A place at the table for Internal Comms | S2 E24

First published: 31 August, 2021

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Engaging Internal Comms Series 2
A place at the table for Internal Comms | S2 E24

A place at the table for Internal Comms

In this week’s episode Craig Smith sits down with Lisa Gwinnell, Head of Internal Communications at Siemens Mobility, to discuss how those in the internal comms sector can become an important part of any large organisation. With over 14 years of experience at Siemens, Lisa helps the company’s 4,000 UK-based employees communicate efficiently and effectively.

Like a lot of those involved in internal communications, Lisa admits she fell into the sector after originally studying for a marketing degree and joining Siemens Mobility’s marketing team. However, after moving to this industry she took it in her stride and is now set to graduate with a Masters in Internal Communication Management from Solent University this year. She is also helping secure the future of the industry, being a certified member of the Institute of Internal Communications.

Siemens Mobility has specialised in providing sustainable and reliable transport for several years now and with over 30,000 employees located across the globe, internal communications have become key to the company’s success. This episode presents some reasons why this may be the case, with Lisa and Craig discussing what this means for the future of the industry and how it can raise its profile across the board.

What does it mean for IC to have a ‘place at the table?’

For internal comms to earn its ‘place at the table’ it will consist of a lot of small wins, but for Lisa she sees those in the sector being involved in the important decision making at large corporations as critical. She believes those involved in internal comms should be seen as ‘trusted advisors’ who can add value to these meetings by both expressing professional opinions and representing employees.

Being involved in these decision-making processes can add a lot of value to the sector, while also proving a different perspective for businesses to look at. Lisa believes because employees are the people that will be the target of these messages across corporations, it is vital someone represents their needs.

The events of the last year (the COVID-19 pandemic) have only demonstrated how important internal communication can be, with important messages needing to be transmitted company-wide for both safety and business purposes. Comms professionals should no longer be seen as just ‘a pair of hands’ for doing posters or emails, but as vital contributors who are there to deliver both impact and outcomes. This is something Lisa echoes:

“Over the last year is the most valued I’ve ever felt because of having a seat at the table as an internal communicator,” Lisa said. “It’s something I had put a lot of value on before, but even more so now.”

The importance of IC in a crisis

Most in the industry will agree that the pandemic has accelerated the importance of internal comms for large organisations. Lisa says the sector has always been crucial when it comes to implementing change, which has been pivotal to many companies to allow them to adapt to new ways of working brought on by this crisis.

These crises are not just limited to those like the pandemic, but also those driven by other sources of change. Internal comms has always played a key role in overcoming these obstacles. Connectivity is at the heart of this, which has only been highlighted as workers were forced to leave the office and shift to remote working. This is another reason Lisa thinks the profession deserves to be recognised more.

How did IC obtain its place at the table?

Lisa recalls crisis meetings at Siemens Mobility from March 2020 as one of the key factors in helping her promote the importance of internal communications. When she found out about the potential impact of what was to come for the company, she admits ‘muscling her way in’ to these talks to help stake a claim for internal comms. She feels her presence added value to these discussions, something she would like to see replicated across the sector.

This was her thriving on an opportunity to not only help the business but promote internal comms as a business partner. In relation to Siemens, she says there was already a demand for clear communication. Furthermore, she said she wanted to be ‘bold’ when invited into strategic discussions, saying it is crucial for all those in the industry to make an impact rather than just taking notes and being polite. The value she helped add was taken on board, helping her earn the trust of those involved and led to being invited in more daily meetings and being involved in other key decisions.

Lessons from the pandemic

Lisa’s efforts to help promote the importance of internal comms at Siemens Mobility has not been easy by her own admission, but one thing it has helped her do is learn and improve her own performance. She reflected on the last year and a half to Craig.

The working world has drastically changed in this time, with new ways of working taking centre stage. This attracts a new type of person, meaning communication with them needs to fit different demographics and be flexible to suit them Simply grouping workers into both remote and office means these messages being translated will not have as much of an impact according to Lisa. She believes her best results have come when she has reached out to people on a personal level, which what will allow the sector ‘stand the test of time’ and help organisations thrive.

Push for professionalism

One of the main reasons Lisa says she fell into internal comms is because she recognises that the industry is a specific niche and is not a career people often think of. She drew upon the analogy of asking children what they want to be when they grow up, saying none of them ever think about working in this sector. Jobs in HR and marketing are often seen as more appealing and well-known, but as Lisa has demonstrated, where most IC people often start out.

Lisa also recognises that a lot of internal comms work is done in the background, which is why it can potentially be undervalued at times. One gap she feels is holding the profession back is the lack of entry positions available. The talent that can fill these roles will hold the key to helping both its professionalisation and keeping its place at the table.

Furthermore, Lisa says that most companies only recognise the importance of internal comms when it is not around. This needs to change if the industry is to achieve this professionalisation, something she has been working on through her Institute of Internal Communication (IoIC) membership.

The IoIC is keen to improve the recognition of the sector and get more people into the industry and this is something Lisa is keen to promote. She wants to help debunk some myths of the industry and allow those involved to shout about their work. You can read some of the blogs on the IoIC website here

“In my early days I often got referred to as the person who sent the emails out,” Lisa said. “That is still true, but I do a lot more than that now. Intrinsically internal communications people don’t shout about what they are doing but taking a moment to get your head up and look around you is something on my mind for the next few years.”

Tips on getting a place at the table

Although many internal comms professionals have seen their importance rise recently, this won’t have been the case in every organisation. Because of this, Lisa has outlined some tips she believes can help those who find themselves in a similar situation and are looking to demonstrate their importance to their company:

  1. Always be open to new ideas and new ways of working – don’t accept that just because things have always been done a certain way that this is the best way.
  2. Implement a ‘growth mindset’ to your work to make sure you are improving every day.
  3. Build on your knowledge – utilise the huge range of recourses available, be it e-learning courses or speaking to others in the sector.
  4. Reflect on your work and look at how you can further develop both professionally and personally.
  5. Observe different perspectives from people across the organisation.

Useful links

Lisa Gwinnell LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-gwinnell/?originalSubdomain=uk

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