With a little patience

It may sound very unlikely but I have just finished my first attempt at needlepoint. For those who don’t know this is when you do very small stitches to create an image and it is really labour intensive and time-consuming. It sounded like a good idea to undertaken this huge task as a special anniversary present for loved ones. But I don’t think I really understood the one thing it needed above all – patience.

We all need to be able to show patience in our lives, with work, with relationships and with events that we want to make happen. It is true that the best things are worth the wait but in that waiting time you need to keep your cool which may not be easy.

Modern life has brought us much. The ability to be able to keep in touch with people when we are on the go, fresh food whenever we want it, ever-increasing healthcare, the list is endless. But in this fast paced world where we can get so much at our fingertips it is becoming ever more difficult to be able to remain patient.

I believe patience is a really important asset for us all. It helps us to remain focused on what we want, but also to enjoy where we are at the moment. It encourages us to save up for the items we want to buy knowing we can own them without our debt growing. It allows us to build happiness today, now in a mindful way.

Things may have to happen at a slower speed. We may need to invest years to get to where we ultimately would like to be. For example, we have to invest three or more years at university to secure the relevant qualification, or we may need to build our knowledge and experience within work to get that management job we want to have. Neither of those things are going to happen overnight so if we can be patient we will have a more rewarding time on the journey ahead.

I may not take up needlepoint as an everyday pastime but it has reminded me that patience is a key part of modern life, and something we should not forget.

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Reflecting on 14 years

This is quite a momentous time. It is 14 years this week since I became an employee of Greater Manchester Police and took up a senior management position in the then Press and PR department.

A lot has changed since 2001. When I joined there was no social media and the focus was on media relations and spending quite a substantial amount of money on advertising campaigns. Terrorism really wasn’t on the priority list even though we were preparing for the Commonwealth Games held in Manchester in 2002.

The Internet was something we were only just starting to develop and policing itself was very, very different. We were focused on community events, good citizens and communication with staff was definitely still in the command and control era. I seemed to have a lot more time to devote to all my work. It probably didn’t seem it at the time but it was easier to focus on one thing at a time. Probably because things were a bit simpler. Oh and we still were using fax machines and pagers.

I have seen a lot of changes in the 14 years. The team grew and the importance of effective communication went from being something only a few recognised to being understood by most officers and staff. Then five years ago I saw the team reduced substantially, which is something that has continued and looks set to be the case in the future.

Five years ago the drive to do ‘more with less’ was just part of the reason we moved actively into using social media. It was a really important decision and one that has given us five years where we can learn grow and develop the way we use social networks. The team may be much smaller but more information is being provided with a network of trained officers using the new technology.

Communication has moved way beyond command and control, and is now much more complex. The technology has brought some amazing opportunities but has also created a changed communication landscape, one that will never return to where it was in 2001.

The biggest change I have experienced is in my role and the expectations people have of what communication can do. Back in e start of my career I was effectively a media manager that may have dabbled a little bit with internal communication. It was so difficult to take work home that people really needed to speak to me if they tried to speak out of office hours. Now, I am available 24 hours a day and it is easy for people to get in touch. The communication landscape is 24/7 and so it is the same for me and other senior managers. I am also expected to be much more technology expert, staff motivator, content developer, editor, writer, leader, influencer, customer service expert, political mover, service developer and analyst. There are probably many more that I have failed to list.

It may seem that work is in many ways much harder in 2015 than it was 14 years ago. But I love my work more now despite its complexity than I did all those years ago. The opportunities are vast and I want to grab every one of them.

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Communication by numbers

When we are busy and have a lot to do being able to rely on simple processes and systems can be helpful. It speeds things up and means we can stop thinking and just follow the 1, 2, 3 and get things done. This serves us well but should be treated with huge caution as it can become the default position.

I spent the week struggling to make any impact on my ‘to do’ list at work. It is a job I have done for many years and while every day is different there are some elements that reappear on a regular basis. Being comfortable with things brings its own challenges. It is vital to bring an open mind to every situation and for communication professionals following the system can be flawed.

There are many ‘how to’ books, blogs and systems that people try to promote. ‘Do x and y and you will have communication success, the simple system to gain 100,000 followers’ I am sure you will have seen similar. While there are some things that can be done by rote it certainly can’t be a way to achieve innovation or creativity.

Successful communication and the best communicators have to be looking to step outside of systems and processes and to move into uncharted territory that brings creativity. Doing things differently, trying new things and taking a fresh look at the issue or problem is the way to develop and improve what we do.

I have a personal hatred of spreadsheets and also of treading the same well-worn path. The warning is clear for all of us, check what you are doing and make sure you are still thinking about things and are not doing communication by numbers.

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Banishing the celebrity criminals

The pages of the newspapers are full of stories about criminals and those that have done wrong in some way. It seems we all like to read about their activities, probably because it makes us feel superior in some way. This has been the case for many years and now more than ever the actions of those transgressing the law are given time both in the media and on social media.

It has led me to question whether this is really a worthwhile thing. What is the reason that we justify this publicity for those doing wrong? Is it supposed to act as a deterrent? It can really only do that if there is a suitable result when the offender appears before court. Is it to understand what makes people transgress? I don’t think the media coverage that we have really ever gets to that level of analysis. Is it because we like to be viewers of the events in our lifetimes? Possibly, although the more we learn about crime the more we worry ourselves about the impact of it.

Whatever the reason it is clear that the media believe people want to follow the lives of criminals. This focus is unhealthy and it has the potential to glorify the criminal behaviour. I believe the time is more than right for this to become something we move to the history books.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that we need to highlight crimes in order for people to come forward and help providing information, and I know that people want to learn about the punishments that are given to those caught breaking the law and negatively impacting on the wider society. However, for me that is where it should end. The more we continue to focus on those career criminals as some form of celebrity the more we risk damaging society.

Now is the time that we should choose to share the stories of those people who do good and helpful things. We should fill our media and social media with the details of those who are doing things to benefit society, those doing good deeds and working to make life better for people.

Choose the positive path and let us all make criminal celebrities a thing of the past.

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Do you remember your first job?

I was so excited to start my first job just a few years ago (well more years ago than I like to think). It was on a local newspaper that I had done work experience on. There were pluses and minuses to it. It was close to home and in an area I knew well but it was also a shoestring operation with some very odd characters. Above all this it was doing a job I had longed to do.

For many people the first day at work can be a bit of an anti-climax you build it up for many months or years and suddenly find out about all the mundane things. I do to remember getting a scoop on the first day as a report. Instead I had to learn about the deadlines, where the bathroom was and churned out many fillers and NIBS.

I was lucky it was a job I had really wanted to do and I was doing it. I had also spent the best part of 15 years longing to do that very job. It was an amazing position to be in. I had for a long time known what I wanted to do and with a bit of hard work and luck I was now doing it. 

This week I took part in The Juice Academy boot camp. For anyone not aware what that is, it is a process to find a social media apprentice. These are young people aged 17, 18 or 19 who are looking for a 12 month apprenticeship to get them into the world of work. It was a full day with tasks and then I did a five minute interview with each of the 50 young people. They were from all walks of life and with very different characters.

It was the most wonderful experience. They were bright, energetic and hopeful. I wish I had been able to offer a place to more than one. I also hope that a few other business may consider this route as a way to give a young person a start in life and one foot on the ladder of their career. Times are hard and life is tough for many. I know I would have loved to start work as a journalist at 18 but I chose to go to university. But at least I had the choice unlike many today.

So tomorrow we welcome our first social media apprentice into our team. It will be her first day at work and I will be remembering how I felt all those years ago. I just hope we can live up to expectations and make it a great experience.

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Social media heroes or villains?

I have had the privilege this week of being handed the access to the Commshero Twitter account as a guest tweeter. It has been really enjoyable being myself but using someone else’s account. But I have also felt quite a pressure to ensure that I am doing the best I can with every single one of the tweets.

Tonight  (23 July 2015) a new programme starts on ITV2 called Safeword. I am waiting to view it but it appears to be focused on celebrities allowing their social media accounts to be hacked by others. I am not sure it is going to make fantastic viewing but it made me wonder why me using another account and accounts being taken over was such a big issue.

For all of it the key is reputation. When we post anything on social media it has the potential to either enhance or damage our reputation. We all have to be effective and proficient communicators in the 21st century. Just one badly worded tweet or inappropriate Facebook post has the potential to become an international story or issue in a way that a wrong word said in conversation never could.

We all try to build a positive reputation and for celebrities a poor use of social media has the likelihood of backfiring and creating more problems for them. I am surprised that they have had many of the famous coming forward to allow people to take over their social media accounts. I am sure that many people who potentially viewed the hacked posts didn’t realise what was happening and the result may be a loss of confidence and trust.

At work we give many hundreds of police officers and staff the ability to be able to post and tweet on behalf of the organisation. This is done with training, monitoring and ongoing support but I can understand why many companies are still struggling with this concept. The potential for reputational damage is always there which is why the training is so important. I know that many of the officers and staff who are taking this opportunity are also aware of the responsibility they have taken on.

It is good to be aware of the pitfalls and potential problems, but I am sure that giving people the opportunity of using social media for corporate accounts has to be the way forward for all. This week tweeting on the Commshero account has been an eye opener for me and I will approach my social media posting with a little more scrutiny from now on.

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In support of the BBC

I have waded through the very long document that is aiming to prompt discussion about the future of the BBC. It was a challenge to go through the many pages dissecting the organisation and its output but I felt as a communication professional it was important to do.

The green paper was a clinical review of the organisation and it felt as though it was working from a starting point that change was necessary regardless of the feedback. The language is at times incredibly negative and is being developed to skew the discussion in my opinion. There appears to be a distrust of anything that is popular with the paper suggesting that if it is liked by many people then it shouldn’t be created by a public broadcaster.

Believe me I don’t have some rosy view of the BBC. They have caused me many problems at work over the years and I have often queried some of their journalistic priorities. Despite all this I value having a broadcaster that isn’t dictated to by the advertisers and has the opportunity to do things a bit differently. I don’t mind that I pay into it provided that the maximum amount is being spent on delivering quality programmes.

I agree that, as with any large organisation, the BBC should review how and where it spends the money it has. But I don’t believe that we should start from a wholesale cull of the channels and the output. The variety should be valued and protected. It is the BBC that were able to support some amazing documentaries that my team have been involved in developing including the recent one The Detectives. I worry that this may not be something that happens in the future.

The BBC News Channel must remain. If we end up with only paid for news channels perhaps we will see a more Fox News style than we have been used to. Again the variety is what we must protect. The same must be said for the BBC news website, just because it is successful does not mean that it has some monopoly that must be broken up. Value the quality journalism that exists.

I would recommend that everyone takes the time to read through the Government’s green paper and make comments about what they believe the future should look like. If we don’t speak up then whatever happens we will have to live with it.

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