Strengthen your Career in 2021

Chellie Phillips, CCC/MCC

It’s the new year! Can’t say that I’m unhappy about saying goodbye to 2020. Last year may have felt like it was a standstill, so it’s more important than ever to take the time and focus on moving forward and strengthening your career in 2021.

For communicators, there are 10 keys to becoming a standout communicator who makes a positive impact at your utility. 

1. Build Relationships

At the core of every problem is an issue with a relationship. That relationship could be with your consumer-members, supervisor, board, community leaders, co-workers, or other utility colleagues. It’s vital you create a network willing to share ideas and resources. Only those who take the time to invest in others and build effective relationships will truly succeed in our industry. Why? Relationships are key to success no matter what happens with technology. People are still what the world is about.

2. Develop A Learning Mindset

Communications is a unique arena where professionals in the digital age see new trends, platforms, and software every couple of years. You need to develop curiosity, keep an open mind and maintain a willingness to learn. It’s also important to know when to unlearn something. That’s not always easy to do in the public power world. Change comes slowly, but continue having those conversations with the decision-makers in your organization. Doing so will help you become a standout communicator.

3. Always Listen

You may think communication is all writing and shooting video for social media. While those are a big part of what we do, there’s a key skill you can’t overlook if you want to become an invaluable part of your utility team: listening.

  • What are your members talking about?
  • How about your competitors?
  • What kind of feedback is your CEO or supervisor providing on your campaigns?
  • What are your co-workers talking about?
  • Are legislators considering legislation that could impact the bottom line of your utility?

Strengthening your listening skills will make you a more effective communicator and help in developing stronger relationships.

4. Be Flexible

Things change quickly. New tech. New strategies. Our schedules. Being flexible will not only help reduce the stress you feel on the job, but also shows you are adaptable and able to go with the flow.

Looking back on 2020, many of you had to dig deep on the flexibility scale – I know it stretched how utility leaders traditionally think. From virtual annual meetings to work-from-home technology, being flexible allowed us to continue serving our consumer-members and maintain the level of care they have grown to expect. It also showed your boss you can handle new challenges that come your way.

5. Planning & Composure

In our industry, sooner or later, you’ll encounter a crisis. Being prepared is key. Your composure will be vital as well. Start now learning how to handle irritation, disappointment, and frustration. Begin learning how to communicate in a calm, effective manner in case you are forced to deal with a reporter determined to spin the story negatively.

Planning for as many scenarios as possible may feel like overkill, but with the fast-paced world we live in, anything is possible at any time. Being prepared ahead of time will make you an asset to your utility leadership team and allow you to prepare a response much faster than if you must start from scratch.

Get Pioneer's 2021 Planning Guide

6. Pay Attention to Detail

Everything we do relative to marketing and communications is public-facing. Attention to detail is a key skill required whether you’re new to the utility world or are an experienced professional.

You don’t want to become known for your typos or misinformation. You’ve got to double, triple and quadruple check any communication you send out – whether that’s a Facebook post, web article, news release, or TikTok video. The old adage is true: You only get one chance at a first impression.

7. Become an Effective Storyteller

Successful communicators learn to be great storytellers. Since the beginning of time, stories have been used to pass along information. It’s how people remember things. It’s the most effective way to build your brand. What stories can you tell about your utility that touch on concerns of consumer-members?

  • Are consumer-members worried about paying a bill because they lost a job during the pandemic? If so, how can you share a story about your staff going the extra mile to set up payment plans so consumer-member can avoid cutoffs?
  • Do your millennial consumer-members value community? If so, how can you share stories showing your utility has been involved with the community for years and plans to continue?

Think about the concerns or interests of your audience and develop a storyline that covers all those points. Use them over and over in your social posts, articles, and community presentations.

8. Set Goals for Personal & Professional Development

Do you know what the most successful people all have in common? They take the time to write down their goals. Research shows you’re 42% more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down.

Whether your work has a formal goal setting process or not, setting goals for yourself and striving to achieve them is an effective strategy for improving your professional skills. Establishing personal and professional goals will give you something to work toward and help you measure your progress.

If your supervisor doesn’t have a plan in place, take the initiative and schedule a meeting with them to discuss what goals they feel would help you improve. By doing so, you are showing initiative and a willingness to grow and develop. That will be remembered during promotion time. You’ll also be learning what is important to them. You can use that information to become their go-to person in certain areas.

9. Be Prepared

When the management team calls on you for a valid opinion or a strategy, you need to be able to lead. Begin by learning all you can about the industry and the changes anticipated over the next few years. Be the one who shares information so it doesn’t come as a surprise to management.

10. Develop Grit & Don’t Lose Your Passion

In my opinion, the most important skill a communicator can have isn’t necessarily a skill, but an attribute. Our field is ever-changing and demanding. You might be writing about legislation one day or sharing restoration information following a hurricane decimating your electric system the next. If you don’t have a true passion for staying on top of your game and develop the grit to deal with change, you will burn out instead of stand out.

As a communicator, you are the voice of your utility. Embrace that unique role.

By building relationships, learning to adapt, and always striving to improve your craft, you will position yourself as a valuable resource inside your organization. You’ll also set a standard for others to strive to obtain.