Thinking about your development – planning your professional detox for 2010
With the festive season in full swing and the New Year nearly upon us, now is the time to start thinking seriously about the state of your career, to plan how you’re going to tone-up those flabby tactical and strategic muscles and to commit to a healthy regime of continuous learning and development for the next 12 months. Yes, it’s time for your professional detox.
Alongside the guilt-induced dieting, hopeless resolutions to get fit and short lived promises to quit smoking, alcohol and other assorted vices, January is the time when many of us dust off our personal development plans and contemplate, albeit briefly, the future direction of our careers.
And like so many of those well intentioned resolutions, our own development is quickly forgotten as work returns to its normal frenetic pace. Development plans inevitably end up at the very back of the filing cabinet, only to be revisited a year later when it’s time for the obligatory annual review.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The key, as with any self improvement programme, is discipline – setting realistic goals at the outset, approaching the challenge in a balanced, holistic way and staying focused throughout the entire year.
The development landscape
The development landscape for internal communicators has changed considerably over the last few years. At the start of the decade you’d have struggled to have found more than a handful of specialist courses, publications and events for internal communicators, and many of those that did exist were pretty poor.
Thankfully things have changed and today – as we steam towards the second decade of the millennium – we’re spoiled for choice. There are now three decent professional bodies to choose from, a number of excellent degree programmes, a wealth of specialist training courses and qualifications (see below) and dozens of networking events, publications, websites, LinkedIn Groups and blogs to inspire you. We’re still some way behind our colleagues in HR, PR and marketing, but we’re a lot better off than we once were.
Yet internal communicators continue to struggle with their own development. Proper development plans are few and far between. Many of us remain uncertain about the options and unclear about our roles and future career paths. Some of us are just plain lazy.
But if you’re serious about internal communication; if you want to become a bona fide professional, a credible practitioner and a trusted advisor to your clients and colleagues, then it’s time to get serious about your own development.
So, before reading the rest of this post, think briefly about your own views on development. Do you take it seriously? Have you learned new skills in the last 12 months? Do you have a realistic but stretching development plan in place? Does it cover the next 12 months and map out what you’re going to do to broaden your knowledge, sharpen your skills or widen your experience? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then read on…
There are two very basic questions to consider before embarking on your professional detox – “where am I?” and “where am I heading?”
Every good development plan starts with an honest and critical assessment of your current skills, competencies, knowledge and experience. It can be hard to be objective, so make sure you seek input from your colleagues and clients. If you’re organisation offers it (and you’re brave enough to stomach it), 360-degree feedback is a great way to find out how co-workers at all levels – above and below – perceive you and where, in their eyes, you need to develop. Another useful self-assessment tool is the InterComm matrix.
The InterComm matrix
A few years ago representatives from the Internal Communication Alliance (now known as CIPR Inside), CiB and IABC came together to identify the knowledge, skills and experience internal communicators should ideally have at various stages in their careers. I was part of this small group. The result, the InterComm matrix, is the closest thing we have to a common industry-backed professional development framework.
Although it’s now a little dated (the matrix was first published back in 2004) it remains a very useful tool and I believe it continues to be recommend by all three organisations as a basis for planning your personal or team development, and as a guide to recruitment.
The matrix is based on four career stages:
- Band One – Entry level (6 – 12 months in internal communications)
- Band Two – 12 months to 2 – 3 years
- Band Three – Manager or supervisor with at least 2-3 years communications experience
- Band Four – Senior practitioner – at least 5 years operating at band 2 and above
For each level, the matrix defines the generic business and management knowledge and skills internal communications professionals should ideally have, and their specialist communication knowledge, skills and direct experience.
If you haven’t thought about it already, that’s a great way to approach your development – to adopt a two-pronged approach by focusing on your generic/business skills on one hand and your specialist IC skills on the other.
The bands are slightly arbitrary and they don’t take account of the fact that many internal communication practitioners move sideways from related functions like HR, PR or marketing. But it’s a useful yardstick and a good guide to the sort of areas you should be gaining exposure to as you progress through your career.
More recently Sue Dewhurst and Liam FitzPatrick of Competent Communicators created an excellent framework that builds on the foundation provided by InterComm and takes it to the next level. I’m a big fan – see my previous post for details.
Clarifying where you’re heading can be tougher.
First there are the practical issues. Many internal communication teams are small and there is often little room for career progression without jumping ship. Even then, depending on the sector, suitable managerial or senior level roles may be few and far between. If your desire is to head up a team then you’ll be restricted to large organisations. Then there’s the London bias which can make it more difficult to progress if you’re based in the regions. It’s important that your career goals are realistic, so it pays to think about these factors early on.
Where do you see yourself in five years time? It’s a question that’s often asked in job interviews, but it’s one that’s worth pondering every year. Do you see yourself as a dedicated internal communicator, or as a broader corporate communicator? What aspects of your current role do you most enjoy? And what do you detest? Do you want to lead a large team, or would you prefer to become expert at delivery, perhaps focusing on publications, the intranet or events? Do you enjoy budgeting? Really? These are important questions and will help you avoid the promotion trap – where you end up securing a high status senior role only to find that you hate it.
There are a number of career models out there which suggest a nice, linear progression from being a doer (at the bottom of the career ladder) to being a thinker (at the top). Unfortunately the reality is rarely like that. Whilst there is no doubt that broader managerial skills, like budgeting and business partnering, become more important the higher you climb, there are very few senior communicators who don’t have to roll up their sleeves and muck in at least some of the time. Rock solid tactical skills are important whether you’re a junior team member or a high flying communication director. Ignore them at your peril.
Your development menu
Once you’ve identified where you are and where you’re heading, it’s time to create your development menu – to identify what exactly you should do to plug your career gaps.
As any decent HR person will tell you, there are numerous options for professional and personal development and the obvious choices may not always be the best. In addition to traditional classroom-based training courses, you could consider coaching, mentoring, diploma or degree courses, webinars, teleseminars, secondments, volunteering, planned reading, networking, on the job experience and work shadowing. Indeed, a combination of three or four of these development options will make for a much more rounded and effective development programme.
There are pros and cons to each. Coaching, for instance, is very expensive and not everyone can afford to leave the office for two days to attend a training course (though that’s changing thanks to programmes like BiteSize from Gatehouse Academy which are short, focused and delivered to your door). Your choices will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, your availability, your location and your preferred learning style.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a limited budget means poor development either – there’s an enormous amount you can do on a shoestring. Many internal communicators are very happy to talk about their work and to share their secrets of success, even with communicators from competitor organisations. Just catching up with a respected communicator over an occasional coffee can be a very effective form of mentoring. And there’s also a huge amount to be gained from getting more involved in one of the professional bodies.
If you need additional inspiration when it comes to formal learning, check out the following links:
- CIPR Internal Communication Certificate from PR Academy
- CIPR Internal Communication Diploma from PR Academy
- CiB Foundation Diploma of Proficiency in Internal Communication
- CiB Advanced Diploma of Proficiency in Internal Communication
- Melcrum’s Black Belt Programme
Kingston University’s Internal Communication Management PgDip/MA top-up
And if you’re interested in team-based learning, our own BiteSize modular learning and development programme from Gatehouse Academy could be just the ticket.
A highly focused and flexible programme backed by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), it is designed to cover the fundamentals of effective internal communication in a fast-paced, hassle-free way.
Delivered in stand-alone ‘bite sized’ sessions of just 90 minutes by an independent and highly experienced practitioner, this is a great way to provide a programme of targeted learning for your team for a small one-off fee. What’s more it’s also available as a webinar programme for larger or geographically dispersed teams.
Check out the new Gatehouse website or get in touch with me if you want to know more about BiteSize – firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best approach to professional development is, of course, a continuous one. Rather than thinking about your skills and experience once a year, you should look for, and seize, development opportunities on a day-to-day basis. You should make learning a habit, not an afterthought.
At present I believe the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the only UK body for communicators to operate a continuing professional development programme, but the soon to be rebranded Institute of Internal Communication – the successor to Communicators in Business (CiB) – will no doubt be heading down this route as it pursues Chartered Status itself.
If we really want to be recognised as a profession, then we need to invest a lot more time and energy in our own development. Continuing professional development is, for me, a vital ingredient for success. Whatever your level, there’s simply no excuse for not learning new skills or sharpening existing ones, whether you do it formally or not.
As your other resolutions begin to fade next month, make a commitment to yourself – to create a well balanced and stretching development plan and to review it monthly. If you do, I promise you’ll be an even better communicator in 2010.