Finding the communication stars on our doorstep

It was another interesting day at work and this time it was our first major use of Periscope as part of communication activity. I have always said that it should only be used when there is a real reason to use it. Just using it because it exists is unlikely to bring many benefits back. The feedback was really good as PC Baldwin went on a safety patrol in a student area of Manchester. He was checking for insecure homes and cars as well as giving crime prevention advice.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive but the use of Periscope isn’t the focus for this blog, although it could have been. What the student patrol live broadcast did show was how valuable effective communicators are to the team and the organisation. PC Baldwin was natural and at ease with the broadcast taking place. He could talk simply and without jargon about what people needed to know. When you are moving into broadcasting having good communicators with personality at hand is critical.

I don’t think we spend enough time finding those stars within our organisations. The day job gets busy and overtakes plans to develop a network of effective communicators. But when we really need them we have to be able to call upon those who have such skills.

These are not always the people at the senior levels in the organisation. We need to find our communication stars at all levels and across all sections of any large company or organisation. But when you have around 10,000 people in your business it can be a huge challenge to identify these people. So when you do find them what do you do to make sure you can work with them and how do you keep in touch with them?

It is so easy to recognise they are effective communicators while you are working with them and then move on to something else. The individual gets forgotten and your communication is the worse for having people to support it. We must find ways to build our internal networks of colleagues we can call upon.

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A positive way to judge

Not many people like to be judged. It has quite a negative connotation the thought of judging people. I have just finished a weekend where I was judging horses and riders against the criteria set by the official body of dressage. It is a significant responsibility to assess the tests that are ridden and comment appropriately.

It requires me to have training, knowledge of what is required and how to assess the movements against what perfection would be. I always say that the only person who likes the judge is the one that gets the red rosette and wins. But judging can be really beneficial to our lives if it is done in a constructive way.

The feedback about our lives whether work, home or in a hobby can help to point out what may be causing us problems or holding us back from achieving big things. If you think about it usually at work you receive some form of judgement through an appraisal or meetings with your line manager. When taking part in a hobby the way you improve is through feedback or sometimes taking part in a competition can assist.

But in our home lives we rarely get feedback on what we are doing. If you are lucky you have a good relationship with your parents or close friends who can provide you with valuable advice. There needs to be a level of honesty in place to help us grow and develop as individuals. For many people getting expert help is required so that we can improve our lives. It isn’t wrong to do because increasing our resilience, knowledge and understanding of ourselves is worth the effort.

Perhaps we need to stop calling it judging but more about advising or improving. In that way we can be open to the feedback to help us through life.

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Over the boundary

I listened to a fascinating documentary today on Radio 4. That probably is a sign of my age but I am not fighting the urge to turn on Radio 4. The programme was charting the life of W.G. Grace as yesterday marked 100 years since his death. Cricket is not one of my favourite things something that has been a continuous source of disappointment for my dad. It wasn’t cricket that made me want to listen it was to learn more about the character of the man.

Clearly there were positive and negative elements of his character but what was clear was he lived life as he wanted to. In many aspects he defied the conventions including being an emotional person in the Victorian era. I was very interested to learn that he was a doctor as well as being credited as the first major sporting star.

It reminded me how difficult it is for people in the media spotlight today to be true to themselves. We can spend so much time concerned about presenting an acceptable image we may forget who we really are. This is when trouble can be ahead. We can lack authenticity and honest which becomes really obvious.

As a professional communicator, effective presentation is incredibly important to me. It is something I focus on a lot – image, brand or whatever you want to call it. But it is as important for me to ensure that honesty is at the heart of communication activity. Without that then all will be lost.

It is something I have to admire W.G. Grace for – he had an honesty about who he was and what mattered to him. Even if it caused problems and created difficulties he was prepared to be different. Let us hope that in this busy world where media and social media put people under the spotlight 24 hours a day that we can still find a way to be honest and true to ourselves.

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Two endings and some beginnings

It was a day of endings. Two people I have worked with for a number of years left work to start a new phase of their lives. Although it was sad that they were leaving it was also a great opportunity to look to the future. And in a ‘new year’s eve’ style I found I was also reflecting on my own circumstances and what I have lost during the year.

The first was an officer Steve who I met almost 10 years ago as we were both working on a project at the time. It was a small team and so we worked closely and I remember many times that he offered me wise counsel. I am sure it helped to get me through the six months I worked on the project and away from the job I was doing. It was a few years later when he and I worked together again when he became a staff officer.

Steve is one of the good guys and it was quite sad today to say goodbye and know that I won’t get to work with him again. But it was the start of a new chapter of his life and a well-deserved rest from the full on work that is policing. I could write a lot about how he has helped me during the years.

The second person was the Chief Constable. Having worked with him for seven years Sir Peter completed his final operational day of policing. It ended with him on patrol which was much as I remember his arrival in GMP in 2008. There have been highs and lows in the past seven years but it has always been entertaining.

Any head of communications or strategic communicator knows how important it is to have a good working relationship with your CEO or leader. If you don’t manage to get to the position when you can know what they are about, what they want  or need then you are going to have a difficult job. It took me some time to get to that point but thanks to the help and support I had around me I like to think I got there. I will miss the easy conversation when you both know what you mean without saying anything. It makes the working day so much easier.

I have lots of fond memories from the past years with both Steve and Sir Peter. I will carry them with me. But as with everything in life things change and move on. While those who have left will move on to other things, so the workplace will change and develop. I have a whole lot of learning to do in the next few weeks as the new Chief Constable takes up the reins. It will mean hard work and commitment but I am sure it will be as interesting as the past 14 years at work have been.

I say thank you to all those people who have worked with me and moved on. Thank you for all you have taught me, given me or shared with me. It is all the past experience that will help me to face the future, and I am looking forward to it.

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Five years on social media

I had the opportunity to take part in some police press officer training today discussing the use of social media. It was a chance to reflect on the past five years and what it has brought. Things are very different now and hopefully we will soon stop separating social media from all other forms of communication activity.

So I decided today to give my five top learning points from the past five years:

  1. Keep the conversation going – once you have started speaking to people using social media there is no time to sit back and it requires an investment of time to make sure you are building your network

2.   Share the learning – as your skills and abilities develop ensure you train others within                your team. But also make sure you can share the knowledge with all parts of your                        organisation as they will be able to benefit from it and work with you.

3.   Don’t switch off – having invested in growing your social media following you have to                ensure you are continually listening. Actively listening is a key part of the conversation            and it needs to be part of your daily business.

4.   Check what works – monitoring what you do is important but so is evaluation. Ensure              you know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Be clear what you want to                      achieve and check progress against it.

5.   Take some risks – if you want to get the most from the technology as it develops you have        to be prepared to try new things and to test things out without the knowledge that it will          work. You can learn from others but for me you have to be prepared to try things out.

The past five years have been a huge learning curve and we are still on the journey. It should be exciting to see what the future may hold and the opportunities that lie ahead.

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What is in tomorrow’s world?

There has been a bit of a frenzy today on what has been trending as #backtothefuture day. In the film they moved forward 30 years, which made me wonder if we thought 30 years from today and it was 21 October 2045 what would we find?

I am avoiding thinking about the ‘tomorrow’s world’ style future with shoes that tie themselves and hoverboards etc. All this is a short-term materialistic view of the future and I would rather consider the kind of positive future I would like to see. The key is that people in 2045 take more time to help their fellow human beings and see active citizenship as an essential part of life. It is something we need to see now and in another three decades it may be one of the most important ways to keep society functioning.

Using technology to improve lives would be a key development. We all have a huge amount of information at our fingertips but perhaps at the moment we are using it for generally selfish means. It is often about improving our lives but why not find ways to maximise the benefits for everyone. An example is crowdfunding now, perhaps in 30 years time we will be doing so much more.

I hope that we can continue to build on improving people’s mental well-being. There is an expectation that austerity is the new norm and so one of the most important things for people to develop is resilience. Not as exciting as flying cars but if we are to adapt and survive in the future then it is essential.

I am not interested in whether things will look different but more about how they will feel different. How can we use the next 30 years to improve the society that we are all a part of? I know it is not as sexy as talking about flying cars and hoverboards but it is for me the most important part of visualising the future. How we develop is in our hands.

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Reach for the stars

The focus of the day was ‘policing in the age’ as I attended a seminar considering the developments that technology can bring. It was a glimpse of how the current systems could be improved but also the changes that the future may bring. We are increasingly in a situation where we need to fast-track the new technology in an attempt to increase savings.

It was a useful discussion but one of the key things for me is are we being ambitious enough in our considerations about technology. At the moment for many businesses they are looking at today’s technology as a solution for tomorrow. I don’t believe this is a sensible position. We need to be looking at tomorrow’s technology for solutions in the coming years.

Ambition is a key thing for me. With the dwindling finances, it has been something that we have lost. The focus is on surviving today and tomorrow but not always in the next five or 10 years. It is probably because considering that far ahead is outside our comfort zone and is really hard work. But if we are going to be able to transform business process we must be comfortable to reach for the stars.

Don’t get me wrong I know that there need to be some quick wins in all this. We need to be showing some ways to improve now, and also to be able to use some changes to start the conversation with staff about the changes. It isn’t enough to have an ambitious solution that is two years away we have to be considering some changes while the future is being mapped. I am going to gloss over the question about how you afford to implement some of the technological solutions. This can be seen as a deal breaker in developments.

What I take away from today, and from some recent conversations, is that we must all be able to reach for the stars and think with ambition if we are to transform the ways we live and work.

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