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Up for the challenge?

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Up for the challenge?

Sweaty palms. Pounding heart. An inability to remember your own name. These are all common signs that you’re about to challenge a senior leader. But it doesn’t have to be this way…

We all know that we should be able to challenge senior leaders as and when required. However, in practice it’s quite a tricky thing to do. What if they publicly shoot you down in flames? What if it damages the relationship you spent ages building with them? What if you pick the wrong moment? What if they agree with you…?

So often we think about what could go wrong that we lose sight of the fact that we’re professionals who know what we’re doing and who wouldn’t be challenging without very good reason. So, focus on how you can make your argument stronger and build your reputation as a credible internal communicator that brings insight and understanding to every situation.

Here’s some ways you can do that…

Get to know the person

Senior leaders are human too and the more senior you are, often the more vulnerable you are. It can be lonely at the top when everyone looks to you for direction. We have an important role to play in helping them make informed decisions and good leaders will be grateful for our input – at the right time and in the right way.

Try to understand who they are as an individual and tailor your approach accordingly. If they are an extrovert, they may want quick facts and examples to encourage them to think differently, whereas an introverted leader may want to see more in-depth analysis.

Consider what is important to them and ensure that you always keep that in mind and pick your battles accordingly. If they’re deep in merger negotiations, they’re unlikely to welcome a discussion about a different approach to comms for the next engagement survey.

Facilitate discussion

When approached about communicating in a way you feel isn’t right, try to facilitate a discussion where you ask questions that help people think through some of the ‘W’ questions in a way that makes it OK to consider other options (or even decide that it doesn’t warrant communication at all).

For example:

  • Who is your target audience for this?
  • Why is it important for people to know this?
  • What do you want people to think, feel and do as a result of this communication?
  • What does success look like for you?

Once armed with the answers to these types of questions, you can frame the conversation around how you can best help them to make this work, drawing on your experience (see the next point about measurement) and making other suggestions.

By taking this approach, you’ve created a safe space for everyone to acknowledge a different approach is needed. As mentioned before, senior leaders are human too, so ensure they leave the room feeling they have received credible advice from an expert rather than embarrassed or undermined.

Provide measurement

If you’re going to challenge a senior leader’s decision, ensure you can back up your argument. How do you know what they’re suggesting won’t work and that what you’re suggesting will? Being able to point to measurement that demonstrates why you approach internal communication in a certain way will help to influence them.

For example, your CEO is keen to start a video blog and wants to communicate some upcoming changes via it. You know from experience that your employees prefer to hear messages like this face to face from their line manager. But telling your CEO that isn’t enough, refer to data from recent surveys or focus groups, share your audience insight, or be able to give examples of when line manager communications have previously achieved the desired outcome.

Ensure that objective setting and measurement are part and parcel of what you do so that you can be confident in the advice you give and support the business and senior leaders in the right way.

Do what you say you will, when you say you will

To be able to challenge effectively, you need to have built a trusted relationship with your senior leader. This means ensuring they can rely on the internal communications team to do what they say they will, when they say they will to the highest standard.

Your reputation as a team will be in part built on your ability to get the basics right. If communications go out with typos or a day later than promised, colleagues may wonder what else you might not get right.

This isn’t fair, especially when many internal comms teams are being pulled in multiple directions and sometimes not everything will be absolutely perfect. But we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve delivered a campaign that we’re proud of only to have a colleague point out the one error that slipped through the net, taking the shine off everything.

Prioritise and have clear processes in place as a team to minimise the risk of situations like these. Trust takes a long time to build up and just seconds to lose.

It takes time to build relationships and to change the way people perceive internal communication, especially senior leaders. There will be a period where you’re laying the groundwork and demonstrating the impact you can have.

That can be frustrating, but it will be worth it in the end when your senior leader calls on you for your judgement and input rather than you having to take the challenge to them (along with your sweaty palms and pounding heart).


By Helen Deverell for Alive with Ideas!

“The guys at Alive understand the complexities of our business which means we don’t need to explain the detail of every project or design piece – they’re already on it, which keeps things moving and delivers the results we need.”

Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

“I feel like they own and care for the project as much as we do! I would not use anyone else for my creative work and think Alive is ahead of the game.”

Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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