone wants Jane on their accounts, she’s the only one who knows Twitter, likewise, we must bring her to the best of the pitches, no one else knows it like she does.
At the other end of the scale, nobody likes to put their hand up to say they know nothing about a particular subject. You’ll get the opposite of Jane, pushed out and left on the boring projects. It takes a very confident person to put their hand up and say they don’t know what everyone else does.
To teach others about a subject takes time. The teacher needs to prepare. Even finding time for the recipients to learn takes time. Which client is it billed to? The agency you say? Well, when most people are billed out at over 100% the time to learn often falls into yet more overtime. Not exactly an incentive is it?
This all then leads to a heads-down culture. You either know or you don’t. You learn in your own time. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It will take a bit of effort but you can change the culture of silo knowledge to celebrate sharing. Trust me I’ve seen it but it does take a culture shift.
Let’s look at the barriers again:
1. Competitive advantage
Let’s turn this on its head. If sharing is celebrated above all else, the competitive advantage is not in having the knowledge but in how much useful knowledge you share. Sharers are celebrated. Those who share on a regular basis are the ones visibly seen to be promoted.
Bring it into the values of the agency, it must be integral so pass it all the way down into appraisals, not as a tick box exercise but discussed at the heart of it. With this type of focus, you’ll soon start to see more hands are going up with something to say.
Not everyone is happy with presenting so let people plan their own sessions how they feel comfortable. It could be 1-2-1s or workbooks, give people the autonomy to choose what they feel will be best for their subjects.
Once it has become cool to share you can start to drill down to find where skills gaps are. In the past, I have used a traffic light matrix. List the skills and people can code themselves red (no knowledge) amber (some) and green (expert). You’ll need to emphasise it’s fine to be red or amber and once people highlight themselves as experts, they can become champions in the area and they are then tasked with upskilling the team.
This will still make some people uncomfortable. So try and take the stigma away from not knowing everything. It’s cool to say you don’t know (and make sure senior managers are leading the way with this by not only attending all sessions but being present, inquisitive and asking questions).
Once those matrices have turned green keep inviting people in the agency to keep learning by suggesting new topics.
You’re asking a lot of your staff to get out of their comfort space, put their hands up to teach others and expose themselves admitting what they don’t know. The best way as a manager you can help show support is to give them enough time to actually be able to prep and attend sessions.
This is easier in theory - in practice client work and internal deadlines take over so it is important to protect the time. Encourage people to get out the office and their usual seat. Perhaps let people book a day a month to be OOO/working from home to focus and protect the time.
If you do all the above you are halfway to changing the culture.
The hard work will pay off in the long run when you have an up-skilled team
A team open to saying when they don’t know and eager to help each other out. Once you have this ball rolling, your team will then be able to keep learning and stay ahead of this fast changing industry. And as a team that’s a much better competitive advantage.