Do you know when you're watching the X Factor / The Voice /BGT etc and the wannabe hopeful answers the obligatory "When did you know you wanted to be a singer?" question with something like "I was singing before I could talk" (?!?), or "I came out of the womb singing" (!!???!!!)? Well, I'm not saying I always wanted to work in internal communications, but what I was always interested in was working with people (the word 'chatterbox' was used in several school reports), finding out why things happen in the way they do (I'm nosey) and communicating with people in an impactful way (I refer you back to the chatterbox comment).
After school, I completed an English Degree. By then I knew, in very general terms, the field I wanted to work in and so I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication, Public Relations and Advertising. This was where I found 'my people' – nosey, talky-talky types.
I'd love to say that I sailed into my dream job right away, but I most definitely didn't – my 'journey' went the long way round – but every stop was one step closer to where I was meant to be.
After a short spell trying to sell advertising in a local paper, I spent 18 months as a temporary Sales and Marketing Officer, with Belfast City Council (still my employer today) contracting businesses to our waste collection service. Not glamourous and very hard work, but it gave me a great grounding in the frontline challenges of the organisation.
Then, in 2003, I got a permanent post as an Education and Promotion Officer, focusing on recycling. I bloomin' loved that job. While I did my fair share of nursery school talks and school bus tours of our landfill site, I also got to write articles for our staff and public magazines on the importance of recycling and I got to work on a three year comms programme to educate householders on the reasons why they needed to recycle, using their shiny new bins.
It was from this post that I then moved into the world of internal comms. I'd be lying if I said that, at this stage, it was an internal communications role I was striving for. What I wanted was to work in our corporate communications team, and this was the job that came up. Here, I was editor of our staff magazine and I got to work with my manager and our IT colleagues to develop and launch a new staff intranet – which I was then content manager for. I was out and about, learning about all aspects of our organisation, talking to people and building relationships – I loved it.
Over the next few years, I worked on various projects. But it was my time working as Communications Officer during the run up to the review of public administration (RPA) in 2015 that made me realise that internal comms was the place for me.
RPA affected local government throughout Northern Ireland, as 26 local councils were reduced to 11. In BCC, it prompted a complete restructure, a new Chief Executive was appointed and the strategic focus of our organisation changed.
Times of great change can be overwhelming for those affected. There are so many unknowns and so much happening that it becomes difficult to navigate a way through. What I learnt during this time is that everyone, at every level of the organisation, wants to know 'What does this change mean for me and my job?' And I was in a position to help answer that question.
To be truly effective, I needed to be a multi-tasker. I needed to do everything that my externally focused colleagues did: plan and deliver a multi-channel comms campaign that crossed over between internal and external channels; produce media and digital content; work with designers to produce publications and animated video content – the list goes on.
But on top of that, I became a translator – helping employees to see their place, their worth and their contribution to achieving the organisation's ambitions. And I became an enabler – providing advice, tools and practical support to help leaders and line managers play their own essential communications role in guiding their teams through change.
These are skills I still use every day - over the past few months, they have been essential as our organisation responded to the impact of COVID on our staff and services. I've worked as part of a team that has focused on supporting staff by keeping them informed and able to see the value in all they have delivered during such a challenging time.
So, I love my job. I wouldn't change it. But I am still learning. In fact, I'm off to polish up on my editing skills as I think I was asked for 750 words, and this is just a little bit over!