Hundreds have played Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders around the world – and we like to check in with people. Early in July, Stephen Welch went to Bristol to run a session for the UK Government Communications Service. One of the participants was Sophie Mason, Head of Key Themes (Strategic Priorities Communications Team) at UK Research & Innovation. Here’s her story.
Stephen: Hi Sophie. Can you tell me a little about your work?
Sophie: I’m a senior strategic communications manager at UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). We have a budget of £7billion to provide funding for universities, research organisations, businesses, charities and others. My job is to lead teams working on specific projects.
Stephen: UKRI is a fairly new organization. How has your job changed since you took on this role?
Sophie: Earlier in my career, I worked in small organizations and UKRI has 7,500 people. So influencing and advising is completely different. I’ve had to learn to stop ‘doing’ communications and do more ‘leading’ and ‘advising’. The real challenge is learning how to influence people who you don’t know. In small organizations you are more visible to people at the top – you can bump into the CEO in the kitchen – but in large organizations you need to be more systematic at building relationships and influencing people to get the job done.
Stephen: Is that why you came along to our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders event in Bristol?
Sophie: Yes, I wanted to find out how to build and develop relationships in a different context and learn to be a strategic adviser. A lot of my previous jobs have been short-term contracts; in this one I want to build relationships and reputation for the long term. I wanted to learn how to be a business partner to senior people which is why attended Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders.
Stephen: What was the key learning for you?
Sophie: The Snakes and Ladders workshop taught me two key things. First: as a strategic adviser you need to work to see the long term. The benefits of your advice may not always be apparent in the short term and you need to be ready for this – sometimes you need a tough conversation (and lose some reputation points with a key stakeholder in the short term) but they will thank you in the end when your advice turns out to be right later on. Second: I found the ‘stakeholder mapping your career’ exercise really useful.
Stephen: I’m glad to hear that. A lot of communication and marketing professionals know how to prepare and use a stakeholder map for their campaigns, but relatively few use the concept to help plan their career. To support this process, we are currently developing a ‘promotions pack’: a toolkit to help people going into a new job think about what they need to do to be successful in a new role.
Sophie: That’s good. In my case, I had a mentor to help me with the transition. In my career until now, I’ve always had ‘outputs’ to measure my results. Now the challenge for me is to measure my results through others’ achievements.
Stephen: Mentoring is great! I’ve been involved in the IABC Mentoring scheme for a few years… Do keep us posted on your progress. As we discussed, we would be pleased to come and run a Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders workshop for UKRI, at your convenience. In the meantime, tell us about Sophie outside of work? What do you do when you are not working?
Sophie: While I love my job, I’m very much a “work to live” person and I put the money I earn to good use having as many adventures as I can. My main passions are travelling and scuba diving – my partner and I are child free, so we get to go on lots of holidays and explore over- and under-water. We recently spent three weeks in Panama, diving around wrecked pirate ships and exploring the jungle. Last year we were island-hopping in Thailand and next year we’ll be diving in Malaysia and driving across the States. I also love cats and I’m about to adopt two new ones, which I intend to spoil rotten!
Stephen: Ah, we can compare notes on cats some time. I have two. Meanwhile, thanks for your time, and perhaps see you at the next GCS event.