The Role of the Communication Professional During Times of Change

It has been fifteen months since the acquisition of my company occurred. The amount of change has been inexorable – some positive and some negative, depending on the lens through which you see your life. Without giving everything away, this has been a year of sticking it out, seeing through the change, and making it work. It still surprises me when I look back to joining the company over three years ago, and assess where we I am today. Sometimes I think ‘who would have thought?’

Through the many types of changes I experienced this year I have seen strong and transparent communications become a priority. In addition, understanding the team member needs has been of the upmost importance as well. One of the first things that our new company did was to survey both pre-acquisition companies to understand their culture, and identify what values were the most important to them. How cool is that to be a part of the company that values their team members!

During this time, I have been reflecting on why having a communication professional on your team is so important during such times. Our team members have been going through a consistent and non-stop amount of change – new processes, new teams, new leaderships, new technology…the list goes on and on. I find communication professionals are vital to the success of the business: driving internal team member engagement, creating key messaging, supporting executives and their teams, and being an approachable, listening ear through times of change.

There are two important and specific ways that communication professionals can support their teams and executives through times of change. The first is through creating messages and making decisions that are audience-centric. The strategies you design and the campaigns you plan should be targeted at addressing the needs of the person reading, watching, and participating in your communication efforts. How can you do this and become more aware of your audience’s wants and needs? Here are a few ways:

  1. Ask them! Create an annual communication survey to receive valuable feedback that shapes your plans and programs.
  2. Create regular touch points. Meet and consult with stakeholders from your business regularly to have a dialogue about upcoming communications, share best practices, and most importantly listen to what is going on within their teams.
  3. Build relationships. Become a presence within your organization – one that has an open door policy, loves creative ideas, and has empathy.

The second role that a communication professional should play is to be a strategic advisor to your executives and teams. Being a strategic advisor means that you use your experience mastering the art of communication to advise your stakeholders on the best ways to communicate, whether that be how to create a vision deck for the year, how to host an engaging all-hands meeting, or how to plan and promote an event. Some of the key ways to do this are through creating a strong portfolio of work, building a relationship of trust, and by being yourself!

I count myself very lucky to love what I do, and I hope that some of these ideas are relevant to other communicators and business professionals alike. I’d love to hear from you!

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Travel: Zurich

This Fall I had the pleasure of traveling to Switzerland on business, and as all of you know I never pass up an opportunity to see the sights when I travel. Four years ago I visited this beautiful country for the first time, and I was so excited to return. However, this trip signified something very special – my first solo trip internationally! I think about this adventure every day, and for those that follow me on Instagram you know I still have not stopped posting about it.

Days Spent: 5.5 days

The Adventure:

I waited with anticipation for my flight to Zurich from SFO, feeling ready to take on my first solo journey. With only a couple of days to explore on my own before the work portion of my trip began, I made myself a jam packed agenda that included lot’s of walking, tasting, and touring. Before I share some of my favorite parts of my trip, I want to share some insights:

  1. Zurich is a melting pot. Like Switzerland in general, there is a beautiful diversity there – you never knew what language a person would speak when they opened their mouth. Most of the time it was German, but seeing as Switzerland five countries you could never know for sure. Thankfully, everyone spoke English there so communicating was never a problem for me.
  2. Zurich is somewhere I could see myself living. Between the lovely city center, it’s surrounding neighborhoods, and hub for businesses, it seems like the perfect mixture of city and suburb.
  3. Zurich is surrounded by some of the world’s most stunning scenery. From the lakes to the alps to the bright green hills, I was in nature heaven.

When I booked my trip, I looked at the map of Switzerland and immediately began planning a way to check another European country off my list. To my surprise, I noticed a tiny country, the Principality of Lichtenstein, bordering Eastern Switzerland. I had to get there, so I booked a cheap day trip by bus which took me through Rapperswil, the road to the Alps, Vaduz, and Heidiland. A bus trip with other travelers was a great way to spend my time and meet some interesting people, especially since I was traveling alone. We didn’t spend too much time in Lichtenstein, but the journey there was worth the trip!

When I surveyed my friends and family for ideas on what to do and see in Zurich, I was surprised that nobody I knew had spent enough time there to give actual recommendations. Between the few that I did receive, and some extensive research, here are some of my must-do’s when you travel to Zurich:

  1. See Lake Zurich by boat. I found a lovely two hour boat tour around Lake Zurich that circled the lake and the many small towns that line it. I fell in love with each stop, and although I did not get out and explore, I knew that my potential vacation home could be on this lake 😉 It was beautiful!

     

  2. Walk through downtown Zurich & up to Lindhof Hill. Most of my time on this trip was spent wandering through the cobblestone streets, wide eyed and loving my surroundings. Around every corner was something new and beautiful – like a fountain full of roses or a river with white swans. Lindhof Hill had my favorite vantage point of the city, river, and mountains.
  3. Milch Bar. Right off the main shopping avenue, Bahnhofstrasse, was a little coffee shop called Milch Bar that was tucked away in a quiet quiet corner. I remember my feet being so tired from walking, and this was the perfect cozy spot to relax (and Instagram, of course).

    4. Sprungli Cafe. Swizterland is known for it’s chocolate. Have you ever heard of Lindt Chocolate? Well it’s made in a factory located on Lake Zurich! There are plenty of chocolate shops around the city, and I happened to stop into Sprungli one morning and did a little shopping 🙂 I may or may not have spent too much money on chocolate goodies.

The last time that I visited Europe was in 2014, and somehow between then and now I had forgotten what a magical place that it is. Now, after visiting Zurich, I’ll never forget!

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Travel: Portland, OR

Ever since I moved to the West Coast of the United States I have wanted to explore Oregon and visit Portland. After last summer’s trip to the coast, I was anxious to plan my trip to the city. My opportunity was met this Summer after being invited to a wedding in McMinnville, OR which is about an hour outside Portland.

Days Spent: 4 days

The Adventure:

To my surprise, McMinnville, the town in which we stayed for the first two nights was famous for it’s wine trail – there were wineries and tasting rooms on every corner! Between wedding festivities, I had the pleasure of visiting Youngberg Winery, a stunning facility with an incredible vista – perfect for wine tasting. Lucky for me, they had free wine tastings on yelp, and I left happy with a bottle of Pinot Gris in my hand.

One of my favorite parts about the trip to Portland was the hotel at which we stayed in downtown off 3rd – The Society Hotel. I knew I wanted to stay somewhere a little bit eclectic, so we opted for this renovated sailor’s hotel in Old Chinatown. It had welcoming management, a rooftop seating area, views of the city from our room, and the cutest cafe on the 1st floor. We definitely picked the best spot for our first Portland experience!

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Portland so that I can skip the lines. We waited in many lines on this trip to try out all of the hot tourist spots, which wasn’t our favorite in the middle of a heat wave. However, there was one innovative spot that we loved and was worth the wait – Salt & Straw. The flavors were so diverse and delicious – we opted for a lavender & brownie cone + a ice cream flight with flavors such as rose & hopped cider.

A highlight for me was our last day when we visited the International Rose Test Garden, where there are over 7,000 rose plants looking and smelling good! It was so lovely to stroll through the rows of flowers, and take lot’s of photos!

While everything can’t be my favorite, I really enjoyed walking around many different neighborhoods within Portland, and visiting a few breweries like Fat Heads. Another great city checked off the bucket list!

Portland, OR = check!

 

IG Inspiration: My Current Favorites

Until 2017, Instagram (IG) was just one of many apps I had downloaded on my iPhone – I followed my friends and posted about something interesting every once in a while. Just recently I’ve begun to embrace this media in a new way and I’ve found Instagram is full of inspiring people who love their craft, exude love, and support each other. 

In the past I’ve talked about Twitter and my personal Top 8 Accounts to Follow, and I had so much fun thinking about how I would do the same for Instagram accounts. During this process, I realized how different the content was that I follow for IG compared to Twitter – I don’t use it as a source of news or for work, so much as for my interests like travel, food, and daily doses of encouragement. Based on this, here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts to follow, by category!

Travel:

  • @travelandleisure: How can you go wrong following an IG account that features unique spaces and places from around the world on their feed!
  • @boston: Being born and raised in Massachusetts but living in California means I miss Boston a lot, but thankfully this amazing account has gorgeous pictures of the city and surrounding areas every day.
  • @parisinfourmonths: A few years back when gearing up for my European backpacking trip, I stumbled upon Carin Olsson’s Instagram when preparing for Paris. I love her consistent posts about travel, fashion, photography and living in Paris! Dream life much?!

Food & Health:

  • @cookieandkate & @pinchofyum are two of my absolute favorite healthy food handles, not to mention their feeds feature beautiful photography of their creations!
  • @oneloveorganics is my ride or die face cleansing line. I’ve been using their products for years now, and I love their IG because it features great blogs and healthy skin tips each day.
  • @holistichabits: For recommendations and tips on new healthy products, I love referencing Holistic Habits and her YouTube channel!

Community:

  • @girlboss: Girlboss Media is redefining what it means for women to be successful, on our own terms. This is definitely an account to follow for some inspiration.
  • I couldn’t get by without a little help from my girlfriends! @tiffanyvon, @daniella.nuu, @stefanierosemonroe. These girls, along with so many other people on IG, inspire, encourage, and push me to be the best version of myself. Definitely worth a follow!

To end on the best note, I encourage you to follow Instagram accounts that inspire you based on your interests. One of my favorite things about Instagram is that it allows me to explore Global Pathways. All of you know this is my true passion and purpose in life. I love this big, colorful, diverse world of ours. Although I still haven’t found that full-time job that allows me and my husband to spend months abroad whenever we want (call me if you have), I find such a joy in connecting with followers on IG from anywhere from London to Hong Kong to St. Petersburg. When you explore, I explore. When you learn, I learn. Isn’t there something powerful in that? I certainly think so.

Love,

@bexkurtz

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Travel: Nashville, TN

Every time that I visit a new city, my traveler’s soul is filled to the brim with happiness! After this month, I’m one step closer to reaching 50 states before I turn 30, and my husband Mike and I were able to put another pin on our travel map together. Our trip to Nashville has a special place in my heart for so many reasons, and I’m excited to share with you why!

Time Spent: 5 days

The Adventure: Five days was the perfect amount of time to spend in the greater Nashville area. We explored everything the city had to offer, taking part in so many fun activities thanks to our amazing local tour guides, who are friends of ours from our time at Biola University.

Okay, so let’s dig into my favorite activities in Nashville, and why this place needs to be the next city on your bucket list:

  1. The epic bar scene. I had never experienced a social scene quite like Broadway Street in Nashville before. When we were walking through downtown I had a smile on my face as we walked by building after building filled with happy people and live music. Personally, my favorite of each place we visited was Nudie’s Honky Tonk – it was the first bar we went to and in my opinion the music was the best. I’d also give a special shout out to Crazy Town, which had an outdoor area with a nice view of downtown at night.
  2. Girl time at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. One morning we spent a few hours at Cheekwood walking around the gardens and mansion, finding endless spots for photos and Instagram stories. It was so refreshing to walk the grounds, and experience a classic piece of Nashville history. As we toured the mansion, we learned that the owners founded Maxwell Coffee – a fun surprise!
  3. Slowing down at the Farm. We were lucky enough to spend some time in Franklin, TN, where our friends had a multi-acre farm ready for us to ATV, Dirtbike, and enjoy the outdoors. The ride to the farm took us down country roads with gorgeous lands, homes, and animals. Spending time on the farm was the perfect opportunity to slow down from our non-stop weekend and experience God’s country. We definitely sang a round or two of “God Bless America” while we were there.
  4. The Pedestrian Bridge. The entire time we were in Nashville I was looking for that perfect skyline view, and I found it at the Pedestrian Bridge! Right next to Broadway Street we found a walking bridge where you can see sweeping views of the city, and I was in heaven. I think if I had the option I would have sat on a bench looking at the views for hours! Fun fact: the famous music video “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy” was filmed on the Pedestrian Bridge.
  5. Southern Culture. Each city across the globe has it’s own personality and culture, and in Nashville I experienced a dose of that southern hospitality. From interacting with the locals, to eating at Loveless Cafe, to learning about this history and importance of music in Tennessee, to driving through all of the neighborhoods (and seeing Carrie Underwoods house), Nashville now has a piece of my heart. Experiencing the southern culture reminded my how different each part of the United States is, and why I love every sub-culture that it has to offer.

Enjoy this short video encapsulating our unforgettable Nashville adventure! 

5 Ways To Be A More Collaborative Professional

The value of successful collaboration within a team is invaluable. During my time as a post-graduate I have realized how sincerely I enjoy working with others who have a “team player” mentality, as it is easy in business to become solely focused on your own goals. I came across a quote recently by Vince Lombardi, American NFL player, coach, and executive that resonated with my perspective on the importance of teamwork:

“Individual commitment to a group effort: that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

When a team collaborates well, everyone feels like they are contributing to a part of the whole without hesitation or confusion. For me, I think there are ways that each of us as professionals can actively pursue becoming a better team member, which includes collaborating effectively.

Being a team player means actively taking steps to collaborate with your team.

Here are five ways that you can become a more collaborative professional:

  1. Embody positive team attributes. There are many qualities that, when combined, exemplify a team player. These traits can include, but are certainly not limited to being empathetic, inclusive, encouraging, honest, and reliable. Forbes Magazine expands on these character attributes, many of them leading to team success.  Be self aware here – look at these traits and assess if there are areas of your professional (or personal!) life that you can take active steps to improve.
  2. Meet with professionals in similar roles, and share best practices. I’ve personally gained so much by reaching out to people within my company who are internal/executive communicators like myself. Most often than not, these relationships can serve you in the future by coming full circle and offering further opportunities for partnership and collaboration.
  3. Use the tools your company or group provides. Does your company have an intranet? Bookmark your team page and actively contribute. Does your small group at school have a group text? Be engaging and responsive there. Many of my colleagues have heard me say “An engaged team is a strong team” and I stand by that phrase whole heartedly because I have seen what a collaborative team can accomplish!
  4. Be well versed in interpersonal and conflict resolution skills. Let’s be real, even the most well functioning teams experience conflict whether that be a miscommunicated email or a failed deadline. Knowing how to communicate and collaborate through the conflict shows a level of professionalism that is appreciated and respected by your colleagues.
  5. Raise your hand to lead and be a part of exciting projects and opportunities that come your way. Working in new settings with new people presents you with a great chance to collaborate and experience new growth as a professional.

 

By becoming a better collaborator you can ultimately help yourself. You help yourself with future team projects, opportunities that come your way, conflicts you will have to deal with, and so many more interpersonal interactions. Let’s make a promise to ourselves to take these steps together, and become the best professionals we can be not only for ourselves but for our teams.

Have No Fear, Communication Studies Majors!

Last month a staff member from the Biola University career center gave me a call, looking to ask me about what life was like post-graduation as a Communication Studies major. I remember exploring multiple majors in college – from Political Science, to Sociology, and finally to Communication Studies. When I landed in this department during the second semester of my Sophomore year, I recall loving that this major could take me anywhere. However, for some students the ambiguity can feel overwhelming. What can I do with a communication major? Where will interpersonal, organizational, theatrical, or rhetorical communication get me? Would you ever think that a Liberal Arts degree could lead you to the Technology Industry?

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Not too long ago I read an excellent article titled, “Liberal Arts in the Data Age” from the Harvard Business Review, and I remember connecting with some of the main points that the author makes:

  • People are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well trained to do.
  • If we want to prepare students to solve large-scale human problems, we must push them to widen, not narrow, their education and interests.
  • The CEOs of YouTube, Slack, and AirBnb all have liberal arts degrees.

It has been so exciting to see the industries that my classmates have entered – Entertainment, Action Sports, Fashion, Non-Profit, Education, Photography, and let’s not forget Technology. Students who pursue a Liberal Arts degree should keep their minds open to the possibilities that follow after graduation, including reacting to opportunities outside of their norms. For me, it was accepting a job at a technology company. I remember writing my first ever blog post here about being a “Communication Girl in an Engineering World”and shaking my head at where I’d landed after graduation thinking, “could this industry be any more opposite than me?” Fast forward to three years later and I have grown and progressed professionally more than I could have imagined.

If you are a communications professional, or a student wondering where to use your communication studies education, the options are endless and the technology industry has a place for you. Let’s keep this conversation going – message me on LinkedIn or tweet at me and I’d be happy to chat.