My Seat at the Table: When a PDF Changed My Life

I’ll set the stage.

February 2020. Companies in the United States started realizing they couldn’t stay silent about COVID-19. Employees were growing anxious as more and more people contracted the sickness that we didn’t know a lot about. People were dying – companies needed to speak up.

Personally, I had been managing employee communications for three years – but not always successfully. I was still begging the HR Benefits Manager to use my communications plan for open enrollment. I had put together the company’s first internal newsletter – with no measurement apparatus. Senior leader by senior leader started to trust the idea that employee communication was more than just All Hands that followed the investor’s call. I had built my job from the ground up – oh, and with no budget. I was doing my best with what I had but was never invited to “the table.”

That was until I found the PDF.

I had been a fan of Rachel Miller for a long time. As my company’s first employee communicator, I found as many resources and thought leaders in the field as possible. Rachel’s website was a weekly read as I continued to learn how I could serve the employees in my company.

In February 2020, Rachel published “COVID-19 Checklist of Questions to Answer,” a PDF checklist for communicators to consider as they started communicating with their employees about the pandemic. Times, as they said, were unprecedented and few companies knew what or how to communicate with their people.

I printed the PDF, took a deep breath, and walked down the C-suite to the Chief Risk Officer. She had put together a COVID-19 task force, bringing together most department heads to make quick decisions based on the progression of the pandemic. I handed her the PDF and let her know that I had been researching what other companies were communicating to their employees and mentioned I would be available if she had any questions.

She handed the sheet of paper back to me and asked, “Why don’t you join the task force meeting?”

Frozen, I heard myself say, “Absolutely, see you in a couple of hours.”

Inside, I was screaming.

More than being “included,” I was eager to bring a strategic vision to how the task force would communicate with our employees. My life was changed and I was honored to sit on that task force for the rest of 2020, gaining influence and becoming a strategic advisor to several senior leaders. 

Since 2020, I’ve come to realize that my influence was not gained by my “seat at the table,” but rather by the expertise I was able to bring to the table. If you’re looking to gain influence as a strategic advisor, keep learning, grow your network, and find the thought leaders who can help you like Rachel Miller helped me.

If you can’t be influential without a seat at the table, you won’t be influential with a seat at the table.” – Jenni Field

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