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.
To kick the series off, we talk to Karen Smith, Communications and Learning Specialist, Consultant and Coach. Based in Perth, Australia, Karen has over 25 years’ experience supporting comms leaders and their teams to develop, navigate change and create great results for their organisations.
How did you first get into Communication?
I was a journalist, working in travel, tourism and aviation trade press, and moved into a communication role for Ansett, then Australia’s biggest airline (this was the mid 1990s). It was only afterwards that I realised how much my aviation business acumen helped me make an immediate impact as a business partner (when I moved into another industry without that specialist industry expertise).
What’s your proudest moment from being an in-house comms leader?
Ansett is pretty hard to beat. I set up and led the airline’s first internal comms team, to support it through a complex transformation that changed pretty much everything to return it to profitability. We learnt as we went, getting comms research, content, tools, processes, and manager training in place quickly from a standing start. We achieved a 50% increase in employee satisfaction with communication in the first year, which was a big deal, because the change process was very challenging for people and had big job losses. The next year, Ansett was rated No 1 on Australia’s employee relations and overall reputation index. I’m still proud to have contributed to that.
…and just for balance, what was a moment you’d rather forget?
As a Business Partner in the UK, not saying no to my very persuasive new Director, who wanted last minute changes to the Director General’s video script (which was being filmed early the following morning). Late changes being “just a few more points”, which were in fact, not so few, and not so simple. The script ended up way too long and complex, and the DG – an extremely accomplished communicator – knew it. Luckily there was a train strike the next morning, so I wasn’t there to see the DG growl, rip up the script, and wing it. Two outcomes: that precious time with the DG didn’t deliver what it could have, and I learnt fast how to say no to persuasive stakeholders.
What do you enjoy about being a coach for other comms pros?
As a communicator I’ve always really valued having a great thinking partner to get to the bottom of issues, and to find a new way forward. I really enjoy being that thinking partner for other comms pros.
What do you think will be the top challenges for comms leaders over the next few years?
Questions I’m asking include: how can we continue to develop our capability to be responsive, agile, and resilient in the face of unpredictability and uncertainty? How can we get even better at equity, diversity and inclusion – not just in our big landmark projects, but in this meeting, this morning, with this group of people?
And finally, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give now or wish someone had given you as a comms leader?
Listen, observe, be genuinely curious about what the actual problem is before you try to solve it.
Karen Smith has over 25 years’ experience supporting comms leaders and teams around the world to develop, navigate change and create great results for their organisations. She brings deep presence and a compassionate approach to coaching, helping Kademy members connect with sources of energy, curiosity and authenticity to create sustained change.