There’s so much talk within the Internal Communications industry about strategic nous. Internal Communications specialists need to be more strategic, they say; they need to be up there with the C-suite, wheeling and dealing and getting Internal Communications’ importance across as best they can.
Of course, to be more strategic, Internal Communications specialists need to know how to talk the language of the top tier. They need to not only understand terms like EBITDA, but how to communicate why that’s important to people who really don’t give two hoots about finance. They need to know how to not just write a tactical plan, but how to write an actual Internal Communications strategy that links back to the overarching strategy of the whole organization, and how to demonstrate how the tactics they choose to action that strategy are effective beyond just “look how many views this blog got on the intranet”.
Because, people, article views are nice to have, but they ain’t going to set the CEO’s world on fire and make him give you more money next year.
Getting the skills to pay the bills
So let’s talk about Internal Communications skills. If one of the big Internal Communications barriers is lack of strategic thinking, then Internal Communications specialists need to upskill in a big way. They need to take responsibility for their own professional development, identify their own skills gaps, and work out how to plug those gaps with courses, education, information and workshops.
And if the company won’t pay and you know this is your career, you might have to consider forking out for them yourself. Upskill, show the boss you mean business, and they may just shell out for the next one.
Advita Patel, current Chair of the CIPR Inside Committee, knew she needed to upskill on her financial knowledge, so she took a course on finance for non-finance managers — she says it was one of the best and most useful courses she’s ever done. She can now sit in a meeting around the board table and speak in the right language.
“As an Internal Communications specialist you have to be three or four steps ahead of the business,” says Advita. “You need to preempt what’s needed. This is why I go on about needing to have business acumen.”
“Our roles have evolved. Writing and traditional skills are still important, but to make an impact you do need to have that business acumen, to understand how the business works and ticks, and what are the drivers for CEOs and MDs. You don’t have to be a financial expert, but you do need to have some knowledge, some understanding of how things like EBITDA and profit and loss work, because when you’re sitting in a meeting that will come up.”
“Business acumen as an Internal Communications specialist will put you leaps and bounds ahead of any other communicator out there, talking the language and adding value.”
How to upskill as an Internal Communications specialist
So how can Internal Communications specialists take responsibility for their own professional growth and overcome the Internal Communications barriers stopping them from being taken more seriously by the top table? It can, of course, help to work with a coach or a mentor to identify gaps, but sometimes it may just be obvious. If you’ve never understood numbers, then a data or a finance course will help. If you get feedback that your articles are difficult to understand, then a basics of writing course could help you. Ask your manager and peers for some ideas and then get looking. Or, take a look at the IoIC’s competency framework for Internal Communications specialists and work your way around the wheel.
There are different ways to skill-up, says Advita.
“The first thing you should do in any business is to understand who the people are,” she says. “Sitting behind the desk sending emails isn’t going to help you when you first start out. Get meetings and coffees and ask questions — who can I speak to to understand X. Start with the annual report, read through, highlight queries and find the people responsible.”
“Go and shadow a finance manager, HR, commercial, marketing. Ask questions. You’ll be surprised — if you show interest in someone’s profession, they will support you. I spent a lot of time with our finance business partner to get insider knowledge.”
If you’re struggling with your business acumen, then bodies like the Open University have lots of free courses you could do in things like corporate finance, strategy frameworks, corporate governance and how to frame a business case. And if you’re new to the industry, Dan Holden set up Horizon Comms to help get you settled.
Then there’s the professional communications industry bodies that can prove essential to career development. Advita says to “find the one that works for you, that you think will add the most value in your life.”
The IoIC, or the Institute of Internal Communication, is the only body totally dedicated to Internal Communications. It holds events and awards, and its professional development for members encompasses qualifications, training, mentoring and CPD (continuing professional development).
The CIPR, or the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, is, as the name suggests, dedicated to PR, but in recognition of the growing importance of Internal Communications they set up the CIPR Inside committee a few years back. They also offer qualifications, including an Internal Communications certificate and diploma, that count towards CPD points.
The PRSA, or the Public Relations Society of America, might have PR in its name, but it’s more of an all-encompassing professional body for the wider communications industry. They aim to make members “smarter, better prepared and more connected”, which sounds like a great thing for professional development. Loads of events and webinars here, too.
The IABC, or the International Association of Business Communicators, is the one truly global communications body — you’ll find chapters all around the world. It aims to connect communications professionals with the people and insights they need to drive results. Besides the usual events and so on, there’s the IABC Academy providing online training that helps you earn credits towards other certifications.
Finally, the FEIEA, or the European Association of Internal Communications, is a grouping of national bodies from European member states, and a good place to start if you’re not sure where to go in your country.
(Note: other professional bodies are available, and it’s best to search and ask around to find what will work for you.)
If you’re serious about upskilling and professional development, it can really be worth becoming a member of one of these bodies: “The cost of a membership is like a coffee a day, but you have to put in what you want to get out,” says Advita. “Did you go online? Did you do the CPD? You need to put yourself out there. You can’t expect someone to take you in hand and tell you what to read — take responsibility for your own professional development.”
So how are you making sure you have the skills to grow as an Internal Communication specialist in an ever-changing industry? How do you make sure you have that business acumen, the tech skills, the writing and public speaking skills, the facilitation and event management skills? The Internal Communications specialist must wear many hats, and it can be hard to keep up. Let us know how you do it over on Twitter using #IC2POINT0 or tagging @HappeoHQ.