Tuesday 15 January 2019
Hi, I’m Inês Osborne. I’m the Head of Internal Comms and Engagement at the Office for Nuclear Regulation, where I’m responsible for strategy and planning (which I love). But as we’re a relatively small team, in an organisation that has a pace like no other, you’ll often still find me sneakily writing copy (which I love) and forever making changes to the intranet homepage (more of a love/hate).
I also work in an advisory role to our senior leaders, to help them shape their messages and approach – essentially communicate and engage better.
1. What was your first ever job?
I did telesales for a trade association – it was horrible! I really wasn’t very good at it, and I didn’t believe in the product. It did teach me one of my most pointless skills: identifying locations by dialling code! You just never know when you might need it…
2. How did you get into internal communications?
After uni, I got a job as a bid writer that eventually evolved into a marketing role, with internal comms as a side hustle (basically, a staff magazine!). After the company was acquired by a national giant, I was encouraged to pick a “side”, and my instinct was set quite firmly in internal comms. I realised my passion was people, not sales, although I still went on to dabble with external and marketing on and off for a while. And then five years ago l took the decision to specialise and applied for an internal comms manager role in another government department – I haven’t looked back since and have become a staunch supporter of specialism and audience-led communications.
3. What about your job most excites you?
Evidence! (I know, right?) I’m privileged to work in an organisation with an audience of predominantly scientists (as particular as I am and not afraid to tell us as it is), so insight is an absolute must for everything we do. As a team, we’re really disciplined in listening to feedback and capturing insight to make a compelling case for our communications and engagement approach – and demonstrate how we add value. Our work and advice has helped to take visibility and trust in our leadership on an upward trajectory, with more than a two fold increase over the last two staff surveys. So being able to say “I told you so” (in the nicest possible way!) is very satisfying indeed.
4. What do you think makes a good internal communicator?
Having the ability to see the bigger organisational (and environment) picture, in parallel with the smallest, local level detail that makes all the difference on the ground (and marrying up the two). Having the unapologetic spirit to question and disrupt: status quo, traditional ways of working, your own ways of working (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” shouldn’t be in any internal communicator’s plan). And having the courage and integrity to give honest feedback to seniors, juniors and everyone else in between, even when it’s not what they want to hear (they will thank you later).
5. What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Well, this is your hardest question of all! It has to be the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And no, I don’t think it’s a children’s book, although it is about a child and was read to me often from a very young age. It has a nostalgic, unassuming wisdom about it and I frequently use it as a moral point of reference. Come to think of it, the ideas (and ideals!) transfer nicely to internal comms: loyalty, nurturing relationships, looking beneath the surface, saying it as it is, taking risks – and questioning everything.
“…the ideas (and ideals!) [of The Little Prince] transfer nicely to internal comms: loyalty, nurturing relationships, looking beneath the surface, saying it as it is, taking risks – and questioning everything.”
6. What’s the biggest challenge for internal communications and how do you see it getting solved?
Proving our worth and breadth: we’re still seen as the softer and fluffier discipline, the easy bit everyone can do, the side dish of communications. “It’s just internal comms: it’s easy.” “Can you send out this global I’ve written for you?” We can tell staff later/after.” Although, more and more, we are becoming recognised as a profession – a specialism in our own right – there’s still a lot of work to do. We need to insist on having a proper seat at the senior table, so that we can influence at the right time and at the right level. We need to persist at working with evidence, to build trust in the advice we give and the work we do. And we need to put our foot down at cascading and ‘sending out stuff’, to start having meaningful adult to adult conversations with people (audiences).
7. If you could ban one piece of jargon what would it be and why?
Since I’m not allowed to ban it all, people who’ve worked with me know I can’t bear “direction of travel.” It’s an over complicated way to say “what we’re doing” – just say that!
8. What have you learned from any mistakes in your career?
Any? I’ve made so many, I’ve lost count! I’m a great believer in taking risks, but also in failing fast – to eliminate what doesn’t work. There’s a famous Japanese proverb that goes “fall seven times, stand up eight”, that I aspire to live by. It’s not about the mistake, but about having the humility to reflect and understand what’s gone wrong, and building the resilience to get back up and try again, or another way. Oh and keep smiling. And laughing!
9. Who is the person you most want to meet and why?
Right now, my “celebrity crush” is Simone Roche (CEO and Founder of Northern Power Women), having followed her on social media for a while, and after a very brief chat on the phone with her last month (I was proper shaky and star struck!). Working outside of London isn’t easy if you want to really shine in your career, especially as a woman. I am fascinated by her drive to increase opportunities for women up here in the North – but what I really admire is her kindness and authenticity. She’s a real inspiration.