Wednesday 15 August 2018

Check out a check-up to help boost your career

To improve your chances of advancing in your career or to better lead and guide your employees, why don't you schedule regular appointments to examine and sharpen what may be your best competitive tool: your communications. Stock image
To improve your chances of advancing in your career or to better lead and guide your employees, why don't you schedule regular appointments to examine and sharpen what may be your best competitive tool: your communications. Stock image

Gina London

The press, last week, made plenty of commotion about the fact that US President Donald Trump was going to have his first health examination since taking office.

After I chatted with Pat Kenny on his Newstalk radio programme about that very topic last Wednesday, I started thinking. Less about Trump's physical and mental health capacities for serving in the White House, and more about the need for regular check-ups in general.

To improve your chances of living a longer life, we make periodic appointments to visit doctors, dentists and optometrists, don't we? We get X-rays and other preventative screenings so we can detect problems early.

So, to improve your chances of advancing in your career or to better lead and guide your employees, why don't you schedule regular appointments to examine and sharpen what may be your best competitive tool: your communications.

1 CEOs are not exempt from my call for communications check-ups.

Let's start at the top. This is a collective call. You senior execs are not too cool for school. In fact, you are probably long overdue for a check-up. As an influential friend confided to me recently: "These types, despite telling themselves that they won't fall for it, often end up surrounding themselves with cheerleaders and it only gets worse over time.

"Many leaders need cheerleaders to massage egos, mask sometimes incredible insecurities and generally keep them going.

"But the really smart ones will listen and learn to go onto another level and, as you know better than anyone, it's usually all about better communications - internal and external."

Amen. But don't just take my friend's word for it. Take a look at what the CEO of Zoetis, the world's largest animal health company, has to say about the importance of communications training.

Juan Ramòn Alaix was already a successful general manager with Pfizer before being tapped to head its animal spin-off business. Knowing he was going to be assuming the, er, top dog role, Alaix started an aggressive training programme that lasted 18 months.

He paid a former CEO of a big European company to mentor him and he paid for nearly two years of communications training.

As he told Harvard Business Review: "I would have responsibility for communicating our strategy to the outside world-including the media, analysts, and investors.

"Employees and customers already know a good deal about your business, but other constituencies may know nothing.

"The sophisticated external communication skills that a CEO must have would be especially important in the months leading up to the IPO.

"During our roadshow, I would be telling the company's story to analysts and potential investors, and their opinion of our strategy would have a direct impact on the value of our stock offering." That is real dedication and commitment, isn't it? Alaix is clearly a big believer in preparation and the need for training, no matter where you are in your career or how high in a corporation you've already risen.

2 From new hires to middle managers, don't put off your communications check-up any longer.

Like with physical health, prevention is better than the cure.

If you are just starting out in your career, it makes perfect sense to begin developing your abilities as a strategic communicator now, as opposed to after you have picked up years of bad habits.

If you are about to give out to me about the whole notion of 'strategic communications', because somehow it seems calculated or manipulative, hold on. All it means is taking time to learn how to better listen and connect with people in order to make them feel comfortable and valued.

But this doesn't come naturally. As I often say, deploying strategic communications is not something you're born with.

It is a skill that must be developed over time in the same way that you would learn a second language or learn to play an instrument. It takes time and practice.

Most of us operate only in default mode. We say whatever comes to mind whenever it does. We don't listen. We are simply waiting for the chance to talk next.

For instance, another friend of mine who is currently interviewing for a sales job, emailed me a case study he will be asked to role play around.

The paragraph that lays out the case study only minimally describes the person who is the prospect. A lot more ink is spent listing out the selling points of the company's product.

During the upcoming role play, I've advised my friend to flip this around.

Spend more time asking questions and listening to the person who will be playing the role of the prospect and less time on the hard-sell.

Sure, it's essential to know the distinguishing features of the product and be passionate about them.

But demonstrating interest for the potential customer is the more caring and therefore more strategic approach.

I know, the rising costs of medical care combined with our busy lives, mean check-ups may take a back seat.

But, as regular health check-ups may mean the difference between life and death, regular communications check-ups may mean the difference between career status-quo and promotion.

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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