What new skills did you learn as a comms pro in 2013?

As December rolls into place on my iPhone calendar, I started to reflect on my year at work.

I’ve worked in various roles in internal and external communications, PR and journalism since 2000, but never before has my skillset needed to widen, deepen and adapt moreso than in the last 12 months.

Here’s just a few of the skills I’ve needed this year to do my job, represented in a word cloud. Many are new skills, some build on existing skills I had previously….

(wordcloud created using www.tagul.com)
(wordcloud created using http://www.tagul.com)

I think it’s a great showcase of what’s so exciting about the role of a communications professional. The increase in digital skills is a key theme and while writing is still a core strength for the role, so much more is required in today’s workplace. I can’t wait to see how our industry continues to evolve in 2014…..

What do you think? What skills did you learn in 2013?

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An alternative definition for IC

My uni days are a distant memory now (image: telegraph.co.uk)
My uni days are a distant memory now (image: telegraph.co.uk)

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.

1) Listening

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?

Dealing with stakeholders: how to keep your internal comms schedule on track

Approved
Achieving this magic word, on time, every time

My previous post discussed the challenges of keeping internal comms top of mind for your senior stakeholders.

The five examples I outlined are points I raise with my stakeholders when a deadline is about to be missed, to help bring the schedule back onto track.

But, there’s much more you can do, especially from the very beginning of a project, to ensure this never happens in the first place.

Here’s my top ways to keep your internal comms projects and messaging schedule on track:

  • Share your schedule with those involved: Create a schedule and issue this to your stakeholders in advance of the project. Clearly highlight the dates the stakeholders need to provide and sign-off information. Show the relationship between the stakeholder input and the next stage of the project progressing. For example, if your poster cannot go to agency for design work until the copy has been signed-off, then show this. Explain the impact if work is delayed.
  • Look at your sign-off procedure. The bane of every person’s life working in comms – the sign-off process. When it feels like every senior manager and his or her friends wants to sign-off the document or article before it goes out. Look at your process and identify stakeholders that you can safely omit. Target those who are routinely slow with conversations around how to keep to deadline – and then plan in more time to give yourself a stretch.
  • Timeliness versus quality. I’m a big believer that employees need timely, relevant, consistent communication. The content might be word-perfect but unless it reaches people on time, it will lose impact. This means delivering to agreed deadlines. And sometimes this means saying ‘no’ to change requests. It’s having the difficult conversations with your stakeholders that the communication is ready to go out and no further changes can be made once a deadline has passed. I’d rather get a communication out to employees that they need and face an angry stakeholder, than not deliver timely communication. But that leads on to…..
  • Pick your battles. Know the difference when a short delay will not significantly impact employees and when timeliness is crucial. If you’re going to say no to a stakeholder change, make sure it’s nothing too important in the wider picture of what you’re aiming to achieve. Understand the business you are in too – I’ve worked in organisations where a news story had to be live on the intranet by 9.00am every morning. In others, the nature of the business meant keeping to a deadline to the minute wasn’t necessary.

And finally….

  • Understand what’s going on in the rest of the business. Success in working in internal comms is about the relationships you have with the rest of the business. I try to catch-up face-to-face with all the key business areas at least twice a week. This can just be a simple door knock on the office, a chat over the water cooler, or a more formal meeting. By understanding what’s going on in the business at any given time I can better plan my schedule and pre-empt any upcoming hurdles in meeting deadlines.

Do you have any other tips for keeping your schedule on track? What works well in your organisation?

Five reasons why internal deadlines matter

stopwatch
Meeting internal deadlines matters

Whether it’s the monthly CEO message, staff newsletter or promised roll-out of an employee engagement campaign, we’ve all failed to meet our own deadlines because of the difficulty of working with our internal stakeholders.

Not providing information on time, wanting to make last minute changes or failing to sign-off within the agreed time-frame. These delays all add up to failure to meet deadlines.

But how do you convince your key stakeholders of the importance of meeting internal comms deadlines against the competing priorities of the business? When there’s no obvious and immediate penalties to the business, how do you explain that it’s more than just your schedule that is affected?

Here’s my top five examples I’ve used to explain to my stakeholders why internal deadlines matter:

1) You risk the communication losing credibility: Failing to meet deadlines for internal communications devalues the importance of the role you (as the comms team) were put in place to fulfill – that of equipping employees with the information they need to do their jobs and engaging employees in the vision of the organisation.

By missing a deadline, there is a signal that internal communication is de-prioritised, it’s not as important as other business, it lacks support from the top. And, if that is so, then why should employees bother to read / watch / listen to the message? Ultimately, does the business value good communication and employee engagement or is it just paying lip service?

2) News ages: If you’re tasked with delivering an important message or update to employees then a key component of its effectiveness is the timeliness. Sending out a message way after the issue has become known to employees loses impact and relevance. You lose the crucial first opportunity to shape and build understanding and minimise negativity and confusion.

If employees continually find out about important issues on the grapevine rather than through official internal communication, then they will switch off from what you are saying and they won’t come back.

3) Consistency and routine: At a previous organisation our comms team introduced a CEO blog to the intranet. This was only publicised via a panel on the homepage of the intranet, never via email or other means. BUT, our commitment was that the blog itself would be updated every Thursday afternoon. This approach was a huge success because it built a routine for employees to visit the intranet at that time of the week to read the latest blog. It built a trust between the CEO and employees that he was a consistent leader and he could be relied upon to deliver.

Not only that it also helped improve our general communications approach because our team knew we could launch other news stories on Thursday afternoons, confident that we could expect a high number of visitors to the intranet.

4) Leading by example: if employees can’t rely on timely communication from the top, they might they feel justified to deliver the same in return in their day-to-day work. Keeping to a schedule gives no greater indication to employees that ‘everything is under control’ at the top. This sense of order, consistency and routine will filter down through the ranks and will be returned in employee behaviour.

5) It’ll cost the business more money: Late or inconsistent internal communication leads to a number of direct and indirect costs to the business. Perhaps this is the most persuasive argument to put to your senior stakeholders. This can range from poor customer service being delivered because staff do not have a crucial product update, or extra charges levied by external design agencies for the extra work created.

Ultimately though, late and inconsistent internal communication causes lower employee engagement. And disengagement leads to the biggest cost to the business of all – less money on the bottom line. The correlation might not be there for the business to see straight away, but it will happen.

Conclusion:

Remember, internal communication is just as important as any other part of the business. Our role is about empowering and engaging employees and that directly correlates to the success of a business. Stand your ground when it comes to getting your comms out on time – an IC deadline should by no less important than any other deadline.