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!)

Who is the best communicator in your business?

Communication – the key component to getting relationships right – is often taken for granted, yet frequently trips up organisations when it goes wrong. Given the evidence that it is the root cause of so much trouble (large and small), you might assume that most reasonably sized organisations would have an internal communications strategy in place, but if research from CIPR, Gatehouse and VMA Group is to be believed, less than 50% of firms with an internal communications function have developed an active strategic plan.

This article was written in partnership with Neil Tomalin, as we plan to explore the themes below in a workshop on 12 September in London – book your ticket to secure your place!

Getting the basics right
What strikes you as you begin an investigation of this subject is the informality that surrounds it and yet how vital it is in order to be productive. One of the issues is just how you get started and the degree of support that businesses currently provide in deciding, for instance how to communicate internally and by what means? This sounds pretty simple, but what are the rules between using email, one-to-one communications, or meetings to convey a message and get things done? Just one example illustrates the point. It is, according to the latest research, 24 times more likely that you will get a ‘yes’ from a face-to-face meeting, rather than relying on an email or other forms of communication. Is this the root cause of why our diaries are so full?

Here’s one other question – can you name the best communicator in your business and to what extent do their communication skills get recognised and rewarded?

Relationship mapping
It is a funny old word ‘relationships’. It carries with it all sorts of connotations and yet is the lifeblood of how to get things done within a business. Forming effective business relationships is about communicating well. So when it comes to your organisation, think about the relationships that exist between departments, between the leadership team or between groups that need to work together. Explore how they operate and help them understand how to get the most out of their time. Understand when meetings happen, whether any are linked, the process for the meeting and help employees become the gatekeeper of their time.

Get the relationships between your employees right and the efficiencies will follow. But to get there, you have got to talk about it and can you honestly remember the last time you called a meeting or discussed how ‘relationships’ within your business were working? Very often this only happens when things have gone spectacularly wrong – that project has overrun again, or there is an issue with a major supplier. Frequently, a breakdown in communication lies at the heart of the problem.

Yet one source of help is normally very close at hand, borrowing an approach that for many years has been adopted by the sales division – relationship mapping. This process almost always focuses upon external customers by identifying key relationships and then putting together an action plan for winning new business. However, it is as relevant for a more systematic approach focusing upon internal relationships in order to achieve greater business efficiencies and reduce, amongst other things, silo mentality.

It is also about helping to tackle stress and maintaining good mental health. Research commissioned by Mind in 2013 found that work was the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people saying their work life was either very or quite stressful.

Assessing your own style
This can be a very revealing exercise particularly in relation to the number of meetings in your diary. It is best done over a number of weeks to establish trends. The key questions to address are:-
1. How would you describe your own communication style?
2. Who is the gatekeeper of your time?
3. Do you have a sense of how much time you are spending in meetings each week?
4. How effective are the meetings you attend?
5. What is your preferred method of communication?
6. How might this be improved?

Learning through observation
To a large extent there is very little formal training around how you communicate in the workplace. New employees very quickly pick up upon hierarchy and the ‘norms’ that exist. They will observe if there is a casual meeting environment, or if it is more formal and will adapt their working style from what they see.

Attending your first meeting as a new employee provides a wealth of information. How does it feel? Do you get the sense that everyone is relaxed and happy to speak up? Are questions welcomed and clear answers given? In his latest research Neil Tomalin argues that this is not always the case. That attendees, rather than ‘being themselves’, adopt various different personas that can undermine the purpose of meetings and frustrate their effectiveness. Partly this role playing is influenced by the way in which the organisation does business, the degree of hierarchy etc. But, it is also impacted by the sheer volume of meetings that some people attend – put frankly – they simply have meeting fatigue!

Meetings aside, the point is that in every organisation there will be an optimum way of communicating and whilst in many organisations this will evolve organically and work well, this does not apply in every case, or enable individual employees to appreciate what works best for their own personal style.

Internal Communications – perfectly placed
If the organisation you work for has the resource to have an internal communications function, there is evidence to suggest that these internal resources are not being fully utilised (CIPR). When it comes to internal communication, business leaders are still unsure about the role it can play inside an organisation, but professional communicators exist and they are able to help other professionals, leaders and line managers form superior relationships, thus enabling the entire organisation to function better.

This is all the more surprising when you consider what, according to Jenni Field, the definition of internal communication includes:- ‘Everything that gets said and shared inside an organisation. As a function its role is to curate, enable and advise on best practise for organisations to communicate effectively, efficiently and in an engaging way.’

So ‘professional communicators’ do exist. How would you measure up if you met one?
Jenni Field and Neil Tomalin will be jointly hosting a communications workshop exploring the themes in this article on 12 September. To secure a place please contact either of us.