Ten Tips for IC Professionals to Earn a Seat at The Table This Year
— February 22nd, 2022
Have you ever wondered what makes someone stand out as a Communication professional?
Why do some get a seat at the table and others don’t? Sometimes it can just be by fortune of organizational structure or sheer luck, but if you are looking to earn your seat and stay there, here are some ideas for how to go about it.
#1. Be the pulse of the organization.
Have your finger on the pulse of what is happening, what is being said, and how employees are feeling.
Gather data from wherever you can find it and use it to back up your insights. This understanding is just so important to ensure you can craft communication strategies that will resonate, and be confident your messages will land.
#2. Have a deep business understanding.
As a comms professional you must have commercial nous, be highly informed about the company's strategy, direction and priorities, and be able to support efforts to clearly articulate them.
There is no point in creating a word-perfect communication plan that is disconnected from the realities of the business. Use every opportunity to read business plans, talk to stakeholders, and attend their meetings.
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#3. Join the dots.
People are overwhelmed with initiatives and communication about them. Communicators are often in the unique position where they can see across functional lines and how initiatives complement or compete with each other.
If you can make these connections, the business can have a greater impact with less effort, and there will be clearer messaging for the audience to consume. It will also help avoid the disastrous consequences of conflicting messages and initiatives.
#4. Keep your skills current
Communication roles are always evolving, whether we’re in a crisis situation or not. If you’ve been in a communication role for 10 years or more you’ll know that what you do today is quite different from back then, even from five years ago.
These days, we’re expected to do everything from providing leadership coaching and advice through to event management, crisis management, data analysis, change management, and an endless range of digital skills including video editing, UX, social media, chatbots, and more!
Obviously, you can’t be an expert in all of them, but make sure you’re strong in at least 2-3, have a basic understanding of the rest, and don’t stop learning.
#5. Do the little things quickly and well.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got as a newish senior manager building a relationship with a senior executive, was to do the little things quickly and well.
Especially in the beginning. Even if it’s not strictly in your remit, get immediately on to answering that simple question, sharing the research, meeting with the colleague you were referred to.
Don’t be tempted to deprioritize it thinking it’s not that important. Conveying reliability is everything, so when it comes to the big things you are trying to influence you’ve already got credit in the bank.
#6. Keep it simple.
Executives have the bandwidth of gnats. There is no point giving them your detailed and word-perfect communication plan, as nine times out of ten they will not read it.
Of course, have the strategy developed, but when trying to influence senior stakeholders it’s imperative you can deliver your message clearly and succinctly.
Distill your proposal down to a few killer points, knowing you can back it up with more detail if you need to.
#7. Get out of your comfort zone.
As often quoted, "It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survive, it’s the ones that are most adaptable to change".
Covid-19 has given us an accelerated masterclass in adaptability, but we should never get complacent. If you are doing the same thing over and over again you are losing your ability to adapt.
Be resourceful, be creative, show up with a growth mindset, be willing to change your plans. Seek novelty, read widely, try new things.
#8. Be brave, give feedback.
If you are to become a trusted advisor then you need to get comfortable giving feedback, often to people more senior than yourself. All leaders have a different communication style and there is no one right or wrong way of doing it, but your role is to help them be their best.
It’s absolutely possible to do this respectfully and even have a bit of fun with it. You might be surprised how most leaders genuinely want and welcome feedback. If you’re not sure they will be receptive, ask permission first.
#9. Bring a broad perspective.
Remember to look outside your own team, organization, and industry to bring fresh ideas. When you’re super busy it’s easy to get stuck in your own world and not stick your head up to see what else is going on.
Make sure you are investing in your professional development by joining an industry association, reading thought leadership, and making networking a priority. That way, you’ll always have a useful insight to share.
#10. Go easy on yourself.
Check yourself against these tips but give yourself a break too. We all make mistakes – I’ve made a tonne! Put that big stick away and talk to yourself kindly. The main thing is you are learning, and with that, you are moving forward.
Believe in yourself. You’ve got this!