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Careerism for communicators.

Judging from the mail, communicators are very concerned about their careers these days, and have lots of questions about how to survive and climb. For this round of wisdom on the subject of communicator careerism, we've again tapped the IABC Fellow well. Answering questions are IABC Fellows Rae Leaper, ABC, manager, stockholder communication at Chevron Corporation, San Francisco, Calif.; A. C. Wann, ABC, APR, public relations director at AT&T in Washington, D.C.; and Alvie Smith, APR, retired director of corporate communication at General Motors, Detroit, Mich., and author of the book: 'Innovative Employee Communication.' (Prentice-Hall 1991)

What with downsizing and cost-cutting all through our organizations, I occasionally get the question, "How much longer will they keep publishing your publication?" (translation: "How much longer will you have your job?") What's a good answer for these attackers, or am I just paranoid?

A.C. Wann, ABC, APR: If the attackers are people who make cost-cuts, you'd better have an answer. If they're not, slough it off. In either case, make sure you're on solid ground. Consider: Is your publication effectively communicating about the problems and solutions the business is facing; can you show it's having an impact on the audience; that you're doing all you can to economize?

Alvie Smith, APR: In difficult times, there is a greater need for employee communication, not less. Orient your efforts around a core of company priorities; then make sure your bosses understand how your job/publication/communication system contributes to your goals.

Rae Leaper, ABC: Unfortunately, no one -- inside or outside the communication profession -- is safe during the current wave of downsizing. Being aware of this is not being paranoid ... it's being prepared. The more your communication program contributes to the organization, the safer your job. It's hard to imagine someone "attacking" your job, but if they do, try responding with this, "I'm sure it doesn't mean anything, but I saw a list today with your name on it and a line drawn through it."

My responsibilities have tripled since I started my position. My supervisor has agreed to review my current job description and rewrite it -- together. How do I make sure I get the salary I deserve?

Leaper: It would be wise for you to have an appropriate number in mind. If your local chapter has not done a recent salary survey, get on the phone and make some calls to people in similar jobs. Although colleagues may not be willing to share specific numbers, they probably will be willing to share a range or a starting figure for the new responsibilities you now have.

Wann: What do you think you're worth? Have a reasonable goal-figure in mind, based on research of what other people in comparable situations are getting, but also be sensitive to what your firm can afford. Document your findings and take them to the meeting. If you have time, take a seminar in negotiation skills. At least, read a good book on the subject. Most important, decide what action you'll take if you don't get a satisfactory result. What you do in that case says a lot about what will happen next time.

Smith: Don't wait for your boss to rewrite your job description; do it yourself and then discuss it with him or her. Highly important, lay out how your expanded responsibilities will benefit not only the company, but also your boss' career. Include specific ideas about how to improve performance for yourself and others.

Should an employee try to cultivate an outside work relationship with a boss several layers up as a possible avenue to promotion?

Wann: Sure, if it's a natural thing to do, such as if you belong to the same health club or go to the same church. But don't abuse the circumstances or manufacture the access. The big boss will see through that in a instant. More effective may be developing a relationship with an executive from a different department. He or she may be more comfortable giving you impressions about yourself, your boss, peers and your organization that you can learn from.

Smith: Absolutely not! Some people succeed with coddling and brown-nosing, but the really sharp bosses recognize it for what it is -- trying to make up with social chumminess what the employee lacks in competitive job performance. In the process, such employees have not only lost the respect of their associates, but also their own self-respect.

Leaper: This sounds like the synopsis of a bad movie about life in the wicked world of big business.

Usually, if not always, the speakers we hear with communication backgrounds have been with several diverse organizations. Are those of us in communication who plan to stay with one firm likely to remain "less successful?" In other words, is the variety of background a prerequisite to success in our field?

Wann: Could be. A communicator with experience in varied fields has more than one point of view, and this enables objective decision-making, and probably a wider network of sources and influential people. This is particularly true in PR agencies and consulting firms that sell their subject-matter expertise as much as their communication skills. Of course, nobody said you can't stay in one firm and get varied experiences. Do it by taking developmental assignments outside of the communication department.

Smith: Experience in diverse communication areas (media, stockholders, employee, community, etc.; also writing, speaking, visual) is very beneficial, particularly in early years. However, career butterflies (jumping from one company to another every few years) do not present an inviting resume for higher-level jobs.

Leaper: There isn't just one route to the top. I know senior communicators who've reached their current positions by both routes -- moving up within one company or moving up from company to company. It's also possible to move up by gaining a variety of experience within an organization. It may be more common for a communicator to have held a number of different jobs, but not essential.

My employer doesn't even know what IABC stands for let alone ABC. If I go through the hassle of becoming accredited, how can I make it pay in dollars, as well as sense?

Leaper: Accreditation is part of professional development and should be viewed longer term. You wouldn't take a class or even earn a degree and expect your boss to give you a raise next week. Also, don't think of accreditation as a hassle. Think of it as something important you can do for yourself and your career. In the meantime, look for ways to make sure your employer does know what IABC and ABC stand for -- and not just the words.

Wann: Here's one way (albeit somewhat risky) to get the boss to salute accreditation. Explain what it means to our profession and make getting accredited part of your annual objectives, by which you want to be evaluated at the end of the year. Negotiate for a bonus or a slightly higher raise if you pass, stressing the difficulty of the exam and the study and preparation required to pass it. If you don't pass, be prepared to take your lumps at evaluation-time. Doing this will say as much or more about your character than having three initials after your name.

Smith: Every time you return from IABC meetings, write a one-page single-spaced memo for your boss telling him or her what you learned, including examples of programs you'd like to try at your company. Make a list of top professionals in familiar fields who are IABC leaders and participants -- to illustrate the kind of talent, wisdom and scars of experience you're being exposed to.

My boss seems intent on keeping my contact with top management to an absolute minimum. He goes to a lot of meetings that I know would give me not only story ideas, but also the knowledge of stories to stay away from. How can I get myself invited to more important meetings?

Wann: Maybe it's the protocol of who attends these meetings that your boss doesn't want to violate. Are you sure of your own goal? Do you want to know story-leads and story-traps, or simply go to meetings with the insiders? If the former, ask to debrief the boss after the meetings. If the latter, maybe it's your ego-thing. In most cases, communicators don't have to be at high-level meetings to do their jobs. Our job is interpreting decisions and putting actions into context, not reporting news. Who needs another meeting anyhow?

Leaper: The key is being invited to meetings in which you really need to participate. Just wanting to be another pair of ears around the table is not a strong argument. Having something specific and worthwhile to offer is a better way to earn an invitation.

Smith: Depending on your level, you can't be expected to get an invitation to attend all high-level meetings. But you can educate your boss to the type of things you're looking for from those meetings. Keep track of stories that leak out to the press when they should have been reported internally first. Make a list; be persistent.

In these times of downsizing, doing more with less, and depression, how can I steer our management to be more frank and honest in our communication to employees, who are justifiably worried?

Leaper: Like the rest of the human race, managers will do what is in their own best interest. Convince them that their jobs will be easier and the organization more effective, if they support open, timely communication. In fact, it's a matter of doing good by doing right. You just have to show your management that doing right is best for them, as well as for their employees.

Wann: The buzzword for it is "analog." What companies does your management respect and want to emulate, and how do those companies communicate bad news in bad times? You can bet they do, if they are successful companies. Build a case for communicating based on the tried-and-true experiences of these models. Find a diplomatic way of setting up a meeting between their top communication managers and your own.

Smith: Collect testimonials from well-known top executives quoted in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune, etc., such as:

GM Chairman Roger Smith was asked by Fortune magazine in early 1989 if -- in view of massive negative reactions to the corporation's reorganization efforts -- he would do things differently. He said he wouldn't change a thing, but added:

"I sure wish I'd done a better job communicating with GM people. I'd do that differently the next time around and make sure they understood and shared my vision for the company .... I'm talking about hourly workers, middle management, even some top managers. It seemed like a lot of them had gotten off the train."

Bob Davis, retired president of Chevron Chemical, said:

"Some people say if you talk to too many people about your strategy and plans, the competition is going to find out. But I'd rather have competitors know some things about us than to have our own people in the dark about what we're trying to achieve."

How do you get respect as a communicator when those you work for view you as a second class worker -- someone who merely carries out their orders?

Wann: Maybe you do merely carry out orders. You get respect the old fashioned way. (You earn it.) It isn't the function, but personal qualities that these people do respect. Develop them in yourself. Understand the primary mission of your organization, develop original ideas and breakthrough programs that move the needle toward fulfillment of that mission.

Leaper: You need to change a few perceptions! But the most important thing is not to fall into the trap of perceiving yourself as a second-class worker. It's surprising how many times this is part of the problem. Value yourself and your work and act accordingly.

Smith: Get an understanding with your boss; a sit-down discussion of personal differences; written proposals for new activities; regular job performance evaluations; be as positive as you can. If all fails to produce an enjoyable, respectful relationship, look for another job or company. Life's too short to be a "second-class" team member.

John Gerstner is manager, internal communication, Deere & Co., Moline, Ill.


Management's new view of communication is that it must improve. And from a strategic perspective, good employee communication is no longer just "nice to have" -- it's part of the strategic plan and helps create measurable value for the organization.

Management also is doing a number of things to align its resources for a more competitive world market including:

* Quality circles,

* Pay for performance programs,

* Expanded training, and

* Employee assistance and recognition programs to name a few.

Today's hot issues also include:

* Developing the multicultural work force,

* Employee empowerment,

* Organizational development, and

* Flexible benefits.

Excerpted from "Strategic Alignment and Communication," by Frank Corrado, Communications for Management, Int'l., Chicago, Ill.

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Title Annotation:career recommendations for communicators; part two
Author:Gerstner, John
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Life's a beach, for communicators.
Next Article:The maxi-communication audit - a precision instrument for change.

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