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HOW CAN INTERNAL COMMS PRACTITIONERS PROGRESS TO IC DIRECTOR LEVEL?

Many internal comms managers are striving to reach the next stage in their careers – a more senior position. But when you already feel you have the skills and insight to work at director level, how do you actually show your boss or demonstrate to a potential new employer that you have what it takes to go further? We asked the experts for their words of advice.

30th March 2022

It’s commonly said that many people “fall into” internal comms – but that once they’re in, they’re hooked: a long career in engaging employees and delivering core messages in creative ways beckons, as you gain enough experience to eventually manage a team.

For many people, promotion stalls here. The leap from an internal communication manager to an IC director or the head of a broader comms department can seem vast. There are obviously fewer internal comms opportunities at the most senior level, so your CV and interview has to demonstrate you have something extra: knowledge, experience, ideas, passion…

We asked a panel of IC experts for their advice for IC managers on standing out when it comes to taking their careers to the next level.

 

LESLEY ALLMAN, IC, employee engagement and change expert, and author of Better Internal Communication

Your career is in your hands. No one cares about it as much as you do. It’s up to you to decide what you want from your working life and to make it happen.

Having a proactive plan and then delivering it is key (I’ve suggested a framework in my book, Better Internal Communication). Networking, relationship-building, influencing and even formal training and development are all two-way interactions, providing you with opportunities to learn from others and also to share your learnings. With all of these, I’ve always found that the more you give, the more you get back. So be generous with your time, really listen to what others have to say and share your expertise when you can.

Every day is an opportunity for learning. Some say you should only stay in a role as long as it takes you to learn it, so if you’re getting a bit too comfortable and not learning anything new on a regular basis, it’s time to move on. Remember, if you are bold you might fail, but if you are not bold, you almost certainly will fail.
 

JAMES WOODGATE, internal communications director, Kerry

My career progress to director level has been a combination of practical experience (I started off as an IC assistant after jobs working as a bar man and in customer service); being open-minded (sideways is often a way to move forward); learning from colleagues in other corporate affairs functions – like media relations, sponsorship or public affairs; and finding something I enjoy in every role – however tough it feels in that moment.  

 I’ve also done my best to try and think, is this move good for my family as much as my career? I’ve been lucky enough to have the family support to grab opportunities to work in Ireland (multiple times), the UK and the US when chances came up – but I know that’s not for everyone.

In summary, for me, it’s been a mix of luck and judgment, but I always aim to stay open-minded and keep learning. I also try and follow this principle: you get out what you put in – be kind to others and you’ll get support and opportunities back as you progress.
 

JANET HITCHEN, director, Janco

You need business acumen. Understand the business, and what the opportunities, challenges and priorities are. Make the business’s priorities your priorities. If internal communication isn’t aligned with the business, it’s just noise. And it definitely isn’t strategic.

Be a true business partner. Get comfortable having honest conversations and not simply saying “Yes” to everything. Learn to analyse, learn to negotiate, learn how to give and receive feedback gracefully. If you want a seat at the table, learn the skills you need to be effective at that table and not become the note-taker.

Understand the problem before jumping to the solution. Know how and when to challenge. Make proposals based on solid business smarts, knowing why they will support the business. Have an answer for “I want a video/podcast/animation”. Use this as an opportunity to be open to a broader more fruitful conversation and help you avoid the reputation of the team that says “No”.

Be the expert in your field – invest in your professional development; it will repay you exponentially. Stop being an execution function – you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice.
 

PAUL BENNUN, vice-president, employee experience, DAZN Group

You have to understand the commerciality of your business – go beyond the structure, people and culture and really dig into how it operates, how it generates revenue, what the operating model is and where the longer-term plan is going (and why). Understanding this means you’ll be able to frame your decisions in the context of truly driving the business forward.

You need to show that internal communication delivers for the immediate business agenda. Understand what’s going on and where IC can solve immediate, visible problems, especially ones linked to current challenges or business strategy. This is a great way to build your credibility.  

If you do both of the above, then the next one is easy – be known for more than “packaging up a great message”. Internal communication practitioners often get cast as “the people who make it sound good”; make that a very small part of your role.

Have a strategy: three-month, 12-month and beyond. Balance demonstrable short-term wins with longer-term change that carries you towards a longer-term vision.

Stay focused! There will always be 101 things to go after – pick two or three and execute on them!

 

Voice top tips on becoming an IC director

1. Look at job adverts for more senior roles. Consider the requirements you are missing and make a plan to learn those skills or gain the experience you need.

2. Demonstrate the essential nature of internal comms in your company. Consider how you could make a big difference on fewer projects, rather than a small difference in many areas

3. Get on side with leaders and the heads of business functions. Ask them what keeps them awake at night (and establish actions with your IC team to solve these problems) and what they would expect of a comms professional at the highest level.

4. Work with relevant teams – marketing, external comms, HR – to learn their priorities and where IC fits in. An IC director’s role may take in other elements, such as PR, onboarding and employee experience.

5. Talk to other IC directors – either those you know or new contacts on LinkedIn. Find out how they took the next step.

 

 

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