Each month, we interview a prominent communication professional about a ‘lights on’ moment they’ve experienced in their career. This month we speak with Executive Manager Communications and Customer Experience at City of Boroondara, Deb Ganderton.
Can you describe a major ‘lights on’ moment in your career…an event, occurrence or moment in your career when you learned a powerful lesson that significantly changed your approach?
My ‘lights on’ moment came when I realised that ‘spin’ was dead and my career as a public affairs professional might require a rethink.
What was the background to your ‘lights on’ moment?
I undertook a post-graduate degree in strategic foresight in 2012 and I was required to write a paper about the future of public relations. This required a mapping of past, present and future practices to help explore the space of plausible futures (a futures triangle method developed by Sohail Inayatullah). This exercise, and much of my other reading and observations, highlighted the narrowness of the communication portfolio and the need to reinvent myself and influence the current and future portfolios.
What was the major lesson you learned?
To approach change as a trusted advisor, not as an advocate. To understand the problem you are trying to solve and be confident that what you are proposing can deliver an advancement (if not the whole enchilada). Be patient and respectful; organisations are made up of people and people bring valuable views to the table. Be open to these views and navigate skilfully, while keeping your eye on the end game. God knows your end game might not be the best end game so be prepared to fail! Be open and wise, be generous and calm. Oh yeah, and a bit of humility helps when you are rocking the boat.
How have you applied that lesson in your career and what has the impact been?
There are many influences that help make the case for change, including social, political, economic, environmental, legal, and technological. But given that successful people are open to change, and good leaders get ahead of the change, I have been asked in organisational reviews and in my performance reviews to give feedback on where I see the future of communication and the gaps within my organisation to meet that future. Be prepared to be accused of empire building!
One example is social media in my organisation. We didn’t have a dedicated resource for this, then we hired an intern, and realised we needed so much more. We briefed senior management several times to explain community expectations of social as an information channel, a transactional channel and an engagement channel. We undertook a channel strategy that identified 15 channels requiring content and then we were blessed with a ‘typosquatting’ incident where our URL was hijacked and inappropriate posts were made under the City of Boroondara brand. It didn’t take long for changes to be made as a result.
We did not rush out and buy-in more staff, we asked our staff what could be done within existing resources and we co-created the necessary roles and responsibilities. We were also able to explain the risks and the need for resilience and trust, that we knew our jobs and would escalate issues to ensure hyper-vigilance did not paralyse the team’s work and enabled us to meet acceptable turnaround times.
The impact has been that we are resourced, respected and able to fail fast and fail forward. There is no blame just learnings. We all sleep at night knowing that we have policy and processes that have been approved and that we do our best given the resources we have.
How do you believe other communication professionals could benefit from your experience and the lesson you’ve learned?
Keep investing in yourself and your profession. Communication professionals need to foster trust and respect to be heard. I have done this by working hard, and challenging the narrowness of using communication to produce tactics and clean up messes.
Also, look at your job titles – a change of name has flow-on effects. My titles have transitioned from Communications, to Communications and Engagement, to Communications and Customer Experience. My teams’ names are also reviewed regularly (by them), to ensure we are relevant and focussed. The introduction of ‘content marketing’ raised a few eyebrows recently, but when we explained that we needed to grow our online audiences for our news and events to shift away from our much loved, but very expensive, monthly printed magazine, the case was made.
And finally, get a voice at the management table by assisting other leaders to be great. Let them sing your team’s praises. Seriously, we do not exist for ourselves, we exist to serve others. Let’s do this with style and excellence because we can.