A candid conversation with Emily Hecker

Welcome to Emily Hecker, Senior Manager, Internal Communication at ISS A/S,  a global workplace experience and facility management company in the USA who shares with us her internal comms story and career tips.

Each candid conversation features career highlights, insights and advice from communication professionals to help the wider internal comms community. If you’d like to feature in a future Candid Conversation feature, complete our submission form, and one of the All Things IC team will contact you. It doesn’t matter how long you have worked in internal comms, or where you are in the world, we’d love to hear from you.

Over to Emily for her Candid Conversation.

Headshot photo of Emily Hecker with the text A Candid Conversation with Emily Hecker

How did you discover internal communication as a profession?
Internal communication was never a consideration when I was deciding on a career path at age 18. I loved writing and interviewing people about their experiences, so journalism was a natural fit for me. After completing my undergraduate degree and spending two years working in publishing, I was offered a copywriter position as part of a financial services company’s Marketing Communications team. It was there that I discovered I could apply my communication education and writing expertise to a new world — that of corporate communications. In that position and subsequent ones, I gained further exposure to the world of internal communication, becoming enamoured with its ability to inspire, engage, and inform.

What do you love most about working in the internal comms profession?
As internal communication professionals, we’re in a unique position to influence and impact an employee’s experience with an organization. Research continues to reinforce communication’s role in employees’ perceptions of an organization—and their decision to stay or go.

By using our expertise effectively, we play a critical role in motivating, empowering, and retaining top talent.

To me, that’s incredibly exciting.

Do you have a memorable moment to share about when an IC project didn’t quite go to plan?
When I once proposed to a former employer the idea of doing a featured employee story in each issue of our monthly employee magazine, I was met with the response, “This isn’t ‘People’ magazine.” At the time, I felt confused and disappointed. There’s a reason ‘People’ has one of the largest audiences in the U.S.—and it goes much deeper than celebrity gossip. As humans, we possess an innate fascination with stories about other people. Whether we realize it or not, these narratives have a profound impact on our lives, fuelling our curiosity, empathy, and sense of connection. The hidden gem that makes ‘People’ so successful is the authentic stories of ordinary individuals. Despite my best efforts to pitch this to my former employer, they weren’t interested. They also weren’t measuring the effectiveness of their monthly employee magazine, but that’s another story.

What’s been a highlight of your internal comms career so far?
I got my first job leading internal communication at age 26 but it wasn’t the job I thought that I was taking. Like many IC professionals, I sort of stumbled into it. The job description included some line items about IC but said nothing about this role being dedicated to it. It was billed to me as a blend of communication responsibilities. Like most companies with fledging communication teams though, they didn’t have a clear idea of where the team needed to go.

As I dug into the communications landscape at my new company, I realized what a mess their internal communication function was. They had a weekly newsletter, an intranet, a shared email inbox—and that was about it. Success in a nutshell was, “We sent an email, therefore, we communicated.” I may not have been an authority on internal communication at that point, but I knew there was a better way of doing things. So, I jumped in.

Within three years, I took the company’s perception of internal communication from a function that copied, pasted, and sent content others wrote to a trusted strategic partner with senior leadership advocates. That period in my career was one of exponential self-growth and discovery. I put all my communication skills to the test and self-taught a lot of what I needed to know. I’ll always be proud of those results.

What do you feel has been the biggest change to our profession you’ve seen or experienced in your career?
While the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the darkest periods in recent history, it brought internal communication out of the shadows. The extended period of crisis communication transformed what was once an outsider at many organizations into a valued business function. I was less than ten months into leading internal communication for a convenience store retailer when the pandemic hit.

The staff in our store support center (a.k.a., corporate) went from fully in-person to fully remote in a matter of weeks. While we logged on from home, our frontline store teams needed to know what we were doing to keep them and our customers safe, and they needed it fast. Like other internal communication professionals, I was suddenly given a new spotlight and given a seat at tables that would normally have required me to elbow my way in. I made the most of that opportunity to elevate internal communication.

How would you define internal communication to someone who didn’t know about it?
Internal communication is the vital flow of information, messages, and ideas within an organization, encompassing communication from top management to employees, between employees at all levels, and across departments. It goes beyond employee communication, which focuses on information exchange between employers and employees.

In ensuring effective internal communication, every individual in the organization plays a crucial role, but specialized professionals with expertise in this field are instrumental in optimizing its impact.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting out in internal comms?
While internal communication is a noble profession with the potential for great impact, not every organization understands that, at least not right away. At some organizations, internal communication is considered a necessary evil. At others, it’s a valued strategic partner. You need to understand where an organization is on its internal communication journey before taking a job there. As you’re interviewing, ask questions like, “What value does your organization place on internal communication?” and “What problems is your organization trying to solve with this internal communication role?” Those responses will tell you whether you’re stepping into a role with an established reputation as a strategic partner, as an order taker, or somewhere in between. Come in with your eyes wide open.

What are your top tips when it comes to continued professional development to stay up to date on everything internal comms related?
First, internal communication professionals should adopt the mindset that complacency is never the best option. It’s so important, particularly if you’re a team of one, to look outside of your organization to see what others are doing to elevate their internal communication. Listen to podcasts, read blogs, attend conferences, join professional networks with the intention of exposing yourself to fresh perspectives. Even asking your colleagues about what they’ve seen as effective internal communication practices at previous employers can spark some new ideas.

The world of internal communication is changing rapidly with the advent of time-saving AI and other innovations. While not every idea and technology will be a fit for your organization, knowing and understanding what’s out there means you’re better positioned to move beyond the status quo.

If you could go back in time and speak to yourself when you started your IC career, what advice would you give?
Find your internal communication network sooner rather than later. There’s a whole world of professionals in your field, even if they’re not at your organization. Go out and start connecting.

Thank you Emily for your Candid Conversation.

You can connect with Emily on LinkedIn or via her website.

If you’d like to share your internal comms stories and experiences for our Candid Conversations series, complete our submission form, and one of the team will be in touch.

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