I spoke to some communications experts about how they would prepare for and spend their first 90 days in a new communications role.
I was recently offered an internal communications role at a large company based not far from me. This was a brand new role that the company had created and brought a lot of opportunity with it, which excited me. So making the leap from my six year long tenure at my current employer to somewhere new raised some questions: “how should I spent my first 90 days in the role?” I had my own ideas of what I would do and how I would spend my time, but it got me wondering how other’s have spent their time when in this position? I spoke to some fellow communications professionals who shared their advice, best practice tips and experience with me.
Do your homework
So you have been offered the role and you are due to start your new challenge in a few weeks’ time! Where do you begin with preparing for your first 90 days? Allison Cary, Internal Communications Team Leader at Voyage Care states it should begin as soon as you’ve accepted the role:
“Doing your homework prior to starting cannot be underestimated in terms of being able to hit the ground running. The more familiar you can be with their brand, the better – and the more effective you can be in identifying pain points and early priorities in such a new and exciting role”.
I couldn’t agree more with this. You do your research and homework on the company before your interview, so why should that stop there? Look at their website(s) – what messages are they pushing out? What news stories and blog posts are there? Who are their clients/who is their audience? Check their social media too, especially their Glassdoor. What are their employees and alumni talking about? Is the company responding to reviews, and if so what are they saying? This is a great opportunity to get some early insight into their internal challenges and culture.
Starting a new job can be a daunting experience, especially when you are heading up the function. Take the opportunity to think about your strengths, what you bring to the role and what good looks like in your opinion. This was some key advice given by Rossaleen Kelly, Internal Communications Manager at Scottish Environment Protection Agency:
“Before you start, think about what success looks like for you in the role and discuss that early on with your key stakeholders”.
Valuable advice and in fact I very recently read a fab article by Leah Bowden on how to prepare for your first 90 days, which included not only visualising what success looks like in the role and the good things that you personally want to achieve, but also if you were to head up communications in your current role, what things would you improve on and what would you do differently? Flipping the question in this way can help to focus the mind and dig out some improvements which may lead to success, you otherwise may not have thought of.
Where is the business going?
You’ve started! Hurrah! Now what? Emma Short, Head of Marketing Communications at a Chartered Surveyors says it’s now time to hit the ground running – get out there and get fact finding:
“Familiarise yourself with the purpose, vision, values and strategic ambitions of the business. Find out how and when they were imbued and what employees awareness is of the business strategy“.
Understanding the business vision, strategy and values is fundamental to the role of an internal communicator, however what I particularly liked in Emma’s point is understanding how they were launched and how do employees feel about them? This should raise any potential red flags early on and identify some early priority focus areas.
Related to this, I also received some valuable advice from Liz Fenlon, Senior Engagement & Communications Manager at RAC:
“Ensure and demonstrate that your strategy is aligned to their business goals and people strategy”
What is important to note here is the mention of people strategy. All too often, the focus is on the overall business strategy and goals, but what is the organisation’s strategy and priority when it comes to its people? How are they looking to attract, retain and engage employees? Is the business growing, or is a big change programme on the horizon that will impact employees that you need to be involved in?
Identify your stakeholders
It is not just important that you know who your stakeholders are, but getting them on your side and supporting your communications mission is vital for your success. Laura Jackson, Colleague Communications Business Partner for M&S recommends:
“Create a stakeholder map as you meet people and use this to help you work out who is best to inform and involve when you’re trying to get new projects and initiatives over the line. It’s always great to sponsors behind you at a senior level”.
I love this suggestion – identifying your stakeholders is fundamental, but mapping those individuals and plotting them as to how to engage with them is a great way to take your stakeholder planning to another level. Who do you need to inform and involve? Who is accountable? Who are your allies and will become your communications sponsors? Ask them specifically how they currently view internal communications in the business. Do they see the value it brings? What has worked well before? What does success look like to them? These questions will help you start to plot your stakeholder map.
Dee Ann Adams also tweeted about the importance of knowing your stakeholders:
Look for existing data
The chances are you will likely want to conduct an internal communications audit during your early weeks with the business. Before you start that (and to help give you a steer on what your audit should focus on and the kinds of questions you want to ask) you should look into what existing data you can get your hands on internally. Andrea Heslop, Digital Engagement Manager for DWP Digital recommends:
“See what colleague insight they have already (if any) and combine that with a SWOT analysis on what they currently have and do”.
Much like doing your homework before you join the business, reviewing existing data that already exists and creating a SWOT analysis will highlight red flags and opportunity areas for you to focus on.
I also spoke to Colin Hitchin, People Change Communication & Engagement Lead for Legal & General, who suggested you shouldn’t just stop at employee data, but review any existing data on your internal channels also:
I love the suggestion of reviewing channels and previous internal communications also. Your first 90 days is all about building a picture of how the organisation works and what is going well, but most importantly, where can you make a difference and suggest improvements?
Whilst keeping your distance from day-to-day tasks (where possible) is important initially so you don’t get dragged into odd jobs and “the way things are done”, it is also important to define and demonstrate some quick wins where possible, so you can feel and show the difference you have made within the first few weeks. Andrew Hesselden, a Communications Freelancer, and Kevin Ferneyhough, Corporate Communications Lead at Well Pharmacy both state the value in demonstrating quick wins early on into the role.
“Audit your channels and simplify everything. Reduce words, introduce visual design and reduce the effort required to communicate in the organisation” – Andrew
I think Kevin’s point is especially important. As already mentioned within this post, getting key stakeholders on-side is invaluable and helping a senior leader early on, may well pay in big favours later down the line.
One of the most important pieces of feedback I received for what to do in your first 90 days has been “be visible!” Make yourself known and meet as many people as you can, as this will only help build your knowledge and understanding of the business and develop those all-important allies quicker.
Speaking with Kevin Ferneyhough and Jennifer Rock, Communications Strategist, they suggested:
“I’d spend some time on the front line (whatever that means for the particular organisation you’re joining), so you get to know your audience and their needs – this will help you to be more authentic with that audience” – Kevin
“Set up lots of employee visits and focus groups! Travel to each company location if possible (especially find the front line employees, such as sales staff, customer service reps, warehouse teams etc…) and ask them where they get their information from, what do they think of the last big CEO message etc… You will gain valuable insights and stories face-to-face compared to a survey” – Jennifer
Linked to this, I had some really useful suggestions from @Advita. I particularly liked the mention of work shadowing other teams, which is a great way to see and understand how they go about their work everyday, what their challenges are and where they find their information about what is happening across the business.
Overall, this is one of my most highly valued recommendations – the power of meeting face-to-face and having conversations cannot be underestimated.
The stakeholder test
You’re coming to the end of your first 90 days… you’ve found out all there is to know about the business, its direction, priorities and your key stakeholders. You’ve started to formulate your findings into a structured strategy…so what next? Isabelle Colle, Corporate Communications Copywriter advises it’s time to present those findings!
“Present your plan after your 100 days to the senior decision makers. If they believe in your role and added value, they’ll support you. Also be prepared for questions about how you’ll measure the effectiveness of IC“.
Prior to presenting to senior decision makers however, some key advice from Colin Hitchin is to test out your approach first:
“Think about your approach and test it with some friendly managers who can flag any concerns early on”.
Some really important advice here. Cherry-pick your stakeholders and run-through your strategy and approach with them first. What are their key-takeaway points? What are the positives they see? What more importantly where do they see potential challenges and room for further development? Investing your time with them and wanting their feedback early on shows how you value their opinion and will start to cement those relationships you need in IC. Then, when you’re happy with your strategy, present it to the senior decision makers of the business.
An idea could also be to create a visual roadmap, which aligns to your strategy, but allows your stakeholders to visually understand your plan and vision.
Break the habit
This is some great advice I read recently on Kate Jones’ blog, which I thought I would share, which is: don’t do things because that’s how you’ve always done them. I think we can all be guilty on reverting back to what we know and what we have done before. “When I worked at Company X, we did our communications in this way”. Every organisation is different and what worked at your previous company, may not work in your new company. Part of doing all your internal research is so you can then lean on your previous experiences and adapt them so they suit your new organisation.
Lastly, this is a piece of advice I received, which really resonated me. It has been widely documented in recent times that those of us who work in communications are suffering with mental health. The workload pressure and anxiety individuals are reportedly experiencing is on the rise, and whilst we look to our employers for a solution – what can we be doing differently that can help? Joanna Hall, an experienced consultant and coach told me:
“1. I would advise you to be mindful of feeling overwhelmed with everything new that is on your plate. Define some quick wins so you can feel (and show) you have made a difference within the first few weeks.
2. Understand and define your scope, so you don’t end up getting pulled in every direction and you can better manage expectations (lots of colleagues will likely want your time when you first start)
3. Don’t ever forget your own wellbeing. Meetings in the fresh air, healthy lunch, lots of water and healthy working hours – whatever you need. A new job is an opportunity to establish these healthy practices from the outset, so they become good habits and what you are known for. Much harder to change later.”
Joanna’s third point in particularly really resonated with me. I am very guilty of being too eager to please, and I think many of us in communications are of the same mind-set. I often have worked through lunch and worked long hours into the night. It is just as important to think about what you need in order to be effective, and not just what your new employer needs. Establishing good habits early on is great advice, and being mindful of everything that is going on so as to not feel overwhelmed.
Thank you to everyone who contributed and shared thoughts and suggestions with me.
What tips and advice do you have for someone about to embark on their first 90 days at a new organisation? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet me @Mandypops