The “Meet our Coaches” series profiles Kademy’s network of communications leadership coaches, providing an insight into who they are, their professional experience and their perspective on the future of communications.
Next up, we talk to Jean Burke. Based on the south coast of the UK, Jean is an accredited executive coach with over 30 years of experience in communications and change management across public and private sectors.
How did you first get into Communication?
I started my career in marketing and was working with GE Consumer Finance. The organisation was going through a major restructure and I took a secondment to a Change Management role to support this. It had a major focus on internal communication – because behavioural change was a major requirement of the restructure. My external focus and commercial acumen helped me to add value to the role from the offset. It also gave me credibility with my stakeholders across the business; I could speak their language and that helped me build relationships quickly.
What’s your proudest moment from being an in-house comms leader?
So I didn’t do a classic internal communications leadership role. It was always part of my mandate as a Change Leader during my in-house career. This in itself felt like a big achievement; that the organisations I worked for were willing to think in this way.
I think being able to bring the employee voice to the table as part of change initiatives was really important and ensuring that internal communications had a seat at the table right from the beginning when major strategic initiatives were being discussed is something I’m very proud of.
…and just for balance, what was a moment you’d rather forget?
Probably getting the tone of voice in a speech I wrote for a CEO completely wrong. I was new into the organisation and wrote what I thought would land well but didn’t take enough time to get to know the style and preferences of the person for whom I was writing the speech! It was a great learning experience and although he was very kind with his feedback I didn’t make that mistake again!
What do you enjoy about being a coach for comms pros?
Oh there are many things! But I probably get the greatest buzz when a client recognises what might be holding them back on a particular issue, and has the courage to take a step they might previously have avoided. It is such a joy to help people maximise their potential and demolish some of their self-limiting beliefs!
What do you think will be the top challenges for comms leaders over the next few years?
Issues that are not unique to comms professionals I would say, such as: how can we lead and engage teams in an era of constant change? How do we create a meaningful employee value proposition when people are re-evaluating what they want from work? And one that I think comms is in an ideal position to tackle, and something that I’m hearing is an issue in many sectors at the minute, how to have those courageous conversations with senior leaders about their ask of already exhausted employees when yet another change initiative comes down the line; it is about managing up as well as down.
And finally, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give now or wish someone had given you as a leader?
Invest time in yourself, particularly in your well-being, and create a space to reflect on your working practices. Whether you like it or not you are a role model for your team and people will mimic what you do and don’t do. Coaching provides an invaluable thinking space for this.
Jean Burke is an accredited executive coach with over 30 years of experience in communications and change management across public and private sectors. Jean’s style is characterised by empathy for her clients, intellectual curiosity and an aptitude for connecting and working at a deep level to create lasting shifts in perspective and behaviour.