Back in 2004 I was elected Education Officer for my Student Union in Sheffield. It was a full-time job and the purpose of my role was to listen to, and represent the views of students back to the University and the Student Union.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the parallels between student representation and the purpose of my role now in internal comms. I think there’s a lot of great tactics I used back then that can be used in IC to give us the edge when it comes to carrying out our role effectively and adding value to the business.
This was always the core of my role as a Student Rep.
I went out and spoke with students to understand their issues. I held regular meetings with small groups to discuss something in detail. I had an ‘open door’ policy whereby students could drop in anytime to talk about something affecting them.
Or they could easily contact me via email or phone – particularly as I handed out postcards with these details on and wore a ‘Education Officer’ t-shirt or jumper around campus.
Parallels to internal comms: So, how many of us can truly say that listening to employees is at the core of our role now? Not just something carried out seasonally: the annual staff survey and various ‘soft’ invites for feedback (in the staff magazine for example). How can we expect to know where the gaps in understanding of the business strategy are (and thus what to communicate), unless we are making listening to employees part of our everyday work.
We need to make listening core to the IC function.
2) Representing back to the business
My role at Sheffield Students’ Union was to be the voice of more than 20,000 students back to the University. I was the one with the seat at the table in high-level Committee meetings or Councils; the one with the privilege of having the ear of those who made the decisions. It was a big responsibility and I made sure I prioritised the key issues facing students and spoke out about them when I could. I helped bring about change, made things better for students and spoke up when management were planning things that I didn’t think would work.
Parallels for internal communications: Increasingly IC has a seat at the table too. We have regular meetings with senior leadership. We’re privy to decisions being made and strategic planning. And because we have the advantage of having our finger on the pulse of employee life, we can represent employees to senior leadership and bring about change too.
We need to focus on being the voice of the employee.
Summary and tips for the role of IC:
Traditionally, the role of IC has been to facilitate better communication.
But for real value, we now also need to be conduits for information – play our part in listening, analysing and filtering. A bridge between employees and management.
In other words – Employee Representation Pros. How’s that sound?