Continuing the “first 90 days series”, Barney O’Kelly shares his experience and knowledge of preparing for your first 90 days in a communications role.

With a background stretching across Marketing & Communications, Barney O’Kelly is now the Founder and Managing Director of Communications Consultancy, Hagen Communications. After spending 10 years at BAE in a number of communications roles, Barney made the leap into a new role with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, before setting up Hagen Communications in in 2018. Here’s what Barney has to say on preparing for your first 90 days…

Inevitably you will arrive in your new place of work and be greeted by a stack of things that have been put to one side by others. It’s normal to want to get stuck straight in to demonstrate value (often driven by the underlying fear probation periods create), but I would encourage you to put those to one side as ‘data’ for now. It may seem trite but how you start will define your role; if you jump straight into doing, that is how you will be seen. That’s not to say you can get away with not delivering, but more on that later…

Given your role is internal I think that presents a great opportunity to get under the skin of the business. To do this I would recommend you:

1. Secure regular time with the key leaders of the business. Internal communications is as much their job as it is yours. Spending time with them will allow you to remind them of their role as leaders and also give you a good understanding of their personalities, communications styles and strengths and weaknesses;

2. Understand the meeting schedule that drives the business and get a seat at the right tables (I don’t think this would be overstating your position and I think comms people need to understand the context in which decisions are made, the nuances and the disagreements etc… in order to formulate solid plans)

3. Read the business’ strategy and plans thoroughly. This will enable you to prioritise properly and demonstrate some business acumen. Take a look at the financial performance of the business too. Don’t be afraid to ask what may seem like stupid or obvious questions – your newness gives you a period of time to be constructively clueless!

4. Spend some time with the ‘shop floor’ in whatever form that takes. Part of your role is to bridge the gap between those in charge and those who do the day-to-day work, and the latter is obviously very much your audience. I would propose a series of focus groups (yuck I know!) to gather as broad a range of views as possible.

5. Audit what’s there already. What state are the channels in? Are they effective? What do you need to create to improve things (point 4. will help with some of this).

6. Identify what you’re measuring (if anything). Ultimately the communications function should measure its contribution against the business’ strategic goals; everything else is either a distraction or bonus (but usually the former).

In my view the above will give you a solid basis to create a plan. Within that you can identify some ‘quick wins’ (another yuck!). You will need these to show what you can do. By talking to the business and the leadership you will be able to identify what these are and also frame a longer term plan.

My basic rule of thumb is to get the basics right. Clear messaging, effective channels and a clear schedule of outputs all help, and will put you in a position to try new/ different things and experiment in the future. Too many businesses disregard this because it’s ‘boring’.

Finally, and this may be the most important point, back yourself. Comms isn’t a science, it’s hard to quantify and quality is often very subjective. If you can truly understand the business and apply your experience and knowledge to helping it realise its strategic objectives you are doing the right thing. You will need to defend your decisions at times but you know your job better than anyone else there.

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