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When Saskia Jones joined Oxfam GB as an internal communicator, it was to join a team of two communicating just to employees in the UK.


Five years on, she now heads a team of 10 communicating to 5,000 staff and 22,000 volunteers in over 50 countries from shop volunteers to aid workers and street fundraisers.

She also works closely with the chief executive and the leadership team, attends board meetings regularly and says her entire team are regarded as trusted advisers.

Saskia said there are four elements that are key to being a trusted adviser:

1) Know you business

2) Listen

3) Be pro-active

4) Be authentic


Know your business


“You must know the strategic and financial aspects of your business,” she told delegates at IoIC Live in Brighton.

“I’ve seen many IC practitioners who think about activity rather than outcome. We all have hundreds of things to do – especially if you work for Oxfam and a major earthquake hits.

“Communicators often complain that they are not involved in decisions until it’s too late. I think that’s because they aren’t acting in the right way, they don’t understand the needs of the business and staff.

“Every conversation in my team starts with ‘How does this link to a business need?’ and ‘What do we want people to think or do?’

“It’s great to produce a really great magazine or intranet page but if it doesn’t move people, what’s the point?”

Listen


One of the first things Saskia did when she moved into her role as head of comms was to set up one-to-one meetings with all the senior executives at Oxfam and find out their priorities for the year ahead.

“It wasn’t about me, it was about what I could do to help them,” she explained. “Also, I knew I could help them build their profile, build relationships with staff and volunteers and build trust in the leadership team.

“Some were surprised, asking ‘What can IC do to support the business? Don’t you just send out emails?’

“But the more you listen, the more you understand the priorities and challenges of the organisation.

“Suddenly, at Oxfam, internal comms was top of the agenda and I became the first to know about sharing information and results.”

She stressed that it’s also important to listen to staff.

“I feel passionate about that – and you can only achieve this by being always on the move, talking and listening.

“We use a range of ways to listen to staff from chatting in the café queue to formal feedback after events.”

She introduced a quarterly Dashboard which gives official and statistical analysis on what’s been achieved, including a return on investment - and what the next steps are.

“The chief executive liked this so much he suggested I attend leadership meetings to put forward actions for them,” she said.

“But it’s not just about producing good results, but also honesty, so you have to show areas of risk and concern as well.

“You can push back at leaders and tell them things they might not want to hear. You gain credibility.

“I know a lot of people don’t want to question senior leaders or put themselves in a position where there might be conflict but, as a trusted adviser, it’s part of what you’re there to do.”

Be proactive


As a communicator, you are privileged to have lots of knowledge about the business.

Saskia said: “It’s not about sitting there and waiting for leaders to come to you – if you know the business, you can see where support is needed.

“You can explore ideas and discover solutions to problems. Take risks, push the boundaries – have the confidence to go for stuff based on the knowledge and understanding you have of the business.”

Be authentic


“It makes it so much easier to be a trusted adviser if you’re authentic,” said Saskia.

“Some people think if you’re with a leader, you have to behave formally or differently. I couldn’t behave formally if I tried in one-on-one situations

“By being yourself, you’ll have so much more confidence. People are more likely to believe you, like you and trust you.”



Delegates at IoIC Live made a collection for Oxfam to help the aid work following the recent earthquake in Nepal. Further donations can be made here
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