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We talk to Tracy Smeathers, a freelance consultant specialising in both HR and communications issues.


You’re a consultant helping organisations to ensure their communication and HR activities support organisational objectives. How did you develop this dual focus?


I started out in HR and took my Chartered Institute of Personnel Development exams early on in my career. My next role took me into marketing and subsequent roles into communications – internal and external. What struck me very early on was that no organisation can be successful on a sustainable basis without its people. Making sure that everyone understands what an organisation is trying to achieve and their part in it, is the route to success. Companies can sometimes slip into trying to compartmentalise their issues – e.g. human resources or communications – and miss the interconnections. That’s where I can help. You need to have the right people doing the right things – and that starts at recruitment – but once they are in the company good communications will ensure the company lives up to their expectations and they know where they fit in and can deliver what you need.

You are one of IoIC’s newest freelance members. What made you decide to join the institute?


It’s important to keep connected with other communications professionals. Communicators face similar challenges every day. There’s no point reinventing the wheel every time a ‘new for you’ challenge arises if many hundreds before you have tried and tested solutions. The trick is to get the ‘routine’ areas solved quickly so the ‘trickier’ areas can be addressed.

What do you enjoy most about freelancing?


It has to be the variety of work that comes my way. Different industries, different sectors – large companies, smaller companies. Whilst many of the issues may be similar, culture and politics can be very different – always there of course - but they can come in many forms. I love to learn about new industries and what companies are trying to achieve from a business and cultural perspective. That is always my starting point. If you don’t understand that you can’t, in my opinion, help an organisation. I get a real kick out of helping companies. I want them to succeed in what they are trying to achieve and if I can help – then that is my job satisfaction.


What do you find most challenging about freelancing?


Companies often want to change and to improve what they do but they don’t understand the processes that need to be put in place first. Employees these days expect to be taken on journeys with their companies and be part of the change – and that takes time. ‘Quick fixes’ rarely deliver the results companies are looking for long term.

It’s my job to help companies to understand that change process and that’s where I can add real value – making sure the processes are in place and the relevant interconnections have been thought through.

You worked for some time for KPMG International – what was your role there?


I moved to Toronto when the firm decided to relocate its global support functions to Canada.

I was a senior manager looking after communications for some of the firm’s major global change programmes in the HR arena. KPMG was going through a brand refresh at the time that included a new tag line ‘cutting through complexity’. KPMG needed to align its HR activities to support its new external positioning and its high performance culture. My role was to create the communications that positioned and explained changes in approach to activities like performance development, learning and development and global mobility.

Part of your time at KPMG was in Toronto. What were your impressions of the city and Canada?


I liked Toronto very much. It is a very cosmopolitan city. I’ve heard it said it is a city to live in rather than to visit and I’d agree with this. At first sight it is not especially attractive – it looks a little like its city planners threw its buildings up into the air – and where they landed they landed. That said, it is very clean, it is very easy to get around – it has a single tube line that goes up and a single tube line that goes across! It is affordable to live in the city – unlike London. I lived a 40 minute walk away from my offices in downtown Toronto. Toronto Island is a little green haven that I adored. I met lots of fantastic people who remain good friends. I loved living and socialising with such a range of nationalities and cultures. It is a diverse city. The Canadians are very nice – very polite. And I loved my weekends – camping, canoeing, cycling. I collected lots of funny stories along the way.


You completed an MBA specialising in HR and change management. What additional insights do you feel this has given you?


I got a lot from my MBA. It made me understand business and what makes organisations successful. And it also taught me the importance of always being aware of what your competitors are doing, not to close yourself off to what other industries are doing and to always be looking to learn from what has happened before.

What do you think is the key to successful change management?


There are a number of things but getting the key players on board and singing off the same hymn sheet before going public – internally or externally – is one. Successful change only comes when the reasons for it and the desired outcomes are known and understood by management, they are able to articulate this competently and are prepared to live it out day by day.

The other important thing is making sure that your values, behaviours, appraisal systems, recognition scheme, pay schemes, recruitment processes reflect the change companies wish to see. In large companies, it’s not unusual for there to be as many as 50,000 new people coming on board each year so change is taking place every day.

Is there a business book that has really inspired you?


There are many business books out there but two stick in my mind:

Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of Enterprise. He really revolutionised human relations management with his Theory X and Theory Y assumptions and it made me question how I thought about people in organisations.

Michael E Porter’s: Competitive Strategy Techniques for Analysing Industries and Competitors also comes to mind. A great book for helping companies to understand their industry and, importantly, their place in it.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?


I am a great outdoors person so anything that gets me out – running, cycling, walking. I also love to travel and meet interesting people with backgrounds different to my own.


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