Nobody wakes up as 9 year-old and wants to be an Internal Communications Specialist, do they? Kimberley-Marie Sklinar shares her IC story.
When I was 9, precocious me wanted to be an Egyptologist.
I don’t know many 9 year-olds that know what an Egyptologist is, never mind what an internal communicator is, but I used to pore over books about ancient gods and kings, writing endless made-up stories about temples and the River Nile.
That was it – if 9 year-old me wasn’t able to be an Egyptologist, I was going to be a writer or a journalist.
Let’s fast forward. It’s 22 years later, and I’m working in the Supply Chain Accounting department of a Big Pharma organisation in London. I’ve been in Finance for a few years (but I did take a holiday to Egypt). But I missed writing, so I started a hobby music blog and occasionally sent ballsy emails to our Director with some suggestions on how our department could communicate better, which led to me managing the team’s intranet space. I still didn’t know what internal communications was.
Word about my passion for writing and communications got to our Vice President. Chance would have it that a global transformation programme was forming, and said VP’s Internal Communications Business Partner was looking for more support to help with the UK communications. So that was it – I was seconded for a year, without any internal communications experience to heavily support my first transformation programme.
It was a six-wave office move involving a few thousand people. The trickiest bit? They were my previous colleagues…and this change was not welcomed.
I was baffled by it but fascinated by my new role. And I really enjoyed it.
After returning to my role in Finance, then running my music website full-time for a few years, I missed the adrenalin of transformation and the satisfaction of employee engagement, so I’ve been back in internal communications for a few years, and this time I’m here to stay.
I feel that most people I have met who work in internal communications have had a previous life, and the longer I work in the field, the more I realise that my journey has made me a better corporate communicator: I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve been a target audience and a metric. We can absolutely use our previous experience to our benefit.
There’s a lot of guides out there for how to progress your career in internal communications – but here are the things I wish someone had told me when I began my journey.
Get involved in the network
The Internal Communications practice has an amazingly supportive network – there are plenty of people who are willing to share their thoughts and ideas, and even share their campaigns. I’m not the most confident at rocking up to events solo, but I’ve spoken to so many people through networking online that I’m thinking of heading to my first CommsUnplugged this year!
Twitter seems to be busier with regular conversations and hashtags around events. My favourite is #commschat – a conversation that happens every Monday at 8pm. Each week, a different host leads with several questions on that week’s topic. You can join in by responding to the questions, or just follow the hashtag until you feel comfortable.
I’ve compiled lists of my favourite profiles to follow, podcasts and job boards here.
Join a members organisation – and work towards getting accredited
When I first found the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) website, I felt my imposter syndrome kicked in. Was I too inexperienced to join? Bah – the IoIC is for everyone who works in internal communications, and they have a network specifically for people in the first few years of their IC career called FutureNet – there are calls, events, a LinkedIn group and a newsletter. I recently joined the #FutureNet committee, and it’s great to get involved with supporting campaigns, as well as counting some of the future big names of IC as my peers!
It’s a great investment in your career, you get free-for-members webinars, you’re able to work towards accreditation via Continuing Professional Development points, as well as getting discounts on events and courses. Also – you may find that your employer will cover the expenses of your membership because there are benefits for them too.
Find a mentor
Is there someone you admire in internal communications? Do they work in a part of the field where you could benefit their experience? Mentoring is a great way to learn and develop. If you’re an IoIC member, you can sign up for their mentoring scheme, or find your own (like my new mentee did!)
Get outside of the internal comms box
Internal communicators don’t have to stick to IC events – we’re a huge part of employee engagement. I’m a fan of Culturevist, which is all about creating companies that people love to work at. If you’re based in London, there are regular events and a conference, but if not, there’s a mailing list. Same goes for PeopleGeeks, who have a regular thought-provoking newsletter.
Get comfortable with change
Change communications is often seen as a (scary) science specialism in internal communications, but a lot of things in IC are about change, be it big or small. If you’re coming into IC from another field, the empathy you can have for colleagues experiencing change can be really valuable. The Government IC Space website has some great starter guidance for communicating change, and having some knowledge of how large projects work in your back pocket is always useful.
Be kind to yourself
Internal communications can be a stressful field where you’re juggling a lot at once, especially when you’re working on announcements and launches – it’s important to look after yourself. Even going for a walk (not looking at your phone) around the block can help.
If you feel the workload piling up, block some time in your diary for tasks to stop your day becoming an eight-meeting fiasco. I manage my mind by using tools such as Trello to visualise the umpteen things I’m working on at the same time, and Wunderlist as an online to-do list. Both are web-based tools that have apps so you can use them away from your desk.
Reflect on what you do, and learn from it
I have a meeting with myself every afternoon at 4.45 called ‘Reflection’. I open a spreadsheet and fill in three columns: ‘what went well today’, ‘what didn’t go so well today’, and ‘what could I have done better?’ The idea came from my IoIC mentor and I find it really useful to read back over when working on my PDP. It also helps regulate that imposter syndrome when you read your successes, big or small when you’re feeling the pressure.
As you progress your career, every organisation you join will have a different approach to communicating, a different appetite for risk, a different internal language with a bunch of nonsensical acronyms, and another baffling mix of channels to where you have been honing your craft previously – these are all things I have found intimidating.
Sometimes those first few weeks can feel like an uphill struggle but it will all click together soon – I promise.
The music blog is still going, by the way.
Internal Communications Partner at StepChange Debt Charity