Getting Chartered – why I did it and what I will takeaway

On 10 September I finally got my Chartered Practitioner status. I set myself a goal at the start of 2018 to do it but I knew that September would be the best time for me. As someone who is heavily involved with CIPR I kept my involvement in the day quiet – for me becoming Chartered is a huge stamp of validation and much like a driving test, I didn’t want to have to tell everyone if I had failed.

When the Chartered process changed a few years ago I was still one of those members saying they couldn’t see the benefit against the cost. So why did I decide to do it this year and what did I learn?

I believe in professionalism
When people ask me what I do I tell them I’m a professional communicator – which sounds odd. But when you’re talking to people who aren’t in our industry it is the only way to describe the work that I do. I help people have better conversations to make businesses succeed and I can do this because of my experience. Becoming Chartered is the highest achievement for what I do. It is grounded in ethics, strategy and leadership which are all things I’m doing everyday so having the validation with my peers is hugely rewarding.

I want to be the best I can be
And I want others to do the same. If you’re working as a communications assistant, an internal communications manager or a public affairs director I want all of us to be the best at it. For me, being the best is about working with peers to explore and learn. It’s about reading books that help you advise and coach leaders. It’s about investing in yourself to make sure you are aware of the latest trends and issues facing communicators and businesses.

Know your own learning style
Sometimes I worry. I worry that I should be doing more, spending more time reading, writing, investigating and then I panic. It’s times like this that I’m grateful to my network – and a huge thanks to Trudy Lewis, Katie Marlow and Advita Patel for their support over the last week. I know how I learn and I have to remember that just because my style is different to others it doesn’t make it wrong.

It’s a humbling experience
Spending a day with people who have the same goals as you is always a good day. But spending it with people who are trying to better themselves, seek a validation and in turn gain confidence in their ability made the experience all the more humbling. We were lucky and 100% passed – there were cheers, hugs and tears and it was an absolute privilege to share that moment with everyone.

If you’re thinking about it – speak to someone who is Chartered. I am proud that on our Inside committee we have a number of people who have been through the process so please do reach out as I’m sure Katie, Trudy, Martin and Jane can also share their experiences (in fact many have blogged already!)

The art of science and engagement in internal communication

We know that internal communicators are struggling to influence at the top, finding digital adoption hard across organisations and working with limited budgets. Some of the conversation we need to have are increasingly challenging and opinion or experience might not be enough to win your case. Last week, at the CIPR Northern Conference in Newcastle, I hosted a workshop talking about neuroscience and how the world of work might have evolved, but our brains have not.

The basics
Our brains have one core purpose – to survive. To survive they need two key things; to seek out rewards and to avoid threats. The rewards will be things like food and shelter and the threats will be the sabre-tooth tiger coming to kill you. The threat response in our brains is much stronger than rewards so we will always lean to that response – you can survive without food/shelter/water for a while, but you can’t survive the tiger killing you!

Our brains are constantly trying to predict to keep us out of harms way and when it comes to making decisions, 86% of them are based on feelings. This is important to understand because clarification and ambiguity play a big role in how we feel and are often some of our biggest challenges as communicators.

Dealing with ambiguity and the pace of change
We continually try to predict so when we don’t understand something, or we are left in the dark, our threat response is heightened. Our brains cannot deal with the speed and quantity of change we see today. The level of ambiguity that comes with this means we worry and we think about the adverse possibilities – our threat response.

Our reward state is not only triggered by those basic elements, it can also be triggered by information. Research shows that we are more comfortable with information that provides certainty regardless of whether that is good or bad. Think about waiting for test results – the unknown is much worse than when you have the answer.

The generational divide
I’m a big Simon Sinek fan and during the session I referenced both his golden circle TED talk and his interview about millennials. On researching this topic again, I came across articles challenging his thinking on millennials and while I struggle with generational theory (my diploma paper was on Gen Z and their communication styles) his insights can all play back to the basics of neuroscience.

He suggests that parenting, technology, impatience and environment all play a role in why millennials struggle in the workplace:

  • The failed parenting strategies that have devalued reward (last place medal, taking part medal)
  • The use of social media and the release of dopamine that happens when someone ‘likes’ a post alongside the danger of technology replacing meaningful social connections
  • Impatience and the immediacy of today – remember Blockbuster when you use to have to wait for something to come out and then post it back through the door – not anymore. You can get it all immediately from your sofa.
  • The work environment is so numbers focussed that we don’t consider people. We don’t consider relationships and culture over or even in line with the commercial elements of success and this is damaging trust.

When you revisit the key points from this interview they link back to neuroscience and how our brains work. The need for social connections, making time for each other, rewards – they all come through when you consider why millennials are struggling in the workplace today.

Data and ambiguity
We know that the brain doesn’t like ambiguity and since the research in 2017 with CIPR Inside I have talked a lot about alignment between the internal communication function and leadership. So how ambiguous are we as internal communicators? Does everyone have a definition of what internal communication is inside their organisation? Does everyone have a plan or a strategy? Research from Gatehouse tells us that only 50% have a plan and only 33% have a strategy. So, without these basics in place, are we allowing ambiguity to rule and therefore debilitating conversations with leaders?

Social connections and the struggle with digital tools
After The Big Yak I blogged about the main themes and how we are forgetting we are human. Our social brain impacts our ability to think and perform and people need to stay focussed and positive to work at their best. Neuroscience shows people have a strong need for social connections – so strong that without them we are in a state of threat. I don’t believe we think about this at work in terms of the culture or relationships that we encourage, or even in the content strategies that we create – how many are focussed on the operational aspect of the organisation?
We believed that digital tools would solve our problems. And while they solve some, they aren’t working quite how we hoped. Gatehouse data tells us that only 35% have an adoption rate of good or excellent and 86% say use is non-existent, embryonic or limited. We are forgetting that people are at the heart and from experience, I can tell you that the investment in digital tools will be completely wasted if you don’t invest in the people and the relationships/culture.

Remember that communication is conversation. Give people a voice, collaborate on the things that matter (not everything, but that’s another blog post) and take away the threat and ambiguity of business today. I hope you can use some of the points in this post/from the workshop to help you have conversations to make a difference in your organisation.

Resources

These are links to the books that I have read over the last six months that all contributed to the session at the conference:

Neuroscience for organisational change

Busy: How to thrive in a world of busy

Deep work: Rules for focussed success in a distracted world

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

CIPR President Elect – what is your view on internal comms?

Last week I approached the three candidates standing as President Elect to find out a bit more about what they think of internal comms. All three replied instantly so here are the answers from Emma Leech, Gary Taylor and Sarah Hall:

1. What do you think the role of internal comms is inside organisations  today?

Emma: Internal communications plays a critical role within organisations. We work in ever more competitive and rapidly changing environments and ensuring we attract and retain the best talent, unlock potential and ideas, and differentiate on excellent and authentic customer service are obvious wins. Less obvious is the tremendous impact that loyalty, engagement, great change management and advocacy can have across the organisation and – very pragmatically – on the bottom line.

I’m also a Fellow of the Institute of Internal Communications and as someone who has worked in the field and now manages a team in this area, I clearly identify with the importance of working with professionals who can listen to the organisation’s heartbeat and respond to it. From using local intelligence to feed into crisis communications and planning, to identifying and helping to tackle strategic business issues, or simply developing messages and campaign opportunities, internal communications has a key role to play.

Gary: The way organisations are changing, it’s more important than ever to communicate – especially change – with staff members. Your staff are the best people to explain, promote and celebrate the good work you’re doing  – they need to feel informed and part of the decision-making process. An effective internal communications strategy can help achieve this. Sadly, it’s often shunted to one side, seen as less important that the external  communications function or just as the trickle-down of information from the Management Team, at a pace and in a form that suits them, not the staff.

Sarah: Internal comms (IC) is critical for two reasons: there’s an increasing expectation for organisations to be open and transparent; and organisations are striving to become social. The shift to social organisations is a huge opportunity for IC. Figuring out how to move from command and control management, to a more open, networked organisation is a big job and requires a specialist skillset. It’s an issue that will continue play out for IC over the next generation. Although there is much being said about employee advocacy, the notion of employees as advocates won’t sit comfortably with me until the relationship between the organisation and employee is equitable. While this plays out however, the opportunity to use modern platforms such as Facebook at Work, Slack and Yammer as a means of engagement, is a huge opportunity for anyone working within this area.

2. Where do you think CIPR can improve how it supports internal comms  people?

Emma: I think we could start by responding proactively to the Inside Group’s agenda. I’ve been amazed at how vibrant and collegiate the Group is and the support of the recent #thebigyak event is a great example of the energy and fresh thinking the Group has to offer. We could learn a lot from that as an Institute. I would want your ideas on how we could provide better training, develop the Diploma, and support professionals in the field. I think there’s a job to be done in actively promoting the very real and financial benefits of great internal communications that will help raise the profile and value of practitioners. I think it’s also important for the CIPR to help support members better as part of their career journey to ensure that internal communications colleagues don’t hit roadblocks in terms of progression which can be a real issue.

Gary: By creating, encouraging and acting as a platform for greater engagement between internal communications practitioners /specialists. There’s a huge body of untapped knowledge that events such as #thebigyak help to release. But too many practitioners – in all areas, not just internal – are left to work on their own, at the mercy of what  non-practitioners think is ‘right’. We should be there for them with something they can point to, a source of good practice and latest thinking.

Sarah: Internal comms is an important public relations discipline and it rightly continues to grow in stature as understanding grows of what it can achieve.

The CIPR has a powerful opportunity at its fingertips.

  1. To enhance its own internal comms between HQ, board, council, groups and members, using the knowledge and expertise within its membership
  2. To support the growing number of internal comms practitioners and better serve them with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed
  3. To celebrate this expanding body of knowledge and practice

As President-Elect, I’d strive to make the CIPR a best practice model for how IC can transform organisations. I’d look to help IC professionals communicate the value of their work to employers and demonstrate return on investment.

Finally I’d make this burgeoning area of the industry a key aspect of the 70th anniversary celebrations in 2018. It’s an important area of public relations and there are some excellent people within the membership pioneering the way.

3. With all your experience what is your key advice to those working in  internal comms?

Emma: My advice to colleagues is to engage, enjoy, learn and make change happen. When you’re closest to an organisation’s issues, you’re often closest to the solutions. Listening is everything. Using that insight to deliver real strategic value is a major strength. Some of the best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with have been internal communications led – a simple conversation that sparked a big idea, change project, recruitment or fundraising idea. We often make the mistake in PR of believing our own hype – great internal communicators bring challenge to that and a truly authentic organisational perspective. That kind of insight is gold dust in business today – sprinkle it wisely!

Gary: You are the communications professional. You do this every day. Depending on your relative position within the organisation it can feel daunting to have to say to the higher-ups “you’re wrong on this” – but your organisation’s reputation (as well as your own) relies on good, professional communications.

Sarah: Internal comms practitioners have an incredibly exciting opportunity. As the C-Suite looks to public relations professionals to make sense of the changing world around them and manage reputation, the value placed on practitioners is growing. I’d urge all IC practitioners to focus on their continuous professional development (CPD). It’s critical to demonstrating your worth in organisational terms. Finally, collaborate to share best practice (as already happens through fantastic initiatives like The Big Yak) and lobby your industry bodies for support in educating employers and the business community about the incredible work you do.

Why I will continue to support CIPR – if elected!

I have been part of the CIPR team for a number of years, supporting Council and the Inside group as they continue to strive for greatness in our profession. I believe in the power of communication and I believe in the integrity of PR.

I have worked in communication for over 10 years and have spent most of my career in-house. I have covered advertising, defence, retail and more recently pharmaceutical industries focussing on both internal and external communication. I believe the two are intrinsically linked but are fundamentally different. I see my role in CIPR as being a voice of the in-house comms professional – ensuring the professional development is right for everyone and that internal communications is recognised as a standalone communications skill.

I believe the members of CIPR deserve to be kept informed, updated and engaged in the work that we do and that they should be connected to each other in a way that fosters collaboration and development. As professionals it is our duty to make sure we are delivering world-class communications and PR for the organisations we serve and we can only do this through using the power of the network we have. As a collective group we will be able to raise the profile of communications and PR and what it can do for business, and we can raise the standards that we operate in. I want us to build a great and respected membership organisation that brings ethics, integrity, respect, diversity and engagement to the fore.

I want to continue to serve our members by sitting on Council, sitting on the Professional Development and Membership Committee (PDMC) and working with the Inside group so that I can be the bridge between those working in house and those setting the standards. I will listen, I will support and I will make the time to ensure that CIPR is serving all our members in what they need to become the best communications and PR professional they can be.

Why internal communicators need a voice with CIPR

Next week the CIPR opens the elections for Council. As Chair of CIPR Inside I currently sit on the Council but things are changing and this now needs to be a position that is voted in. So I need your help, if you’re a CIPR member then please get voting – to help, here is a little bit about why I think you should vote for me!

Who am I and why should you vote for me?

  • I’m an experienced internal communicator championing the role that internal communication plays in adding value to organisations
  • I believe internal communicators should have their voices heard
  • I want to continue to raise the standards of professional development across all disciplines. CPD must be relevant to members, employers and clients
  • I want to make information from CIPR Inside easier to find, trusted and valued
  • I want us to work together to define how we measure and link to business performance. CIPR has already delivered guidance through its work with AMEC and I want to see more work like this, aligned to the internal communications profession, which will support it becoming a reality
  • I want to inspire a generation into the profession

Who I am

I’m Chair of CIPR Inside and have been involved with the group for a number of years as a committee member and Treasurer. I work in London as Head of Internal Communication but have held both Internal Communication and PR roles, both in-house and agency with a mixture of public and private sector.

I’m passionate about internal communication and what it can help businesses achieve, which is why I co-founded The IC Crowd 18 months ago. I value professional development, recently completing the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma.
My link to the CIPR

CIPR Inside is the voice of internal communication within CIPR, a group that makes an impact on our industry and the professionals within it. With a voice on the Council, we can make sure internal communications is part of the conversation about professionalism, development and ethics. We will be there when decisions are made about the future of CIPR and how it adapts to meet our members’ needs.

I’ve been involved with CIPR Inside for a number of years, before becoming Chair in March. We’ve focussed the Committee on specialist subjects and events, and at our conference in October I’m planning to launch a three-year strategy.
What I can do for the industry

I believe there’s a fundamental difference between PR and internal communication, but that doesn’t mean that the two aren’t intrinsically linked. CIPR is the professional body to champion this link. Working together, we can make sure that internal communication stays at the top of the agenda for our senior teams and they understand the power of getting it right.

I want to inspire people to work in communications and engage members to help them navigate their careers. I want to make sure that organisations understand that value, and use CIPR as a mark to find a professional who can deliver what they need.

The voting process

Following a period of nomination, a list of candidates has been released, and between 1 September and 22 September, voting on these seats gets underway. Every member has two votes, a first and second vote.

Changing behaviour for better business

This year the CIPR inside conference is all about changing behaviours. When I took over the role of Chair back in March I knew that being in house gave a me a different view on things from my agency predecessors and I wanted to bring some of my challenges forward.

Over the years my role has changed, not just in the role I’m in now but ever since I started in the world of communications 10 years ago.

When I consider the challenges I face today they include:

– Leadership buy in

– Making sure the communication has an impact and does what the business needs it to do

– Managing culture change

But these challenges change as the business changes so while the second point is a big one for me at the moment I wasn’t sure if it would be for everyone. That’s where having a great committee comes in and as we thrashed out the skeleton of the conference I realised I wasn’t alone. It really dawned on me when I met with an agency who showed me a great campaign. Their measurement was the number of people who understood the message and felt engaged with it. I found myself asking so what? There must have been business drivers behind the campaign so let’s get that in as the measurement.

And so my thinking and my plan for CIPR inside started to evolve.

As a committee we decided to shake up the traditional format. We want to bring the case studies in but we also want to bring in elements of an unconference and give people a chance to share and talk about their stories.

This year our conference hinges around this. We have a keynote speaker to get our minds working and then four lightning talks from various people across the business. Talking about digital, measurement and more all aligned to how it changes behaviours. The plan is to use this content to spark discussion and give all delegates the chance to go and talk in groups about these topics before lunch.

After plenty of discussion, lunch networking with peers and our sponsors we then go into a few great case studies, some leading research and a panel discussion.

I want this day to be fun, informal and informative. We all face challenges that change from time to time but none that others haven’t faced before. Spending a day out of the office and with people who do the same as you is one of my favourite ways to learn and benchmark my activities.

So will you be joining us on 2 October?

Why aren’t we called Internal PR?

Today I attended my second CIPR Council meeting at CIPR HQ in Russell Square in my role as Chairwoman for CIPR Inside. I haven’t talked much about my role here (I plan to do more of that soon) but today we had some interesting discussion about the PR industry – what is wrong with the image and how we can change it.

After some discussion around some recent high profile cases, the conversation was starting to really consider what the challenges are for PR’s in today’s world. As the blurring of the lines between internal and external is on our agenda I wanted to know if they saw this as something that was on their radar too.

What was interesting was the discussion that followed, and I subsequently took to Twitter, around why we have communication in our departments and titles. Someone also suggested we should just be internal PR rather than internal communications.

Well, you certainly didn’t like that….

This just reinforces the reputation that PR has. The fact a group of people so closely linked to the industry don’t want to be associated with it speaks volumes.

What surprised me in the room was the conversation around management consultants and their role in the PR space. There was a fear that they could step into the shoes of a PR person  because they can “speak the language of the board”. This is not something I think any person in the world of communication should worry about – they should simply develop themselves and adapt to be able to do the same. I don’t see any value in worrying about something that is in your circle of influence (to quote Stephen Covey). Learning the language of business is one thing every internal communicator has to do and I thought the same of my colleagues focussing on the external side.

So when I took to Twitter again to ask what the perceptions were of PR and how we differed. It was lovely to see such succinct reasons for why we shouldn’t be called internal PR and why what we do is so different…

So with the debate no doubt far from over, we closed the discussion  to look at how we can improve PR’s reputation and the overall industry. There were lots of ideas around working with universities to make sure the courses are really fit for purpose as well as just getting on with the job and doing what we do well, ensuring that over time that old reputation will disappear.

With internal comms suffering similar challenges around its purpose, where it adds value and one of my biggest challenges which is the different levels you can have IC operating at in different organisation – we are all in this together to improve the perception of all communication disciplines.

But I can’t see myself ever being in “Internal PR”…