Amna Qureshi, Internal Communications Manager at Polestar, discusses how internal communications is important in keeping employees feeling valued and connected in the workplace, as well as, informed of organizational efforts and changes. Amna also discusses with Isis Simpson-Mersha from Ragan Communications and Katy Colón from D S Simon Media about the expectations versus realities of developing collegiate skills in an entry-level role.
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ISIS: I’m Isis Simpson-Mersha, Conference Producer and Reporter at Ragan.
KATY: I’m Katy Colón. I’m the Client Service and Marketing Associate here at D S Simon Media. We’re here with Amna from Polestar. Amna, thank you for being with us today.
AMNA: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.
ISIS: Amna, what are some lessons in college that are not applied in “real professional life?”
AMNA: So, I have a degree in psychology and journalism, and I ended up falling into the realm of communications. So, for me, a lot of the things that I learned while I was studying journalism had to do with writing, and AP style, and just writing press releases in a certain way. And I think going into the real world, I guess you can call it, it really made me realize that a lot of the things that we do learn — the structures, the guidelines, and all of that that you’re taught to follow. Obviously, it’s a good template and standard, but a lot of that goes out of the window as soon as you enter the real world. Every company, I guess you could say, every organization has its own style and guidelines and you kind of just have to adapt, right? When I first started working and I was writing an article, or a press release, or whatever it may be, and I was told that, “No, it’s not this way. We do it this way.” It just felt like I was going against the grain or going against my nature because I had been taught one way for so long. So, I think for me that was the biggest takeaway, is that all these things that you learn in college are a good standard and a good preface to what you’re going to be implementing when you’re in an organization, but it’s not the end all, be all.
KATY: Definitely a learning experience. I wanted to ask you, how do you leverage internal communications to benefit organization’s overall business goals?
AMNA: I think internal communications is honestly the glue that holds together a lot of organizations in general. I think across the industry and across every organization, you find internal communications is the one that is meant to inform the employees about everything that’s going on. If an employee doesn’t know what’s happening, then how are they supposed to know what their job is impacting? Everyone wants to know how their overall efforts and hard work is impacting the organization. They want to know where we are, where we’re going, all of that. And I think that’s the job of internal comms is to communicate that out so you can help people do the best version of their job.
ISIS: That’s really important. Obviously, coming from an employee standpoint, if I don’t know when to be doing or I don’t have clear communication about what’s going on in the company, you know, I could be obviously really confused.
AMNA: You can take that internal communications into any sort of situation or scenario, right? It doesn’t have to be even in the workplace, but imagine you’re putting together a party for a bunch of people and you don’t know anything. You don’t know why you’re doing it, you don’t know what the purpose is or anything, it’s hard to have that passion for it, right? Whereas if you know everything that’s behind the scenes, then you feel a little bit more ambitious.
ISIS: Absolutely. How do you take the lead in engaging employees?
AMNA: I think it’s really important to make sure employees feel like they’re playing more of a part than just coming in at nine and leaving at five and getting their work done. Corporate America is not a realm that you enter and you forget about the rest of your world, right? I think it’s important to engage employees in their interests and see what are people passionate about? What do people like? What do people hate, right? At the end of the day, we’re all, employees are all humans. It’s not like you transform into something else as soon as you enter the workforce. So, I think it’s important to always look at that human interest aspect as well, because once you find that and you find things that people enjoy, even if it’s small, right? Including articles on passion projects, or people having babies, or whatever it may be, I think that really helps people feel that they’re part of a family rather than they’re part of an organization overall. That’s part of internal communications, right? You’re the ones that are communicating out anything that happens for employees or happens for the organization. And I think, obviously, there’s always that intertwining between HR and internal comms, and employee engagement, overall but I think it’s important to remember that everybody is human and this is part of their overall life, right? So, talk about things that are interesting that might not necessarily be business goals or KPIs or whatever it is because then when you do talk about that stuff, people will appreciate it a little bit more.
KATY: Exactly. It’s so important to find your passion within your industry. I completely agree. I wanted to ask you, what are some of the skills that communicators need to know?
AMNA: Know your audience, number one, first and foremost, that is the most important skill you need to have. Any organization you go to there’s no standard blanket type of communication, you have to know your audience. You have to know what they like, what their preferences are. Getting a baseline is really important. And second is to know, just get an idea of the tone, right? And the vibe that’s going around, because you never want to be tone deaf in your communications either. If everybody in the organization is down or upset about something, you don’t want to send a cheerleading letter because you’re definitely not going to be taken, I guess, in a serious manner. You have to know where to draw the line I think in certain things, and you have to know the tone to set it across as well. I think another big one is obviously writing, right? You have to know how to write and write to your audience. Standard writing templates, all of that helps a lot, but also the thing that I love about internal communications is that it’s so personable, and you can really express yourself while being in a business. Those are the top few important skills. Obviously, there’s so much more, right? People management and everything, but as long as you have those three, the rest, kind of, just falls into place.
ISIS: I know you kind of just summed it up, but you really shared some great gems with us today. And I just wanted to know, is there any last parting words or encouragement that you could give for maybe someone starting out?
AMNA: I would say for people that are starting out, just try different things, right? When I first started, as I mentioned, I have a degree in journalism and psychology. I always thought I wanted to be a journalist and then a few years in I decided I didn’t want to, right? And then, I did a lot of internships when I was in college, and that’s the number one thing that I would recommend is make sure you get those internships in because that time, even if it’s unpaid, is worth so much more than you can ever imagine. Trying those different things, going into a PR internship, and then working in PR, I kind of learned what I liked. I learned that I like the internal side a little bit more, I enjoyed it, right? I enjoy writing still, I enjoy communicating, and I felt like internal communications was the route that I wanted to go towards. Everyone’s different, right? Some people might go into PR and decide they like marketing or they might stay in PR. I think that the best way to know what you want to do is to just try. Obviously, some people just go up, and they know what they want to do, and that’s perfect and great, but that’s not everybody right? So, if you’re working, and you have an entry-level job, and you feel like this, isn’t it, this isn’t your passion, it’s not too late to try something new.
KATY: Thank you so much for sharing some insight and sharing great advice about your career and your journey.
ISIS: Thank you.
AMNA: Thank you so much for having me.