This is the first in a new series of blog posts on Comms Haus, where we share our experiences and lessons learnt in things going wrong. You can find a quick preamble here as to the inspiration for this blog series.
My first interviewee in this series is Tash Peddell, People Communications Manager at Checkatrade. In this role Tash is responsible for managing and delivering internal communications with a focus on employee engagement, change transformation and workplace culture. She has won awards and challenged herself to new heights, but she has also experienced a few challenges along the way. In this interview she shares her successes in IC, but also where things have gone wrong and her key lessons learnt.
What is one of the things you find hardest about working in IC?
Getting organisations to value Internal Communications in the same way that they do External Communications. I’m very lucky in that the organisation I now work in have an extremely engaged Leadership Team who treat internal and external comms with equal importance. Having been on both sides of the fence (I worked in PR for many years) I understand how tricky this can be for senior leaders to grasp, but if you don’t nail your internal comms, you can start disengaging your employees which all has a knock-on effect on your external employer brand.
“Without my failures I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come and where I am now”
What has been your biggest failure in IC and what did you learn from it?
Presumption. I once presumed that everyone I worked with understood the term ‘testimonial’ (because why wouldn’t they?!) as in their story would be shared with the wider business. It turns out that they were happy to share their story with me, and just some (not all) of their colleagues. I consider it to be my biggest failure because if I hadn’t presumed, the outcome would have been very different.
I’ve since learnt a lot from this failure and now know that it’s better to be overly explicit and explanatory instead of presuming that everyone is on the same page as you.
How have your failures affected you and how have you overcome them?
Ultimately, I’ve learned a lot from them. Without my failures I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I’m pretty proud of how far I’ve come and where I am now.
What is currently one of your biggest challenges in IC?
As our business is currently on a big growth path, one of my biggest IC challenges is bringing people on the journey with us. There’s a lot of work we need to do around employee engagement, but I’m ready for the challenge and looking forward to the ride!
“Don’t take it personally. There will always be a Director who doesn’t want to do things your way. It’s no reflection on you or your comms capabilities”
What are some of the things you think IC pros are struggling with the most?
I think a lot of IC pros struggle with how isolating the role can be. In a lot of organisations (mine included) you have the sole responsibility for Internal Comms, and some can find that really daunting. Luckily – I work well both on my own and within a team and love the independence! I report into the HR function in my current company and I’m a big believer that this is the right place for IC – with a dotted line into Marketing of course.
The battle to bring IC front and centre of an organisation can be a tricky one too, as internal comms can be an afterthought as opposed to bringing them in at the start of a project or decision-making process.
What are your top lessons learnt working in IC?
- If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. It sounds cliché, but it’s so true. In IC you must be innovative. With limited budget and not a lot of time – you must test and learn new things and try everything once, if you can.
- The only constant is change. And you must embrace it. You can’t work in IC and expect things to be the same day in day out. People change, organisations change, the market changes – and you must stay ahead of it and roll with it.
- Win or learn. There is no such thing as losing. My current company culture is big around the whole ‘test and learn’ mentality. In the end, at least you tried and if it doesn’t work, try something else.
- Don’t take it personally. There will always be a Director who doesn’t want to do things your way. It’s no reflection on you or your comms capabilities. Take it on the chin and try again.
- Trust and integrity are everything. If you tackle everything you undertake with gusto and gumption and gain the trust of your senior leaders, you’ll be enabled to do your job and empowered to deliver what you need to do.
- The devil is in the detail. If there’s one thing that will try and trip you up it’s that smallest, most minor mention of that update or announcement, and it will come back to haunt you. So, check, check, and check again.
- Give and take and you’ll get your break. You get out what you put in. I’m not saying you must work 24/7 to the point of burnout – but you’ll need to put in some extra effort in order to get ahead (if you want to).
- External can lead to internal opportunities. I always thought you had to start your career in IC from the off and this is not the case. In fact, I spent pretty much the first 10 years of my career working in external comms with just a sprinkling of IC – and now I’m a fully-fledged internal comms professional!
What advice would you give your younger self starting out in IC?
- Get down and dirty with data. Numbers are my nemesis and they always have been. I struggled to scrape a C grade at GCSE Maths (everything else was in the A*-B range) and it wasn’t through want of trying – I’m just not numerically wired which leads me to avoiding data. But data is the jewel in internal communicators crowns – because it transforms your campaigns into being bigger, better and more targeted. I’m not sure how, but I’d love to be able to rewire my brain so that when I look at a spreadsheet full of percentages it doesn’t look like hieroglyphics. For now, at least I work with colleagues who help me number crunch.
- Believe in yourself – you are more than capable. The IC roller-coaster has led me down some dark days where I’ve felt like I’m failing, but if I could tell my younger self something that would stick, it would be to believe in myself. I know now that I am more than capable of doing what I need to do and sometimes you just need to remind yourself of that.
- Go with your gut. It’s usually right! One of our Senior Leaders gave me this advice not long ago and it’s since stuck. When I was younger, I would sometimes shy away from doing the right thing for fear of getting it wrong, but now I know to trust in what I believe.
What would you look back on as your greatest IC success and why?
It would have to be a tie between winning an award for Outstanding Achievement at our quarterly business brief and delivering our first ever employee festival in the summer of 2019. Winning the award for being a ‘wizard with words’ was totally unexpected which made it more meaningful – and I’m still on Cloud 9 about it to this day! Bringing together 300 of our staff on the hottest day of the year for a festival was also a magical moment of employee engagement in action and one I’ll never forget.
How do you look after your own mental well-being?
Reading! I find books the biggest and best form of escapism. At the start of 2019 I set myself a target to read 32 books and by the end of the year I’d read 78, so you could say I smashed it! This year I plan to read 100 books and I’m already 16 down! I listen to audiobooks, and I read hardbacks, paperbacks and Kindle books – I like to mix things up. I’m a fan of both fiction and non-fiction and I particularly love period drama novels and coming-of-age stories. I also love a good breezy beach walk to blow away the cobwebs on weekends – with a coffee shop at the end of course for fuel! I treat it like a mental reset every Sunday before a brand-new week begins.
Top resources you use to support your IC development?
Podcasts, self-development books and a good conference are my go-to’s to get the latest insights into the world of IC and my professional development. I’m also a massive fan of mentoring – and would recommend finding an inspiring leader in your organisation who is out of your comfort zone professionally. For me, I once had the Finance Director as my mentor and because numbers are not my forte (hey I work with words!) he showed me a whole new world of thinking and processes in business – some of which I’ve applied to my projects today.
Where have you seen the most self-growth and why/how?
100% in my current role. This is because I now report into an inspirational HR Director who believes in me and my skills and abilities and allows me to be the best I can be. This kind of working environment allows me to flourish, work creatively and ultimately just be me. I have worked in organisations where my confidence was crushed beyond belief, and it took a long time for me to build that back up. I’m now in a good place professionally where self-growth is constantly encouraged – and I plan to keep it that way!
Thank you to @taleswithtash for taking the time to get involved with this series. This blog series is so important to me because collectively we need to highlight that we all have bad days (some days are worse than others), but that is all part of the learning process and I hope from this series that we can all find something we relate to, and equally can learn from and take on-board.