Sink or swim? Healthy habits for the new communicator
Habits of highly successful communicators. This foundational element is one that executive and internal communications departments sometimes fail to teach newly-hired communicators. I’m not just talking about junior-level communicators, but also seasoned professionals who are expected to walk in and shine from day one.
Here’s the reality. Many corporate communications departments initially prioritize knowledge of the business and meet-and-greets over healthy communications habits (examples below). Now, don’t get me wrong, a new communicator must know the business and key players to effectively lead communications for a senior leader or area of the business. While you’re training on these important elements, help a new communicator develop and hone healthy habits. Why? Because their credibility with leaders and peers, success, and retention begins trending up or down from day one.
Place defined parameters around the new communicator’s role and make them known. This first habit applies more to you as a communications leader, but has significant implications on a new communicator. Set up a face-to-face meeting with the senior leader and area of the business that a communicator will support. During the meeting, convey what’s in scope and provide tangible examples to make the point. If you want a communicator involved in initial business strategy, say so. Also make clear that meeting recaps, proofreading, or other administrative tasks are out of scope for a communicator (examples only).
Emphasize the importance of mentoring from day one. You bring someone in based on past experience, but as importantly, what you believe they’re capable of in the future. Don’t miss the small window where experiences from their previous role are fresh, can be more easily applied to the new role, and shared with others. Set expectations that a new communicator make use of what’s worked in the past and share his or her knowledge with a high potential member of your team. Acting as a mentor should be an expected habit for a new hire.
Train a new communicator to deliver bad news to a senior leader in the right way. Also train new communicators about reputational risks in delivering bad news. Teach him or her to always warn in advance before delivering the news. For example, if a senior leader missed the mark in a presentation, ensure your communicator clearly explains reasons why and provides concrete examples. Most importantly, train him or her to always provide the fix for next time.
How a communicator provides feedback has serious implications on trust and development of the relationship. It’s a habit that can be refined, but must begin early on.
Next time you hire a communicator, don’t choose sink or swim. Choose a swim lesson. This small, but significant step will show your new hire that you’re committed to their success by teaching the habits of highly effective communicators. It will also provide an expectation for all parties to meet. And as a communications leader, you’ll quickly earn the confidence and trust of your new communicator.