Last week, Kate Shanks and I were invited to the IABC World Conference in Washington to present a workshop on the PRIDE model, a fresh approach to building business success through people. I’ve been working on PRIDE for a couple of years now and it was a real milestone to share it with some of the best communications practitioners in the business.

Joining the workshop were people from the finance, energy, mining, manufacturing and telecoms sectors in the US, Japan and Europe. With 100-plus years’ experience in the room, and anecdotes to match, there was a great deal to share and learn. We kicked off the session by talking about what it meant to have pride in work, the importance of purpose, in life and at work, and how to create outstanding organisations that people are proud to work for.

With the promise to make organisational or business impact, the PRIDE model is intended for communicators to take to their organisation’s leadership, so it fitted right in to the conference’s theme ‘Lead communications, make an impact’. It recognises that communications and HR practitioners are not only key influencers, but also great networkers, who are often best placed to bring people together behind a positive performance culture.

The model landed well with this group of practitioners and throughout the conference programme, Kate and I heard the themes of purpose and pride being brought back into the conversation. Some people spoke of career highlights when they felt the energising emotional connection that comes with having pride in their work. For others, this was an aspiration, but it is one that the PRIDE model can deliver.

So, what about the rest of the conference? We’d come all this way and I had high expectations.

In some ways, the agencies had it. Gold Quill award-winner Caroline Kealey of Ingenium in the US, friend and competitor Katie Macaulay from London agency AB, and IBM’s digital platform and IA expert, Jon Iwata all contributed to the learning experience. A personal highlight for me was hearing US consultant Shel Holtz, launching his new model of employee communications and pay tribute to the UK’s Engage for Success group’s four factors of engagement. But, while there were tips and tales of creativity and storytelling for the new communicators at the conference, surprisingly from these sector leaders the words I heard most often were “We already know this stuff” and “I’m not telling you anything new.”  

Does that mean Kate and I spent a couple of thousand dollars flying across the Atlantic to say we haven’t learnt anything? No, on the contrary. We learned a couple of very important things. Firstly, that, as an agency in the internal communications space, in terms of both strategy and delivery, theblueballroom is truly hitting the spot. We’re confident that we’re working at a level that is up there with the best of our international colleagues, leading the sector from the UK and active globally.

But my real learning was this. In order to have the most impact in the organisations we work with, I’m now more convinced than ever, that we have to identify and work with people with the most influence. Communicators have to reach the leadership of the organisations we serve, and we then have to demonstrate leadership behaviours of our own.

What is it we ask of our leaders? For them to treat their employees like people – to show respect for their values and their value; to communicate with their employees like people – to stop thinking of them as audiences but as the main players in the show. Communicators should do that too.

We need to understand that communications is just one piece of the employee experience and corporate culture and, in order to win hearts and minds, we have to extend our areas of influence. And with a nod to Mark Jeffries, the final keynote speaker of the conference, we have to learn how to present ourselves properly. When we are addressing the executive board to get budget and buy-in, to negotiate successfully we need to work on an equal footing and to be convincing. In short, we must make an impact personally before we expect to achieve it professionally.

Returning from Washington, I believe with a passion that I have something really exciting to say with the PRIDE model, and I am looking forward to working with Unbound Publishing to get it to print.

But what will stay with me from World Comms – from our kick-off workshop right through to the ending keynote – is the importance of personal communication. It is our job to think before we speak, to listen to our challengers, to talk through their issues, to be able to articulate what we believe in, to explain and debate, and to be open enough to revise our opinions in the face of better evidence. 

As communicators, we know how to talk the talk, but we also need to be the absolute best at walking the walk.

Sheila Parry

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