AB Thinks  →  25th June 2020

Leadership in unprecedented times

In Episode 12 of Season 3, Katie speaks with Jenni Field, the current President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). Jenni has more than 16 years’ experience in communications, and is the founder and director of Redefining Communications, a consultancy that transforms organisations by improving communications.

Jenni has honed her expertise across multiple industries, from pharmaceutical, to advertising and hospitality. The topic of Jenni’s first book, due out in April 2021, is about moving organisations from chaos to calm.

In this episode, Jenni discusses the need for businesses to adapt amid the global coronavirus pandemic, the role of membership organisations in the current climate, and improving diversity and inclusion through education and action.

Whatever the problem, being part of the solution is the key to thriving in the world of internal comms, explains Jenni. “You must be prepared to take action. Get in there, role your sleeves up, and make that change.”

Below we share a selection of Jenni’s expert insights when it comes to improving communications. To hear her conversation with Katie in full, and to access our back catalogue of episodes featuring top communicators, subscribe to The Internal Comms Podcast.

#1 Public relations is not media relations
“We must recognise the breadth of PR. PR is not media relations. As President of the CIPR, I have to correct people who ask me in interviews about press releases and media campaigns. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. For me PR is more than that: it’s about relationships and how we manage reputation. It’s just got so much breadth. That’s where I get quite excited because I think it’s recognising the strategic management function of PR, the fact that it is not just media – it’s much more than that.”

#2 Joining a professional membership body is like joining a gym
“I always use the gym analogy when I talk about professional membership. You can join a gym, but that is not going to make you fit and healthy. You have an intention to be a better version of yourself, but you have to put the work in to achieve the goal you have set yourself. When you look at a professional membership organisation, it’s similar. You can’t join and just expect to become a better communicator. You get out what you put in.”

#3 If you want things to improve, roll your sleeves up
“You have to be part of the solution. If you feel passionately about something and you feel quite purpose-driven by what you’re doing, you have to be able to be part of the solution for that. You can’t just come in and shout at everybody, tell them they’re all wrong and walk away. You have to be prepared to roll your sleeves up, get in and make that change.”

#4 Businesses must have a clear sense of purpose post COVID-19
“Being able to articulate what your business’ purpose is will be so important going forward. You might have lost your way a bit over the years. Now is the time to look at that. It can be quite a challenge if you’ve run your business for a long time and all of a sudden, you’re having to unpick or be critical of your past decisions. Years ago, we talked about having five, 10, 20-year strategies. Now, in the current climate, it’s 90-day or even 30-day sprints. These allow you to really focus on getting something done or to change direction.”

#5 We have to learn to be OK with failure
“In the pandemic there’s been so many conversations around failure. It’s about recognising that you can’t be successful at everything all of the time. There are things you’ll forget – little failures are going to happen. We’re all human beings and it’s OK. Being alright with that is a real self-development journey to go on.”

#6 If you want to be a strategic advisor, be curious, not accusatory
“There’s a very big difference between questioning and accusing yourself or others about decisions that have been made. If you can enable conversations where you can question and be curious about why things are the way they are, without accusing somebody of doing something rubbish, then you start to put yourself in conversations that are more strategic. There is a lot to be said for being strategic with the tactical.”

#7 Challenge the assumptions around discretionary spend
“Internal communications professionals have spent years being the victims of discretionary spend. Will that change after the pandemic? I don’t know. But I would really challenge organisations to think about what they’ve always thought of ‘discretionary’, especially now, when your business is going to live or die by your ability to communicate with your team now that they’re all over the place. Investing not only in the technology to communicate, but in line manager skills, empathy – all of those things that have come to the fore during the pandemic – just can’t be discretionary anymore.”

#8 Leaders don’t have a case for returning to the nine-to-five
“I think leaders would really struggle to say, ‘the right thing to do is for all of us to come back into the office nine-to-five Monday to Friday’, because there is no proof that it is actually the right thing to do. As we always say, decisions should always be made on data and insight, and the past 11 weeks have shown people have done very well in a global pandemic, having to home-school children, work, care for people, whatever might be going on. I don’t think we have a case for going back to how things were before.”