Michael Prescott gives his candid advice to anyone coming into the role
Think twice about taking the job unless you report to the CEO
It’s hard to think of circumstances under which you should settle for anything other than a direct reporting line to the CEO. Your relationship with that man or woman is going to be crucial. You need to be able to ask delicate questions, sound warnings and give frank advice. That means you can’t have time-delays or filters when it comes to dealing with the top person.
The reporting line is also important because it sends out a signal about the seriousness with which the company takes you, your team and its brief. You need that status to find out what’s going on and ensure you’re not cut out of important loops.
Ensure you have a superb head of Media Relations
Remember: you are not the company’s Chief Press Officer. You can easily get drawn into spending most of your time speaking with journalists or micro-managing tactical decisions such as whether to hand out a story exclusively or generally. Don’t. Ideally, this stuff should take up only a small portion of your time. You need the head-space to survey the horizon, anticipate threats and think creatively about how best to help your company.
Be a facilitator, not a manager
Obviously you want everyone who reports to you to be brilliant. That way, you don’t need to worry about them doing the basics of their jobs. You can instead ration your involvement to the times where you think you can add value. That means providing occasional counsel, dealing with the occasional internal blockage, resolving the occasional disagreement. You know you are in a good place when you’re a facilitator for great people, and not a manager of average ones.
Most people think that networking is all external – getting out and about, meeting influential people. That’s important, but so are all your fellow employees. Half the battle is getting really good internal information about the operations of the business. So spend time getting to know your colleagues across the business. Make sure that you are always accessible and helpful – and seen to be so. That way you are more likely to get the information and insights you need to know what’s really going on.
Consult as often as you can
Don’t be too quick to make a final judgment. There will be times when you need to make snap decisions, but when you don’t, ensure you are getting input from your team. Most of the time, what you want the company to say will benefit from some honing. Just about any plan can be refined. Your role isn’t a macho one. It’s more often a deliberative one, and you need soft skills to do it well. So my advice is to ignore the “Director” bit of your job title. If you’re going to be all you can be in this role, you’ll do more stewarding than directing.
Michael Prescott is the Group Director of Corporate Affairs at BT, which operates in more than 170 countries worldwide. He manages a team of 140 staff.
Measurement and evaluation