|Op-ed: Steve Doswell on professional development in internal comms|
|Friday, 27 July 2012 02:09|
“What do IC practitioners actually need to know ”
Steve Doswell considers professional development for internal comms practitioners
In a recent column I reflected on what a professional internal communicator looks like – moving that on a stage, what does that mean for professional development?
Internal communication (IC) practitioners, just like other professions, need appropriate training to build solid career foundations.
It gives them core skills and indeed confidence to deal with whatever challenges the workplace throws at them and to avoid the gaps in knowledge that can reveal themselves in demanding situations.
Specific IC professional development also helps to give practitioners the respect, trust and confidence of their senior managers and colleagues, by providing evidence that the people tackling the challenges of IC have undertaken a systematic learning process designed to give them a firm grasp of their subject.
One of the challenges of IC learning and development is that modern-day practice has evolved a long way beyond the traditional writing, editing and task-based focus of earlier years. And a senior manager with a broad remit focused on internal communication is a very recent phenomenon. So what do practitioners actually need to know?
In fact there are very few skills that are solely specific to internal communication. Rather, it is a configuration of various elements drawn from the toolkits of other practices, notably HR, PR, journalism, marketing and organisational development. I would argue that it’s that unique configuration that constitutes internal communication.
At one end of the scale fundamental technical skills such as writing, editing and use of grammar are still very important. The ability to present facts and arguments, and explain concepts accurately and concisely, comes with the territory - at whatever level of internal communication practice one operates. And an inability to spell or effectively construct a sentence will inspire little confidence in co-workers or clients. To see one’s strategic role as somehow too lofty to be bothered with such craft skills or to opt out by saying ‘we can get someone else to do it’ smacks – to me, at least – of abdication rather than delegation. Language is the raw material of internal communication and we need to be the first among equals in the way we use it.
Further along the scale, communicators also need to blossom, escape the shackles of merely doing the bidding of the Board, translate business objectives into a meaningful communication strategy, deliver this smoothly, take senior managers and colleagues with them, be a trusted advisor and provide concrete evidence along the way that communication has worked. That calls for a level of business nous, a display of confidence and an assertive stance on the part of practitioners.
No mean feat, considering the somewhat more passive legacy of the profession but essential for the function to achieve its full potential. Within the Institute, this is something that we feel passionately about and it underpins recent and forthcoming changes to our learning and development programme, with its growing focus both on strategic internal communication and on modelling effective behaviour.
Further along the scale still, senior managers have their own specific needs. Some say they have too much experience for learning and development opportunities to be of much relevance to them. However, with accelerating change in the world of business coupled with rapid evolution in our own sector and with working life lasting longer, learning surely cannot end. The challenge here is to overcome this slightly jaded outlook and imbue even those who have ‘been there and done that’ with a renewed enthusiasm for professional development. That can only be done by providing options that have meaning and value at their career stage.
Steve Doswell is chief executive of the Institute of Internal Communication