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Internal comms practitioner David Manning has extensive marketing, PR and comms experience, but thought a different perspective, from an independent peer, could help develop his knowledge further and possibly take his career in a new direction.

David Manning (left) joined the IoIC mentoring scheme and quickly reaped the rewards of expert insight and taking a fresh approach to internal comms.
As someone who has worked in internal comms for 12 years, why did you feel mentoring would add to your skills and knowledge?
I think you always look at investing in your own development. You can get into a groove of doing the same things day in day out, because you know it works for the company. But if digital isn’t on your organisation’s agenda, for instance, you’re not going to gain experience in that.
The breadth of knowledge needed in internal comms now is widening. Having created a personal development plan, I needed guidance and to explore broader elements of internal comms. Mentoring is a great way of doing it on a one-to-one process.
Did you have areas where you specifically wanted to gain fresh ideas, insight and knowledge?
You need to be clear about what you want to achieve or improve. I had three things on my list. Two were related to the role I had and the business I was working in when I started the mentoring process: the first was around translating organisational strategy to comms strategy, and I wanted to improve my business and commercial understanding.
Part of that was about broadening my knowledge and experience of digital channels. Everyone talks about ESNs and apps and these are areas where the two industries I had worked in, construction and agricultural, were a bit behind the curve. It’s great to understand how these new developments can be part of the channel mix, rather than just look at the next iteration of Sharepoint. The future influx of colleagues coming in to any business will expect a wider range of digital channels.
What was the third thing on your list?
It was a personal topic. I was at a crossroads in my career, and wanted to share thoughts and ideas as to where I could go and do a SWOT analysis of my strengths and weaknesses, with an internal comms perspective. You can’t always easily do that with your line manager. My mentor knows what’s going on in the industry and helped me think about what I needed to learn and avoid going off on a tangent and developing the wrong set of skills. It’s great to share my thoughts and ask, what do you think?
How does a mentor help with that process?
You’re not being judged. I perhaps lack a bit of self-confidence, and it’s nice to hear from someone independent that the things you are doing are right. It’s reassuring.
Your mentor is IoIC chief executive Jennifer Sproul. How have you and Jennifer made the process work for you?
We found a halfway house, a Costa, between our offices and we meet monthly. We have a good chat over coffee and talk about developments since we last met.
After each meeting, it’s important to give yourself time to reflect on what you’ve discussed and learned. It’s easy to rush back into the job, but take an hour or two a week and do some research and reading. It will pay off.
You’ve been a mentor yourself in the past. What skills does a mentor need?
I think mentors need to listen and understand where their mentee is in their career. It’s about listening and translating the information, giving your personal opinion, insight and knowledge, and providing options so that the mentee can make their own mind up, rather than telling them what they need to do. Jen does that really well. She’ll ask what works for me. Not all the options will be right.
What makes a successful mentor-mentee relationship?
I think Jen and I developed a good bond quickly. We have a similar sense of humour, but I think if you’re open and honest, the relationship evolves quickly and you find common ground. I’ve been brought up to find out what I can learn from everyone I meet. I’m not completely confident talking about myself, even though I communicate for a living. Communicators talk about other people and shine a light on them, but it’s never about us.
Is that a challenge?
It can be a little bit, but Jen put me at ease. Usually when you meet with peers outside of your business, you’re at a conference or an event and you’re there with your company hat on. Sometimes you’re being sold to. The conversations you want to be having are confidential. It’s nice to put your own hat on and talk about personal things, rather than the company you work for.
Have you done anything differently as a result of the mentoring scheme, or made any in-roads to your development?
The biggest change is that I have a new job. I openly discussed my second interview with Jen as I'd already been for my first interview before we started my mentoring. She helped me prepare. We shared and agreed the key areas of my experience to share with my interviewers, and she gave me more confidence to shout about my abilities and ambition. It worked. I now work with an incredibly talented internal communications and engagement team at the BBC.
Before I left my other job though, I started having more strategic conversations with commercial directors about how they approach business strategy and what their expectations are of the internal communication function. I’ve learned to ask different types of questions, so that I can learn more about how the business works, rather than only thinking about comms all the time. I quickly realised that’s a great way of building trust and helping directors understand the value of communication – how I can help them.
Has the IoIC mentoring scheme met your expectations?
It’s absolutely exceeded them. I have a better commercial awareness because of Jen’s experience in that environment. I think the important point here is that it’s about being paired with right person and being very clear from the outset what you want to achieve from it. I was clear there were three areas I wanted to focus on and that’s the road we’re going down.
It’s a great networking opportunity and it’s good to do something professional just for yourself for a change.
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