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IoIC Fellows

Nicola Lally, director of communications for accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, received a Fellowship from IoIC in 2019.

In this Q&A, we find out why she believes IC is a rewarding career and what practitioners need to do to ensure comms is future-ready.  

What does it mean to you to be an IoIC Fellow?
It’s a huge boost. As you become more senior in your career, you tend to get fewer pats on your back, but more pressure on your shoulders. Excellence becomes expected, but is not often celebrated. 
To become an IoIC Fellow is the moment when brilliant comms people confirm you’re a brilliant comms person – it’s like David Beckham telling you that you’re a great footballer!
But it’s not a lifetime achievement award – it recognises that you have committed to continuing that excellence, playing your part in raising the bar across our industry, to being a role model, and in helping others to succeed. 
What do you find rewarding about internal comms?
I’ve reflected a lot in recent years on what my personal purpose is. I get most energised when I see people absolutely smashing their potential. And I know that comms is a powerful tool to help get them there. 
Internal communication should be enjoyed, not endured. The magic lies in taking a message or action that a central board needs to make happen and applying two things: rigour in audience intel, targeting and impact or motivation analysis, and creativity in how to land the message, not just once but many times. 
To then hear colleagues using your phrases in lifts as common vocabulary is like a mini fist-pump every time.
What has been your biggest achievement working in internal comms?
Overall, it’s seeing the strategic value of internal comms being recognised by me taking a seat on my company’s strategic boards. That helped me transform how other business leaders saw the role of communication and enable strategic, operational and local communications to start from the same narrative. 
This energised the comms team beyond belief and, personally, I’ve gone from just telling the stories to influencing how we create the story through the company’s actions and decisions.
Project-wise, in 2019 I led the communications planning for a £600 million market-changing merger that affected 5,500 people. And then this year, I’ve led our Covid-19 crisis communications, which involved daily briefings with the board. 
Team-wise, my biggest achievement has been to see my current internal comms team grow from one person, who was seen as a postbox for the intranet, to a team of highly skilled internal comms practitioners who advise on strategic, operational and local programmes – and who have won awards for becoming the Best In-House Team.
Where do you see internal comms heading in the future? 
Big question! I start with what we’re really here to do: get people to come into work, to feel motivated to do the right job we need them to – to the best of their ability – and to then tell other people how great it is. Communication is critical throughout that – it wraps everything that the employee goes through in that one day into an engaging but authentic story, and enables it to happen. 
The employee had the right information about what was expected of them; they were motivated to turn up; they were supported to do their best; and they promoted our brand through words and action.
That positive employee experience, leadership, management, culture, tacit knowledge development, knowledge-sharing, performance management, reputation management and behaviours is all knitted together with good communications at an individual, team, national and global level.
The potential for comms development and expansion is exciting, so I’d highlight:
  • Content curation: comms teams are no longer the only storytellers. We can help our people with the skills to be better storytellers and curate the channels to gather, surface and promote the key content.
  • Content for all audiences: it may be my bias of being in external comms first before adding internal comms to my portfolio, but I firmly believe there is only one set of messages – we then use specific channels and comms experts who have dedicated knowledge of each audience to share that content. So I’d encourage all IC practitioners to boost their awareness of the external world and audiences, and vice versa.
  • Innovation: consumer behaviours change fast, but corporate behaviours change slow. Better use of real-time data and audience insights, professionally delivered strategic behaviour change campaigns or digital publishing leaps should not be the vanguard of advertising agencies.
  • Improving other people’s comms skills: the best set of messages or creative campaigns will fall at the first hurdle if the deliverer hasn’t worked on their comms skills over time. We prep spokespeople with media training for big stories, but do less rehearsal or training for the stories they tell to their departments every day.
Finally, not forgetting the very basic competencies: excellent writing –including grammar – building the right relationships and commercial awareness.
What can IoIC do to support practitioners through these challenges, and how would you like to get involved?
Three things come to mind. First, advocate audience insight, starting with the business problem, who it’s a problem for, and what it will take to fix it. 
Even the most simple training session on improving writing skills, Sharepoint skills or Yammer needs to have the “why, and to who, is this important” reinforced. Employee insight still feels years behind consumer behavioural insights.
Second, acknowledge that internal comms is operating in a glass box – so external awareness and media savviness is an important skill to make the right judgements. At a strategic level, helping senior people, who normally are the one person who straddles both, to create the right of blend of team and succession planning would be useful.
And third, let’s really hone in on where internal comms really happens: for example, the comms skills of the line manager or the local business leader. How can we train our IC practitioners to train others?

‘I’ve gone from telling the stories to influencing how we create the story through the company’s actions’

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