From community projects, publishing, automotive, restaurants, real estate, hotels and technology, I’ve spent several years developing communications and structure across many different industries, and change is always the common denominator. I am often recruited for my experience working in high-growth environments and organizations undergoing significant change or requiring new capacity for communications. Some organizations I’ve worked for didn’t even have communications prior to me. I would originate not only my role but the processes, structures and templates around it. Being the new or only communicator on the block can be very challenging, and having buy-in from those most impacted by communications — like sales, support, operations and product teams — is so crucial. They need us, but in many ways we need them just as much to deliver on our own metrics and initiatives. Here are some methods I consistently use to build trust as the new communicator on the block.
Be Eager to Learn More Than the High-Level Jargon
One method I apply in every role I’ve taken is learning and understanding the “languages” of those I work with. Spending the first few months trying to get deep into terminology and intentionally building time with as many different types of experts as possible can go a long way. This quickens content processes in already understanding most of what product, support and leadership teams are discussing. This also enables quicker identification of where we can add value and indicate gaps from a communications perspective instead of getting lost in jargon or leaning too heavily on subject matter experts to ensure accuracy of each sentence.
Being eager to learn more takes a lot of time and humility but also goes a long way to building trust. When I entered the publishing industry, I attended editorial meetings out of my scope to better grasp the challenges. In the automotive industry, I joined sales meetings to learn product while acquiring strategic elements to build a more supportive culture. In technology, I spent months meeting with product directors and developers to learn the depths of our product suites, the acronyms and “developer speak” so that I could more quickly write for the audiences associated. Immersing yourself in an industry depends on the time and proximity you have to build knowledge and relationships with leadership and subject matter experts. However, I have witnessed counterparts not taking this path and having greater pains later on in not being able to deliver first drafts on communications unless their subject matter experts are present to validate from the start — a process that requires more time and involvement.
Often as communications experts, we are brought in to help resolve challenges and fortify processes. We strengthen an organization’s reputation to the outside and structure from within. But in order to do this successfully, we need to put any assumptions we have aside and genuinely listen. Data and metrics are essential but often can only give us half of what is really going on and what’s needed next. What is working here? What structures are creating challenges and need tweaking? Is the corporate silo effect creating information bottlenecks? Openly acknowledging the internal and external challenges faced by organizations and the teams within can go a really long way in building trust as the new communicator. In validating some of the concerns and challenges faced by teams I am working to support, I’ve found that they open up to me much more quickly in establishing that team connection over a consistent cadence and shared goals.
Acknowledge the Collective Efforts
It is very challenging to build trust as the new communicator on the block, so when you have advocates and those who have committed time to helping you learn and answer constant questions, it’s key to intentionally acknowledge and validate this effort. As communications experts, our progress and output are most thorough and effective when in collaboration with the counterparts and subject matter experts we work with. We are the rockets, while they are the fuel required to get us to Mars. I thank every leader and subject matter expert who has taken the time and enabled me to drive communications and enhance processes across several industries, sectors and challenges.
Trust Your Own Instincts
Research conducted by Frei and Morriss in 2019 concluded that “leadership begins not when others trust you but when you trust yourself. To be empowered as leaders and advisors, we must be able to assess our relationships with others, as well as our relationship with our self”.
A key element to building trust is truly believing in our own judgement, value and contributions. As I transitioned to support new industries with new challenges, there were definitely moments of confusion, challenge and nail biting, especially in high-pressure scenarios where senior leadership needed significant progress in short turnaround. One method I leaned on every step of the way was being a strong advocate for myself and my work. This enabled me to build relationships and fulfill on my objectives. It’s valid and reasonable to have moments of panic or doubt, though leaning directly into that discomfort is often opportunity for self-growth and developing your career toolbox much faster. Trust your data, trust your subject matter experts and trust yourself.
Paige Strand is a communications leader with experiences across the financial technology, hotel, real estate, restaurant, automotive and publishing industries. Renowned and recruited for expertise in supporting organizations through major growth transitions and intense change, Strand recently completed her PROSCI Change Management certification to further exercise leadership in both communications and change environments. She is a writer, public speaker, mentor and mentee. Her goal for 2022 is to find a nonprofit board to commit to. Strand is the communications manager at Central 1, a member of IABC’s British Columbia Chapter and an evaluator for IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program. Connect with Strand on LinkedIn.