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The truth about internal communicators

How would you describe the way you work as an internal communicator? Do you strive or do you thrive?

Today I’m going to share the truth about internal communication and the realities of working as an IC pro.

In yesterday’s #QuestionOfComms article by Chloe Jeffs, I asked her what the future of internal comms is. She said: “To thrive! I believe Internal Communication will move to support a more global mindset and will be vital in helping to create new cultures fit for the future in an increasingly volatile world. The quality of leaders and their ability to communicate to their global workforces will be a huge differentiator for organisations and IC professionals have a huge role to play in this transformation.”

I love that! But it got me thinking – how far off thriving are we? This blog post has been in my head for a while and today feels like the right time to publish it.

Here are some truths I observe frequently through my work as a Consultant and Comms Coach:

  • The role of an internal communicator is incredibly visible. This can lead to increased anxiety.
  • No one has everything working perfectly.
  • Ineffective line manager communication is one of the biggest barriers to IC success.
  • Lack of data and measurement is causing IC pros to rely on instinct rather than insight.
  • Culture stifles creativity and innovation.
  • Comms teams are stressed, stretched and striving.
  • Poor internal relationships lead to wasted time, money and effort.
  • Internal communicators feel isolated in their roles.
  • Technology is baffling IC pros. This is often due to the lack of a relationship with IT teams.
  • Internal communicators genuinely care about their companies and want to do the right thing.
  • Career paths for communicators are confusing and often limited.
  • Remote workers are not that hard to reach. How? You need a forensic understanding of your culture to inform the right solutions.
  • Internal communicators need to coach their leaders to be better communicators.
  • The only way is ethics and IC pros are masters at being that conscience.
  • Employee voice is often a whisper, but IC pros are keen to amplify it.
  • Internal communicators are generous with their knowledge and keen to help others learn.
  • The stronger your personal brand is as an individual and team, the more effective you can be.
  • Change Comms roles and efforts are woven into IC, often halting productivity and causing rifts.
  • Lack of role clarity is hindering the efforts of practitioners and their teams.
  • No one has everything working perfectly. – This is so important that I’ve included it twice.

Do any of those ring true for you? I could double that list! What would you add? Do let me know, you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

I’ve been providing comms coaching to clients 1-2-1 and with their teams, and have trained 450 internal communicators via my All Things IC monthly and bespoke Masterclasses over the past few years. I hear the realities of working as an IC pro daily and experience the joys, challenges, frustrations and pain.

My role exists to help internal communicators to succeed, increase their knowledge and boost their confidence. I find the truths above repeated often.

Let’s examine three of them…

1) The role of an internal communicator is incredibly visible. This can lead to increased anxiety.

Being ‘aways-on’ and visible puts enormous pressure on IC pros. Everything we do is scrutinised and debated, particularly when working in-house. From the wording in campaigns, to a choice of photograph, everything is up for discussion.

That’s not always a bad thing, but for many practitioners it’s a pressure that leads to a negative impact, particularly on their mental health. The pressure for everything to be perfect first time, to minimise getting locked into a tactical cycle of sign-offs, is immense.

In my 1-2-1 coaching sessions I create a safe space where you can let your guard down. I’m not judgemental, but work alongside you. I offer VIP sessions and mentoring, 90-day plans and phone calls. The reality is some in-house professionals pay me out of their own salaries to be that trusted adviser during their lunch break e.g. during a 60-minute phone call, as they can’t be seen to ask for help where they work.

It’s an incredible privilege to be invited to listen and I take those confidential conversations seriously. My clients regularly cry, which usually sets me off! That’s totally ok, it means you’re human. Hearing practitioners striving, rather than thriving, makes me determined to help them where I can, which taps into my personal values.

I’ve witnessed and heard the raw emotions first-hand where internal communicators are so stressed, anxious and exhausted there is nothing left to do but make the most of that confidential opportunity and let it all out. Tears are caused by many factors, from difficult stakeholders to ineffective teams, overwhelming workload to pressure from senior leaders or financial constraints, as well as the tactical elements highlighted above.

Anxiety leads to communicators being off sick, then worrying while signed off by a Doctor that they are letting their team/organisation down. Which leads to further anxiety. It’s a cycle of chaos and one we need to stop.

I’ve blogged a lot about mental health as it’s a subject which is incredibly important to me, both as someone who experiences mental health issues, and as a trusted adviser to my clients.

Further reading: How to stay mentally healthy if you work in Comms.
Further reading: How to communicate World Mental Health Day.
Further reading: Living with social anxiety.

What can we do?

It’s ok to not be ok. It’s also ok to ask for help. If you are stuck on something tactical and can’t be seen to ask for help, you’re ideally placed to contact The IC Crowd. I set the crowd up back in 2012 with my friends Dana Leeson and Jenni Field.

You can Tweet us @TheICCrowd and we’ll ask a question on your behalf. Using the collective global wisdom of IC pros, we can help solve your problems. You can even DM us privately if you can’t be seen to ask the question you need an answer to. We hosted our third #TheBigYak unconference for communicators in June 2018 (pictured) and heard the reality of life for IC pros first-hand.

Further reading: What IC professionals are talking about.

Being visible

Here is the truth – yes our roles are visible. Regular readers of my blog will know my stance on the role of IC pros – we’ve shifted from content creators to curators and our bylines and egos are not important. I first wrote that sentence six years ago and it’s truer today than ever before.

In truth, they never were important, but in an age when all employees have the ability to communicate and reach each other in ways we couldn’t have dreamt of, our role as trusted advisers comes into its own.

As an ex-Journalist, getting my head around the fact it wasn’t about my byline (the “by John Smith” line in an article), took some getting used to. But now I champion the use of co-created communication inside organisations and actively look for opportunities to ensure bylines come from frontline and senior leaders alike, not just the Comms team.

Further reading: How to be a trusted adviser
Further reading: The rise of Wonky Comms.

2) The stronger your personal brand is as an individual and team, the more effective you can be.

I started writing about personal brand at the start of 2017 and not a week has gone by without it being raised in conversation, either by me or a client.

Let’s bust the jargon for a moment. Your personal brand is… your promise and reputation as a professional. Or as Amazon chief Jeff Bezos says: “It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

I’ve created a personal branding checklist which you’re welcome to access for free. I use it regularly with my Masterclass attendees and clients. Why? The more you understand your personal brand the more effective you can be.

Further reading: A beginner’s guide to personal branding
Further reading: Four ways to build your personal brand
Further reading: How to communicate your personal brand.

This really comes into its own within an IC team. You need to have clarity both as individual and collectively of who you are and what you’re known for. Sometimes I create Communication Principles with the teams I work with. Imagine it as the writing on your section of the intranet – your team page or virtual shop window. What would it say? Who are you and what are you known for?

What’s the impact of thinking it through and creating principles? Consistency. This means regardless of who your stakeholders speak to in your team, they get the same experience and explanation of what the purpose of internal comms is and how you can help them.

Being visible as an enabler and champion of effective communication can be incredibly powerful. If you have the trust of your stakeholders and employees, you can use that visibility to help the organisation.

Lack of clarity leads to lack of consistency in your team and frankly, a lot of wasted effort in having to repeat the same information.

The final truth I want to examine here is..

3) Internal communicators need to coach their leaders to be better communicators.

Internal communication is too important to be left to one team or department. However, as I shared at #CommsAcad last month, I believe we need to coach our employees and leaders to be better communicators. That’s one of the most valuable ways you can draw on your strengths and enable your roles and skills to flourish.

Internal communicators need to be able to work well with leaders, but it’s a constant struggle for many comms pros. How are you working with yours? Do they think of you as a trusted adviser who can help them improve their comms skills? Or are you striving to make an impact with them?

You can’t be an effective leader without being an effective communicator.

Could you reverse that? Do you think to be an effective communicator you need to be a leader in your organisation yourself?

Our role includes creating spaces for leaders to thrive. For example, creating peer-to-peer coaching groups with their colleagues where they can practice having difficult conversations, before going back into the business and having them for real. Do you do this? How could you do it more?

What are the truths you experience of life as an IC pro? Do you strive or thrive? What could you share with other practitioners to help them learn from you?

I’d love to hear from you. You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Thank you for stopping by

Rachel

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6 November update: Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to comment, share or like this article. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive feedback and I’m glad I finally got these thoughts out of my head and published. Four people approached me at the PRWeek Strategic IC conference today to say they read my article and it resonated. Thank you to everyone who has provided me with their feedback, I’ve read each one and appreciate your thoughts.

Here’s what you’ve been saying…

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Post author: Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 5 November 2018.

 

Comments

  1. Andrew Molyneux says:

    I’m sure I won’t be the only one thinking this is a fantastic blog – and one that as an in-house communicator who reached the point where I needed a break, can very much relate to. The points you made about everything we do being scrutinised and debated, everything being up for discussion and the pressure for everything to be perfect first time, I would definitely agree with. IC pros can often be a victim of their own commitment, standards and work ethic (very similar to another of your points!) with higher demands and expectations on a constant basis.

    Another comment I strongly agree with is ‘the stronger your personal brand is as an individual and team, the more effective you can be’. As an in-house IC person in the same organisation for eight years, I was proud of the strong relationships and connections I developed, which helped massively when it came to supporting them and completing the work I was required to do. My role is different at the moment – with less internal comms than previously – and it is building and maintaining relationships that I miss most. For me, internal communication is about people, not just products and processes.

    One point I would challenge SLIGHTLY is that ‘technology is baffling IC pros’. Based on everything I have seen and read, I would say IC pros are among those most willing to learn, adapt and definitely try new technology. The blockers can be IT systems/ infrastructure and colleagues themselves. By that I mean colleagues who fear and resist IT changes, don’t trust it and feel it’s not a productive use of their time.

  2. Hi Andrew, thank you very much for your comment. I take your challenge and I can see where you’re coming from. I agree IC pros are among those most willing to learn, adapt and try new technology. I love your comment that IC is about people, not just products and processes and couldn’t agree more, Rachel

  3. Daryl says:

    I enjoyed reading this, Rachel. Thank you

  4. […] her recent blog post, The Truth About Internal Communication, Comms Consultant and Coach, Rachel Miller, identified ineffective line manager communication as […]

  5. […] You recently wrote a blog on “The truth about internal communicators,” where you mention that lack of data and measurement is causing IC pros to rely on instinct […]

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