So you want to be an internal communicator?

browningyork Browning York News, General communication, Inspiration

Cartoon people with speech bubblesI love being an internal communicator. Over the years I have attended careers events to talk to university and secondary school students to inspire others to join my profession. They have rarely even heard of the role and are interested to learn about what I do and what they need to do to get into a similar position.

As the ways we communicate socially evolve, so do our expectations of communication at work with our colleagues and managers. This is having an impact on the role of the internal communication professional, as we move from being content creators on behalf of others to curating content others create for themselves and coaching colleagues to develop communication skills themselves. I recently wrote an opinion piece for the Institute of Internal Comms on the way our profession is developing.

One of the things that I tell interested students at careers events is that as a relatively new profession, there aren’t the strict, set entry paths and requirements for internal comms that you find in other areas. But if I was recruiting there are a number of skills, attributes and mind-sets that I would be searching for. These are even more important as we look towards the changes ahead.

So if you want to be an internal communicator, this is what I think you need to do:

1. Display a thick skin and a sense of humour
Internal comms is never the glamour choice. When things go wrong in an organisation, it is often the communication that is blamed, even when it’s a case of shooting the messenger rather than looking closely at the bad decisions that have led to the messages. During my career I have often found myself in if-we-don’t-laugh-we’ll-cry situations. But I believe 100% in the power and value of effective communication, so I keep going back for more.

2. Show a genuine interest in people
To be an effective internal communicator, you have to understand your audience and to do that you have to get out there and listen to people. You need to hear what they are saying about their hopes, dreams, interests and fears. You have to have empathy for what it will be like to receive that communication that says they may have an uncertain future at the organisation – or no future at all. So use your ears, not just your mouth.

3. Write, write and write again
Although we are seeing more and more communication written by just about anybody in an organisation, the ability to produce clear, concise, effective copy is still key for professional communicators. There will still be times when the internal comms team has to produce the content for a comms campaign. And if you’re going to coach and skill-up colleagues to improve their communications, you need to be able to do it yourself first.

4. Use your business knowledge
I believe that the days when communication was seen as a ‘fluffy’ extra are changing. But the pace is slower than it should be and I think that is often because internal communicators have not been able to clearly demonstrate the link between their work and the business strategy and objectives. Communicating well takes time and effort, so if you’re going to put that effort in, it makes sense to do so whilst supporting and contributing to the overall business success. And you can only do that if you understand the strategy, objectives and figures yourself.

5. Develop your measurement skills
Following closely on from the point above is the need to be able to measure your impact. This is the Holy Grail for many internal communicators and we have become good at telling ourselves how difficult this is to do. It might be tricky, but it’s not impossible. And it’s key in demonstrating the value you add.

6. Embrace change
The world is changing all the time and our organisations are no different. Internal communicators are often tasked with communicating change whilst being affected by it themselves. This is much easier to do if you view change as a chance for exciting opportunities.

7. Develop digital skills
Whilst strategic and interpersonal skills are vital in ensuring your success as an internal communicator, the practical skills to deliver appropriate messages to your audience in the right way at the right time are also a key part of your tool-box. There are still many different communication channels available to organisations for reaching out and connecting with their employees and digital channels are the future.

8. Have the confidence to challenge
As an internal communicator, you have to be strong enough to challenge others in your organisation who want you to “send out this email so that we have communicated our project” – if you know an email won’t achieve the desired outcome, you need to say so. Believing in the value of internal communication and the importance of getting it right means that you must recognise your own expertise and share it with others.

9. Believe that variety is the spice of life
People often ask me to describe a typical day as an internal communicator, but in my experience, no two days are the same. One day I might be advising a project manager on the best communications plan to achieve their aims and the next day I find myself reading a long detailed feedback report from the latest conference that must be turned into a concise intranet story. For me, the range of tasks I get involved in is exhilarating and keeps things interesting.

Internal communication is an amazing profession and I would highly recommend it.

Until next time
Sarah