ICology: Career lessons for internal communicators & managers

ICology, ep #29 - Angee Linsey with Linsey Careers

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Angee Linsey is the managing director of Linsey Careers. Linsey Careers is a boutique executive-search firm that specializes in helping businesses find top-flight marketing and communications talent. They focus on these functions because they are marketing and communications veterans ourselves. Angee spoke at this year's IABC World Conference (as well as many other conferences) and the audience feedback was a great indication this would be a worthy conversation.

In this episode of ICology, we talk about the importance of career development in internal communications and how crucial the first 90 days are, whether you're a new employee at a new company, an employee who's switching roles at the same company or a manager bringing on new employees. In many cases, people have made up their mind that the new opportunity isn't going to last even in the first month. 

You can follow @linseycareers on Twitter or connect with Angee directly on LinkedIn

Episode Transcription

Chuck: I am your host Chuck Gose. Thank you for listening to this episode of ICology. And I do have a very exciting announcement to make. First I'm able to do this on an episode of ICology is I now have a home. And what I mean by that is you can now go to learnicology.com and see everything about what I'm doing around ICology. It's blog, it's podcast, it's past episodes, events. Either I'm speaking out or ICology is a media sponsor of. So again that's learnicology.com. Please check it out, and also it's a great place to submit future topics. If you have people in mind you think would be a great feature guest, you can go there and let me know.

But onto today's show. So back when I graduated from college, which doesn't seem like that long ago but sadly was, internal communications was not a profession. It wasn't a title that someone held at their company. Now, someone did do employee communications at the company but it was typically just a small part of their overall role. It might have been maintained by an admin or an HR, or maybe someone within corporate communications but it was more secondary. 

But you fast-forward to 2016 and internal comms is most certainly a viable profession and a long-term career. And it's time that communicators begin thinking of it in that way. And in one of the very early episodes of ICology, Heather Wagoner from the BBC talked about the importance of making an investment in your career. And what she meant by that was doing things for your career even if your company didn't support it. Maybe it is to attend a conference, or take a class. The importance in making that investment in your career.

But Investments do come in many forms, some financial, sure, but others can be simply in proper preparation for making the most out of your opportunity, or for your manager making the most out of the opportunity for the people on your team. And it was at this year's IABC World Conference, I got to hear Angee Linsey speak, and I believe her talk and advice is one that needed to be shared again here on ICology. So Angee Linsey is the Managing Director for Lindsay Careers, and Angee, welcome to ICology.

Angee: Thanks, Chuck. I'm excited to be here. 

Chuck: And as you know, we had met before at a previous World Conference but this last one was the first time that I got to hear you speak. But for those who aren't familiar, why don't you talk to us about your background and then Linsey Careers.

Angee: Sure, so I'll start with Linsey Careers. We're actually a national boutique executive search firm and we specialize in only marketing and communications recruitment. The reason that I chose this niche eight years ago was because I started my career in communications. I've actually worked in corporations and agency environments, and I'm a retired Navy Reserve public affairs officer. I also have two recruiters who work with me and they're former communications professionals too. So what's really cool, I think, about my company, and how we work with our clients and our candidates is we really understand what these roles are, and frankly I just really love the people that are in communications, and so it's really fun for me to show up for work every day.

Chuck: And then what's your reach? Where do you do this work?

Angee: We actually do national search. So what that really means is that we work with clients all across the United States, and we do positions primarily on the communication space or marketing communication space. And that includes internal comms as well as you know, PR, corp comms, executive comms and usually at the leadership levels.

Chuck: Now, whether you're in a new role and in the same company, or you've taken a new job with a new organization, or you're a new manager, you describe the first 90 days as make or break. And why is that timeframe, why is that first 90 days so critical?

Angee: So I actually feel like make or break is an accurate kind of way to express it. There was a recent survey that revealed 33% of employees knew whether they would stay at their company long-term after being on the job for one week or less, and 63% new within the first month. I mean, that's kind of a startling statistic, and I think it speaks volumes about what happens in those first days and weeks, and how much it really matters. The great news is there are things that you can do as a new employee to make that transition easier just like there are things that you can do to ensure the success of the person that you're hiring, if you're the one hiring. 

Chuck: And then when you say long-term, I assume that could mean different things to different people. For some people [inaudible 00:05:31] job for a year might be long-term, some people a decade. I think we're past the...or it seems to be past the timeframe where people got a job maybe it was in their teens or early '20s and they saw that as their career forever. So in your mind, what's long-term?

Angee: For me what long-term means is I would say more than a couple of years. I think that when we make a job move, we're not thinking we're gonna quit in six months or nine months. We're looking at this as a little bit longer term. It's hard for anybody to think the way that we used to well, when our parents were in careers for 30 years at a time. That's just not realistic today. But I don't think anyone takes a job thinking they're gonna quit within a year or less, and that's what I mean when I talk about long-term.

Chuck: It is interesting that evolution of jobs and careers. And the story I like to share with people is that my father was a long time General Motors employee back when...That was an amazing opportunity to have. He dropped out of college for the job at General Motors, because at the time, that was a better lifetime opportunity to get a job at GM than to have a college degree. So that kinda definitely shows how that shift has happened over time. 

Angee: Well, and you even said a lifetime opportunity. I just don't think that people think that way today. 

Chuck: Now, you mentioned about starting new. So what should an employee do, or what are the things they can do to get ready before they even start? So even if you're, let's say you're you know, at the same company and going into new role or you're brand new, what some things they can do before they even step on for that day one? 

Angee: Great question. Let's start with if you're changing jobs by moving to a new company. I mean, you've likely done a lot of research simply because of the interview process. So you are familiar, you've been doing some deep-diving into the Company and all of that. But during those weeks between your old job and the new one, stay on top of what's new and what's in the news regarding your company. 

I also encourage people to create a personal communication strategy for how you're going to talk with your current colleagues, or friends, or family members about your move. Hopefully, you're super excited about it so share that good news with others so they're excited for you. Because that enthusiasm makes leaving friends and colleagues a little bit easier because it's hard to change.

And then, if you're moving into a new role within the same company, it's really interesting to think about...because not only are you going to be thinking about what's gonna be expected of you in the new role, but you also need to consider what you're not gonna be doing any more. This is really challenging if you're just moving up within the same team that you've already been working with, because you might be really tempted to just keep doing the job you've always done, and just add more to your plate rather than thinking about what should be delegated and how you're gonna communicate that with your team members once you start your new job.

Chuck: And it's interesting that you use the word enthusiasm, because I immediately thought of a friend who recently took a new job and I think it was very insightful to see how she made the announcement because she was very excited. It's a wonderful opportunity, a great new company, amazing responsibilities all of that. But then she immediately began trying to find her replacement at her previous employer. And to me that really shows probably how difficult of a decision that might have been to make. But the fact that...I mean, she's so excited for her new opportunity, but she wants to help her previous employer find the next version of her, I guess. And that seem to be very indicative of a very positive relationship between an employer and an employee.

Angee: Absolutely. You want your previous team to continue to be successful without you, or at least I would hope that's what you would want, right? 

Chuck: So these are the employees. How is it different for managers? So say you've got that new person starting you know, on a certain day and they may have to go on an employee orientation or something like that. But what are some things they can do either before that employee starts or right when they start to try to help ease that success and bringing them into the organization?

Angee: When you hire somebody for your team, you wanna keep in mind that engaging that new employee actually begins before they even start on that first date. Think about the window between the offer and the start date. And you both are probably really excited for the person to get started, right? You as the manager are but also hopefully that candidate who's gonna become an employee is also excited. But remember that they're going to be going back to their former employer, giving notice and they could be facing a lot of friends and co-workers who are begging them to stay. And so by reaching out, sending them a congratulations note, or maybe even sending some sort of a welcome aboard gift, it's a great way to begin that welcoming process. 

Once they start, think about the formal onboarding program that your company may have to offer, but also think way beyond that. There's a ton of little things that you can do that will totally make a difference. For example, you could send an email prior to the day they start and ask for some input on the introductory email that you plan to send the team out on the first day because you wanna welcome them aboard. Have the employee contribute to that. And then of course you wanna set a time to meet on day one. If you can't be there to greet them when they arrive, assign someone on the team who's gonna be the welcoming committee. Who will give them a tour and show them their desk and where the coffee machines are and maybe even take them to lunch.

But then in the days and weeks ahead, it's really your job to lay out a plan of who they should meet and why, set expectations for what they should be doing in those first weeks and when you want them to start jumping in and taking on projects because that's not gonna happen day one, of course. And then set appropriate expectations and communicate early and often. You know, make time for those one-on-one meetings every week or maybe even more frequently in that first few weeks or month or two, and then take time to set the course right from the start so the team members really set up for success. They're gonna be able to not only help meet the organization's needs more quickly by you being prepared, but they're also gonna feel better about the decision they made to join your team.

Chuck: Well, and the question I have which I hadn't thought at this before but what about prepping the team ahead of time before the new employee starts? Letting them know who they are, what their background is, a little bit about them. I've assumed there'd be some value there too.

Angee: Oh, absolutely. And you figure some of the team members may have been part of the interview process, so they might be privy to something about that new person coming in, but many team members might not be. And so that's why I think you know, having some sort of an introductory email or sharing a bio about the new person coming in to the team. Get the team excited about the new person so that they'll be really welcoming when they join the team.

Chuck: Yeah, I like the idea about the recognition aspect of when someone gets a new opportunity your company and that it makes me think at one of the PRSA Connect episodes, I interviewed a gentleman named Steven Handmaker who's the CMO of Assurance. They're an insurance company. And it was years ago at a conference he spoke at where he said that when they have a new employee start, on that first day, they get a gift card to go and celebrate with the significant other you know, for their day one. Go out and have some drinks, or go to a restaurant or something like that. I always thought that was such a smart thing to do on day one, but it's almost thinking like that might have been a better thing maybe to do even before day one to get people genuinely excited and enthused about joining a new organization.

Angee: Well, I know that when I got recruited once, and it was actually for my move to Seattle, my new boss sent me a welcome card. It was like a greeting card just saying, "Welcome we're so excited for you to join the team." And she included in it fun things to do in Seattle guide book, and I thought that was really cool because I got me not only excited that she was excited I was joining the team, but also that it gave me a way to start looking at, "Oh, this is the new city I'm gonna be living in."

Chuck: And then you'd mentioned earlier about setting the proper and honest expectations for new beginnings, whether you're a new manager, a new employee. What are some of those things that you set in place? Do you set kinda milestones? You say you know, by week one, we wanna have you comfortable with this or the first month just do these. I mean how sort of far out do you begin looking at those expectations?

Angee: Well, I think expectations are so...it's so hard to really understand if you know, what you're setting out for yourself as an employee or if the boss is setting proper expectations until your kind of knee-deep in it. So the first thing I'm just gonna say is when it comes to setting expectations on either side, it's really important for the hiring, the manager and for the employee to have really open, honest conversations. That's why I mentioned earlier that those one-on-one meetings should happen early and often especially in the initial days because if you get off course, you've gotta course-correct quickly. And the only way you can do that is through great communications one-on-one with your boss.

Chuck: And if an employee let's say doesn't have that, or they've entered an environment where that's not there, do you think that's something they should speak up about?

Angee: Absolutely. But I understand that that's not as easy to do for some people. I happen to have a personality that is much more willing to take on a conversation quickly rather than let it fester, but not everybody is comfortable doing that. I think that as a manager, you wanna make sure that you create an environment where you have an open door and there is trust there, and trust is gonna be the way that you work through the problems especially if expectations are in alignment.

Chuck: And one of my favorite lines is...and I heard even Ally Bunin say it when she spoke at an event once, "If you're going to fail, fail quickly. And I certainly understand the value of that in business because you don't want a failure to last long term, you don't want something to drag people down. If you're gonna make a mistake, make it early and move on. Does this same thing and it may not, but does this apply to you know, that new responsibility, that new job?

Angee: Well, I think that that's a really true statement for some corporate cultures as a general rule, and I love that because it means that the organization is willing to take risks and then recover from them and that's how you innovate and that's what's exciting for a lot of us. But I would suggest that as a new employee, what's even more important is to secure early wins because you wanna demonstrate your capabilities quickly by finding projects that might be that lower hanging fruit if you will. It's that stuff that you can do before you're super familiar with the organization, because not only is it gonna help you get a chance to shine right out of the gate, which is good, but those initial projects are really where you learn how to get things done in your new environment but with a little bit lower risk.

Chuck: Yeah. I remember one of my very first job, day one, actually not really day one, I guess it was day three, after orientation. I was handed...it was a sheet of 20 things that had to be checked off and I just needed to sort of get them done in a timely manner, but it was really about learning who the organization is and where the resources were. So it was things like...sort of dating myself here, I was sent a fax. Because one of the things as well, at the time you still had to figure out, "Okay, where is the fax machine?" You know, you had to go find and ask people where it was. Well, when you've talked to people, that was a chance to learn more about them and create that conversation. One was make a copy, well you had to go find the copy room and learn how to use the copier and put in your code. 

And it was really sort of eye-opening that you know, obviously being new and young at the time, you think, "Oh, I'm just checkmarking all these boxes off and I'm doing so well." But really it was about learning the organization, meeting people, getting comfortable in your surroundings and I thought that was a very smart way. Almost borderline to a scavenger hunt approach to getting people geared up quickly to build up their comfort at the organization.

Angee: I like it.

Chuck: And because this is a podcast about internal comms, I'm always curious about the role that communications, especially internal plays in onboarding when new employees join an organization, but also maybe even before from a recruiting example. So do you have any ideas around how the role that internal comms can play when we're talking about communicating to people who may not even be part of the organization yet?

Angee: Well that's part of the whole employer brand messaging, right? And I think that internal communications people could be so valuable to the recruiting team even though that's external messaging. But think about how important it is for employee engagement when you're telling those great stories about what employees are doing and why they like it there. That's what people are attracted to. Candidates wanna know that where they're going has a great corporate culture, that there's opportunities to learn and grow, that they're gonna be challenged, and that they're gonna have good people to work with. And that's what communicators talk about. So tell that story not just to your employees but to your prospective employees too.

Chuck: And for anybody that's interested in sort of this employee story model and you wanna see it played out in real life, the previous episode to this one with Doug Magditch from AT&T, he's the host of the Life at AT&T podcast. So he's an internal comms, produces a podcast that tells employee stories that's made public. Anybody can go to iTunes or Google Play or wherever, search for Life at AT&T, find the podcast and it is, it's those employee stories. And the first time I started hearing knows it was, "Men, what an amazing resource this would be for recruiting." Because if you're an outsider coming into an organization you're getting to hear the employee voice, you're getting to hear their stories. What it's like to work there. And sure it's edited and polished but you still get a sense for what the organization's culture is like. 

Angee: That sounds terrific, I'm gonna check it out. 

Chuck: It is. It's wonderful and I know he's got whole geared up. Obviously with an organization as large as AT&T, they've got tens of thousands of employees, so he's not gonna get to everybody, but he's doing a good job of covering a variety of employees. So it's not just office employees or others. 

So sort of close out our questioning here, Angee, what are some easy things that you can see, or that you've seen communicators can do to enhance their career? Talked about in the employer brand, what about the personal brand what are some things that especially internal communicators can do to enhance their personal brand to be seen as a "that's a communicator we want to be in our organization?" 

Angee: I think that there's a lot of things that you can do but I always start with kind of your own...how you're telling your own story. So often I talk to individuals about their careers and it's funny to me that communicators are so great at telling the story of their company, or their products, or their CEO, or whomever it is that they're working with. But if you ask them to talk about themselves and suddenly they get you know, shy, or they don't wanna brag, or whatever the case may be. And what's really important is to figure out how to tell your own story. Really understand how to answer the question, "Tell me a little bit about you" or "What is it that you do" and, "Where do you wanna go from here." 

It's not bragging to talk about the great work that you've done, how it's affected the employees, how you've made a difference. And it doesn't have to be in resume jargon like language, it can be super conversational. And I encourage people to work on that their own personal communication strategy on how they talk about themselves, and it will enhance their personal brand.

Chuck: Well, and I get frustrated lot of times especially with internal communicators, when I'll find out...you know, I'll ask them if, "Oh, what's your Twitter handle? Why don't you use Twitter?" "I'm internal." Or I'll look at their LinkedIn profile and it's hardly even filled out. I'll be like, "Why haven't you done this?" "Well, I'm internal. It's not as relevant." And I think this is that personal brand story. It's what's the messaging you're putting out? Even though professionally you're an internal comms, that doesn't mean that for your brand you can't be very outspoken and sharing lessons learned or being the voice in the industry. And that's honestly one of the reasons I created ICology was to try to surface some of those voices. 

What I'd love to see, internal communicators especially take on the role of that personal brand more. And I like your idea on having a personal communication plan on how you're gonna tell your story because I think that's one of those career steps that every communicator should take for them to take that next job or that next responsibility within their own organization.

Angee: Well, and they can do it just like they approach a communication strategy for themselves. So you have, what are your key messages? How are you sharing that verbally? And then kind of how are you sharing it in other ways? Like you just mentioned your online profile. And Linkedin, it's not just a place to kind of put your "resume of experience". It's a social network, so you can write in first person, you can share projects. They have ways to put up links, and videos, and all kinds of great...and anyone can publish on LinkedIn. So if you have something to say, this is a great way to talk about it.

Chuck: And then if someone wants to learn more about what they can do, they wanna learn about these 90 days, they want help on their personal communication plan, Angee, how do you recommend they get in touch with you? 

Angee: So the first thing I would do is go to our website which is linseycareers.com. And if you're interested in career coaching, we do offer that and just reach out through the website. We have a way to reach out for that information. But also, if you're interested in hiring someone or interested in getting on our radar to potentially look at new career opportunities in the future, again through our website you can send us your contact information and we'll reach out to you and have a great conversation with you. It's a good way to get to know each other and begin what I like to look at as a long-term relationship. And because your career is gonna take many winding roads over the years, and if we can be of help in any way throughout that process, we'd love to do it.

Chuck: Well, Angee, I wanna thank you for being a guest on ICology and sharing your thoughts. For many right or wrong, our careers are very important to us and I think this is always great advice to share with communicators. 

And again, as a reminder, Icology now has a home. You can visit learnicology.com to catch up on old episodes, get to know guests better, read blog post, check out future events, and very as much as a home sweet home for ICology. You can still follow ICology on Twitter @LearnICology to pick up show announcements as well as other IC news. And if you're not already a subscriber, please subscribe to ICology on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. And if you like what you hear, those five-star reviews are always, always appreciated. If internal communications is your passion, ICology is your podcast. Thanks for listening in.