By Chris Izquierdo on March 07, 2022
4 minute read

Maliha Aqeel, communications professional and agency founder with over 20 years of experience, explains the important steps internal communications professionals need to take to gain a strategic voice in their organization. 

Internal communications professionals have traditionally been left out of discussions at the highest levels of businesses around the world. At Sparrow Connected, we truly believe that internal communications professionals deserve a seat at the executive table and want to help make this a reality. 
We asked Maliha Aqeel (an award-winning business communicator who has worked directly with CEOs in many of her roles) what she believes internal communications professionals need to do in order to gain the strategic voice they deserve. 

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Here Are Four Steps She Suggests Taking: 

1. Continuously Educate Employees

Improving employee education is a simple first step for internal communications professionals to take. While the use of technology within staff communications isn't necessarily new, Maliha believes there are opportunities, particularly as a lot of business technology platforms get more sophisticated, to show workers how they can leverage them for future success. 

Few workers know all the possible ways to utilize these tools to become more efficient and collaborative. This is especially true when a new software or platform is implemented. 

“We often stop communicating about it after we’ve launched it because we assume everyone will start using it and they will figure it out but what I’ve learned is that’s not how it happens. You have to continuously show them all the possibilities,” says Maliha. 

Her suggestions for employee education on digital tools include: 

  • Creating use cases
  • Illustrating how the technology saves time
  • Highlighting similarities to tools staff use in their personal lives

2. Learn Your Business

Education isn’t just for the employees you communicate with. In Maliha’s experience, many communication professionals do not take the time to learn their organization’s business. This leaves them without an understanding of how the company generates revenue, how operations work, how technology is developed, and so on. Not understanding the business makes strategic conversations with leadership extremely difficult.  

“You have to know the business and the industry inside out so when you have a conversation with the CEO, you understand what they’re saying and can have informed conversations with them. I believe the more you can show that you understand those things and can speak their language, the more often they will bring you in proactively, and at some point, you will automatically be invited. Those invitations come from showing you understand and creating trust by building up your financial and business acumen,” she says. 

Going forward, how might you get a deeper understanding of your business and its industry? Exploring this question and acting on your findings is an excellent next step on your path to leadership. 

3. Solve Organizational Challenges

Once internal communication professionals get an understanding of the business, they can start to identify challenges the organization is facing and become proactive about solving them. 

There currently is a culture within internal communications of waiting to be invited to work with leadership. Maliha’s approach is antithetical. She always puts herself forward for opportunities she discovers, and believes it is essentials for others in the communications field to adopt this style of work as well. 

Maliha often sees communications professionals presenting tactical statistics to executive teams as a measure of success. “What they don't have a conversation with their executive leadership team about is, how can communication help improve productivity and remove deficiencies. For example, taking ownership of helping employees use digital tools—that’s a communication problem you can solve and when you are at that leadership table you can say what you've seen as a gap, how you can address it, and who you can work with to make it happen,” she says. 

4. Collaborate Across Departments

When it comes to executing on the improvements you’ve identified, the key to success is collaboration. It can take a village to make big projects come to life, and leadership teams know this. 

“Trying to solve problems by yourself is not only the wrong way to approach challenges, but it can show that you're not a team player. The best way to demonstrate to the leadership team that you understand the business and are willing to work with everyone around that table with different areas of expertise is through collaboration,” says Maliha. 

Throughout her career she has collaborated across businesses with departments including IT, procurement, legal, and HR. In her experience, knowing the business and when to bring all different subject matters experts in to collaborate was essential to the success of her projects. Collaboration enabled Maliha to implement multiple technology platforms in her last communications role that contributed to the overall success of the business. 

While the benefits of working with teams from across an organization are great, the consequences of not engaging in this kind of collaboration can be severe. “If you show executives that you don't know what the people around the table do and why you should work with them, you'll never be invited back.” 

Final Thoughts 

Internal communications professionals belong at the executive table, devising and executing strategies to better the companies they serve. To get there, professionals in our field need to adopt a mindset shift that allows them to boost employee efficiency, gain a deep understanding of business, focus on problem-solving, and collaborate across departments. 

As Maliha says, “Internal communications professionals are so focused on employees they forget that the executive leadership team is actually their client. Without direction and buy-in coming from that team, can internal communications really become a strategic function? Probably not.” 

About Maliha 

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Maliha is an award-winning, strategic communication and inbound marketing professional. She has worked in global corporate and agency roles for almost 20 years, connecting the dots between brand, marketing and communications to drive business objectives. She serves on IABC’s international board of directors and is a regular speaker at industry conferences.  She is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in business administration. She believes that life-long learning is a powerful catalyst for professional success, and that it is important to devote time to learning beyond your field. 

P.S. There’s one more tool we know you’ll love. The Sparrow Connected platform will help you deliver the engaging content you create to your employees on the channels they love and use most. We'd be happy to show you how in a personalized demo. Book your demo today! 


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