What do you wish you’d known about working in internal communication before you started? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?

lou-robinsonIt’s never too late to adjust your thinking, learn from mistakes, try something new and experiment.

Today’s guest post as part of my Countdown to Christmas reflects on a senior career in IC and offers advice to help you analyse what you do.

It’s been written by Lou Robinson, Global Internal Comms Lead at Costa.

Lou has 18 years’ experience in corporate communications and started her career in PR, public affairs and membership communications and then moved to her “real love” – employee communications.

I’ll hand you over to her…

Things I wish I’d known…

A couple of weeks’ ago I was whizzing (a bit faster than I’d have liked) down a ski slope, when my instructor turned to me and said: “that was the most important moment of the lesson – the bit where you nearly stacked it but recovered the turn”.

It struck me that the most important lessons we also learn in work are where we nearly failed and pulled it back, or we totally stuffed it up!

There are lots of methodologies out there to help us improve – the most recent of which is the IoIC profession map:

ioic-profession-map-2016

 

When I look at these types of things I see a bucket called ‘Influencing’ but let’s face it – what we mean is ‘how to manage senior stakeholders in order to get our jobs done and deliver the best business outcome’.

If there’s one thing that I wish I’d known, it is that this would be the most difficult thing I’d have to learn how to do and put the most effort into.

Learning, practising and deploying other technical skills inherent to being a great IC practitioner are child’s play, compared to the hours I’ve put into learning how to influence at the top.

If you want to progress, sooner or later you will have to deal with people who are MD level or above – those who operate at CEO level.

It can be absolutely terrifying the first time you get into a meeting and try to present your thoughts and plans, particularly if like me, you’ve approached it in a less than optimum way!

Here are some things I’ve done at various points in my career:

  • Failed to socialise my ideas with key stakeholders ahead of a board meeting so that I have allies who can back me up
  • Been defensive and too belligerent in attempting to explain what happened when something’s gone wrong
  • Not been self-aware enough to see how others experience my personal brand
  • Sprung actions on senior people in a meeting, when they weren’t bought into the approach
  • Allowed people to put me down in a meeting without calling them out on their negative behaviour
  • Made incorrect assumptions about sign-off, circumstances and resourcing.

Help is at hand – it is possible to learn how to deal with decision makers and influencers in your organisation.

Here are some tips:

Learn how to contract
The art of contracting was a mystery to me until I was lucky enough to go on an amazing internal course back in 2009. Ask HR for a course either internally or externally – I still have all the materials from the first one I attended and use the materials if I find myself with a tricky stakeholder. Flawless Consulting by Peter Block is also a great place to start for background reading.

Get a mentor
Once you understand the basics of contracting, you’re going to need to practise. It really helps at this point to have a safe environment to discuss how you’re doing. Get yourself onto a mentoring programme – if your company doesn’t have one, then have a look around and approach someone.

Ideally not in the Comms team – pick a different function, and not a stakeholder you work with directly. Most people will be chuffed and flattered to be asked – all you need is 1-2 hours a month to meet up for a chat.

Learn to apologise
‘Sorry’ seems to be a word that a lot of people think is unacceptable to say in business. When something goes wrong, I used to try to explain in a forensic level of detail what happened and how unfair everyone around me was. All that does is put people’s backs up – be humble, admit something has gone wrong, put it right and move on.

Own your actions – it will be appreciated.

Don’t be afraid
As you get more experienced you’ll realise that even the most senior people are paddling frantically underneath the surface of the water, just trying to get through. They don’t magically know everything, they’re still learning too, and they don’t always get it right.

Hold your head high, practise and prepare properly for all your senior stakeholder meetings, and keep your ears and eyes open. Learn to read people and watch for their reactions about how they’re responding to your plans and ideas.

And finally – just keep going…there’s no such thing as a perfect IC practitioner, but the more you do it, the better you’ll be…

Post author: Lou Robinson.

Thank you Lou, so much of what you’ve written resonates with me. What do you think? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

One of my favourite discussions at my Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass for senior-level communicators focuses on what it means to be a trusted advisor.

All Things IC MasterclassesWe examine the skills and qualities you need to operate at a senior level within an organisation.

Each time I’ve hosted that discussion I’ve left with my brain buzzing at the examples people share.

There are still some places left on the upcoming Masterclasses.

Choose from:
  • Internal Communication: 24 January 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT – one place left
  • Writing Skills Masterclass22 February 2017 with Helen Deverell, £399 +VAT
  • Strategic Internal Communication: (for senior-level practitioners), 23 March 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT
  • Internal Communication27 April 2017, led by Rachel Miller, £499 +VAT.

If you work for a nonprofit organisation, use the discount code NFP20 at checkout for 20 per cent off.

What is it like to attend a Masterclass? Read Advita Patel’s blog to find out.

I hope you have a good week,

Rachel

First published on the All Things IC blog 21 December 2016.