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!)

What comes first… The trust in the top or the bottom?

I was having a conversation at work the other day and the topic of command and control and trust came up. We were discussing how control can imply a lack of trust in those around you and it made me wonder if the two do go hand in hand.

If I am a control freak (and some say I am!) does this mean that I don’t trust you? Does it mean that I always think you will get it wrong or just that I know how I want it?

Does the person on the end of the control feel like they are being controlled or do they feel untrusted? Is that the same thing?

Looking into this further and with the Edelman trust barometer published this week we focus a lot on the trust in those above us, those who lead us and those who govern us. But what about their trust in us?

I started reading throwing sheep in the boardroom this week (that’s another blog post) and the foreword really struck a cord….

If you were asked to open a restaurant how would you do it? You’re looking after the menu, the design, the building, everything. Now say you plan to open a steak restaurant…. You’re going to need steak knives. Your mind doesn’t then say, ah but people could use these knives to stab other customers so when I design my restaurant I’m going to put all the tables in cages.

That would be madness.

Yet this is how we have come to think about people and employees in business. If we always think they will do the worst we will design business structures, social channels and organisations around the very worst situation, not the reality. And if we do that, it shows a lack of trust in our people. So if the leaders don’t trust the people then why should the people trust the leaders?

And if everyone is thinking about the worst case scenario then they are going to want to control it and do it themselves to make sure that the bad stuff doesn’t happen…

What we need to consider is spreading that load. No one can control everything and if you show some trust then they will show it back… I just wonder who is going to make the first move….

 

Diary of a Diploma: Day one

On Saturday I attended the first day of my CIPR Inside Internal Communications Diploma. I was really looking forward to the day and it didn’t disappoint. We started with a fun ice breaker to get to know each other which was a great way to start the next 6 months. There were about 12 of us in the class and a real mix of experience and industry which should lead to some great discussions.

Getting the books for the course was a real bonus for me as these have been on my list to buy for some time. I have already started reading one of them as I have to read about 10 chapters before our next lesson on 23 February.

Our first session was looking at the evolution of internal communication. This was a great discussion and took themes from the CIPR Inside video issued earlier this year. One of the main things that came up was whether we had really moved on since the 1980s – any thoughts? We were joined by Paul Roberts from Ibis Communication who talked about measurement. It was great to see some insights into how measurement should be undertaken and has made me realise that this needs to be a focus in 2013/14.

There were 5 rules Paul shared with us:

  1. Only measure what you can influence
  2. Build quantitative and qualitative research into your measurement programme
  3. Measure at intervals that allow you enough time to change course
  4. With quantitative data, focus on top and bottom box scores when analysing results
  5. Approach your programme from the perspective of your audience

I don’t plan to share too much from the course as that wouldn’t be fair, but as the day went on and we each reviewed our own internal comms function measurement came out as the weakest part of our role.

We reviewed several different communications models, some I remember from my degree which was refreshing! It got my mind thinking about how we can apply some of these more traditional models to the role social media now plays on how we communicate.

Organisational behaviours and leadership also came into focus as we reviewed the role leaders play in culture and engagement. Kevin shared a great video that asked the question, who needs leaders?


Leaders have a huge role to play to make communication successful and we reviewed how informed employees felt much more engaged in the business. I did challenge some of the research as being informed doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Are you informed about news that is relevant to you? And how do you know how much has been shared to warrant feeling informed?

The reading has already got my brain buzzing and it was great to take some time to sit back and think theoretically about the work we do and how it is so intrinsically linked to culture and the organisation. Although it has only been one day it has given me a fresh perspective on my work and provided some great ideas to shape my strategy for the next year – roll on 23 February!

Getting started in internal comms? Why not ask a guru?

Yesterday I attended a session hosted by CIPRInside called Ask the Guru. An event aimed at new people in internal comms and providing them a few hours to ask a panel of three gurus anything they liked.

I was very privileged to be one of the gurus, alongside Dana Leeson and Tom Crawford.

We were joined by about 20 communicators, some who had submitted answers before and others than had real challenges in the workplace. In the spirit of sharing, here are a list of the questions we were asked and my answers to them:

Structure

1. How do you define where internal communications sits in relation to other departments? HR or Comms, or other?

This was something we discussed at the event and there were lots of views about whether HR, Marketing or even the CIO was appropriate. We are still at a crossroads in terms of where we sit but the main thing to consider is not necessarily where you sit, it is that you have a voice in the organisation and even better on the board.

Leaders/stakeholders

1. I keep reminding people we need to be open to expect employees to be open with us and trust us. I feel like it’s an up-hill struggle at times. How can I manage this dilemma?

This is often a challenge that stays with us for a long time. We are programmed that knowledge is power and that can often translate into hidden information which leads to a culture that lacks trust and openness. It is a cliché but this has to start from the top. If you’re in a position to, do some research with the employees to find out what they really think and take this to the board to facilitate a discussion about their view on how things are, what the people say and how we bridge the gap.

Small steps is the answer. Don’t try and do open and honest all at once if it just isn’t the way things are but find ways to bring everyone into the conversation. The more they do it in bite sized chunks the more they’ll realise the benefits and that nothing terrible will happen.

2. How do I balance the expectations of the senior leadership with the expectations of the staff?

Expectations are always difficult to manage. Senior leaders expectations can be managed by ensuring there are platforms for dialogue and two-way communication, not just top down push communication.

Once you bridge the gap between the two expectations and the way things are on the front line soon come to the surface and you can then manage how to build the relationships between them.

Senior leaders can expect you to do things that are not in line with what you know the front line wants or expects – be the voice of the people and make sure you coach and advise with their interests in mind.

3. How do I set clear boundaries for internal communications functions without upsetting stakeholders who have a history of ‘managing’ that communication channel? It’s very hard coming into an organisation balancing being efficient, helpful and professional while getting the results you know you can deliver.

Bring them into the fold! If you are coming in to set up the function centrally or start from scratch, identify the people that already do some of the communication and engage them from the off. I recently did something very similar and I worked closely with three or four people in the business who were gatekeepers of information and distributors of packs for teams. We worked together on my research of the business and I talked them through my findings before anyone else. We discussed what the impact wad for them but it was going to help them in the long run and how they were still needed as experts in those teams.

It’s a fine balance and one I think we all get wrong at least once in our careers. Listen to them, engage with them, be aware of their personality and adapt your style to theirs so they know you’re not against them.

Strategy and tactics

1. How do I find out what the company and managers ‘really’ need me to do, rather than what the ask me to do? The objectives rather than the tactics.

If I have understood this right my answer would be time and experience. When I first started I just did what I was told to do with now knowledge of anything different. As I got more experience from other roles, going to conferences and events I learnt what the ‘right’ things to do were.

If people are coming to you and saying ‘I need a poster for this’ it’s all in the questions. Why do they need a poster, what are they actually trying to achieve with the message, who is their audience. If you ask all the right probing questions you’ll be able to decide whether it is a poster they want or whether a post card desk drop is better – for example.

2. How do I juggle the strategy, the tactics, the expectations and execution of all that’s required of me and a very small team?

Good time management! I was a team of one with 10,000 employees and was starting from scratch. 2 years in I managed to get resource in the team and now have someone to support the more tactical side of things. It got to the point where the day job was impossible and when you get there, you have to build a business case as to what you need and why.

If this isn’t possible, learn to say no. Devise your strategy at the right time in the business and set your budget. Align your activity to the business strategy and if anyone asks you to do anything that doesn’t fall within that, you simply cannot do it. Empower people; if you have an intranet, get people to add their own content rather than come through you for certain things, have guest editors on the magazine if you have people with an interest in what you do – use the relationships you have for support and let them be the voices that support your business case for additional support.

Messages

1. “Here’s a piece of copy – pop it on the intranet please….” What? What do I do with a piece of writing that is full of typos, out of touch or worse off message – especially if it’s come from a senior manager?

You edit it. Maintain their voice of the piece if that is appropriate for the channel and the business but you make changes. If possible, go and see them with a printed copy of what you’ve changed and talk them through the reasons why you have done so.

People don’t mind things being changed if there is a reason for it, as long as you’re not doing it for the sake of it or so you add your stamp on it they will be more than happy with your changes.

2. How do I get across the ‘heavy’ HR messages across in a way employees will listen and act upon them?

Depending on what you mean by heavy there are lots you can do. We have policies and we have clear guidelines and rules but these are all designed in line with our branding and whilst firm, maintain a good tone of voice. Putting up a boring word document is a little dull so bring in your brand and colour palettes to bring the documents to life.

If we have messages we have to get people to do, read and sign that they have done we have a Due Diligence system and the notice is number DD201 (for example). This signals to our operators that there is a news item they have to look at and action.

Measurement

1. We use surveys to measure results and opinions. What else can we use?

2. How do I start to measure the ROI of internal communications?

I’m going to answer these together because we had quite a debate around measurement. ROI is often about numbers, how you show internal comms activity has impacted the bottom line. You can’t. Just like a PR team cannot prove what a ‘like’ is worth on facebook or that there is an equivalent advertising spend to the coverage they have got. We get bogged down in numbers that often don’t mean anything.

We can measure how people feel to work for the company, whether they want to go over and above the role for the good of the business and if they have fun and enjoy their work. If they don’t then that will impact the bottom line because they aren’t interested in helping us grow and succeed.

We don’t do employee surveys because we always get things we can’t change – and I mean can’t not won’t. So we do surveys about specific things, and I measure attendance at lunch and learn sessions following a comms campaign, intranet stats (the conversations more than the page views) and I make sure that I’m aligned to the business strategy in all my activity so I’m measured against what the business is trying to achieve.

I have seen people present on how you can really work out and ROI but I think we have to ask whether that is really important. I started with no budget and no team; one year in I secured budget, 2 years in I grew that budget and got someone in the team – if you add value to the business they will recognise it without a spreadsheet.

So if you have any questions let us know using #asktheguru on twitter, comment below and also at the next event in the summer – dates to be confirmed.