Developing skills outside your role

By Samantha Pickett

July 6, 2020 

Although it might seem logical to focus our professional development according to the demands of our current roles, the responsibilities we have outside of work can give us a broader perspective and help to develop our skillsets, while benefitting organisations that we're passionate about. For the past two years, I've been a member of the board of an international not-for-profit membership organisation and it has undoubtedly been the best growth opportunity I've ever had. Here are a few thoughts on the benefits of taking on a voluntary governance role while working in internal communications.

1. Understand how leaders make decisions - though we regularly partner with senior leaders to communicate key business decisions, not many of us actually sit in the room when the Executive Committee or board is making those decisions. Getting this exposure through my voluntary role has shown me that there are usually more factors at play than meets the eye. If you're an NED, trustee or governor you'll be voting on major decisions, with a focus on long-term outcomes (so that the organisation remains a going concern). Sometimes leadership is about making difficult or unpopular decisions, but doing so with humanity and empathy, and getting real life experience of this is more valuable than theory.
2. Gain strategic experience - writing a communications strategy and having oversight of business strategy are quite different. It can take a long time to move into a position with significant strategic oversight; hence a governance role can give you a head start on this. You'll approach issues from a different perspective, and become more objective.
3. Improve your business acumen - strong business acumen is vital if we're to effectively partner the business. It has rightly become a big topic in IC, and the Institute of Internal Communication recently relaunched their profession map to reflect this. A governance role can play a useful part in developing business acumen. From digesting profit and loss statements and auditors reports to HR, marketing and operations matters - you'll have an overview of every aspect of the organisation. 
4. Hone many key IC skills – there is a lot of overlap between the skills needed to be successful in internal communications, and those needed by board members. For example analysis, the ability to influence, active listening, commercial awareness, emotional intelligence, building trusting relationships and the ability to articulate key points clearly and concisely. Furthermore, the organisational capabilities and professional capabilities outlined by the Global Alliance for PR and Communications Management , in conjunction with the CIPR, are all highly transferable in this context.
5. See it as a stretch opportunity - operating outside of our comfort zones can be daunting, but over time the experience builds confidence. It won't always be easy - there may be politics, there will be differences of opinion and there will be challenges. But it will be worth it. 
6. Show your commitment - any governance role requires time and dedication to do it properly. It will eat into your evenings and weekends, and perhaps take up some annual leave too. But as well as being a fulfilling experience that gives you different skills, it shows employers and others that you have a growth mindset. It's also a chance to demonstrate some of our values - like integrity, professionalism, dependability and perseverance. 
7. Grow your network - a voluntary role in a different industry can be a great way to broaden your network. You'll likely meet and work with professionals from a wide range of occupations, sectors and backgrounds, and get to know many interesting people who you wouldn't otherwise have met.
8. Take a long-term view when it comes to your own career - portfolio careers are popular, and undertaking one or two paid NED roles alongside some freelance consultancy is considered a desirable option by many at a senior level in our profession. However, acquiring a paid NED role is notoriously difficult and prior governance experience is almost always a requirement (alongside strategic leadership experience in your profession). Most people start as a charity trustee or with an unpaid NED role, and it's never too soon to start getting this experience.

Diversity of thought and experience is incredibly valuable to any committee or leadership body, and I strongly believe that internal communicators have a lot to offer. If looking for a governance role is something that you’ve been considering, I hope this post will encourage you to apply.

Samantha Pickett is the Internal Communications Manager (EMEA) at global law firm Baker McKenzie, and was formerly an Employee Communications Business Partner at Barclays and Senior Communications and Engagement Advisor at UCL. She is a CIPR Accredited Practitioner, who previously served on the CIPR's Education and Skills Group Committee, and an IOIC Certified Member. Outside of work, Samantha enjoys travelling, spinning and eating Paul A Young chocolate.