What do I have to offer?

lorna photo Lorna McCallum’s 25 year career within the private sector gave rise to her passion about all the amazing benefits communication and employee engagement can bring to organisations. So much so, that in January 2014, she setup her own company which specalises in helping organisations manage change through communication-based strategies. That company is called Elephant Intelligent Communications.

I am a woman in my late 40’s. For about six months now, I’ve been thinking I’d like to become a board member of a third sector organisation. The main reason? I’m keen to offer support and assistance to a cause that’s close to my heart – mental health in the workplace. The other reason? Not quite so altruistic, but I’m in the process of setting up my own business. I believe being a board member will give me some real up-to-date insight into the kinds of challenges individuals and organisations face.

The big question is – what do I have to offer?

The introvert in me (who’s definitely in charge today) wants to start with a list of why I’m not suitable. The word ‘Manager’ has never appeared in my job title, far less ‘Director’. I have worked in the private sector for over 25 years (with a little bit of academia thrown in). My only experience of working in the third sector, was for an all-too-brief three year period back in 1990. The differences in terminology sometimes confuse me. In the private sector I’m a consultant. In the third sector, Advisor or Facilitator sounds better – less corporate. I have only a basic grasp of all things financial. I could go on.

Now that I think about it though – there are three qualities that I do possess in abundance. The first is passionate curiosity. I like the term. It comes from an Albert Einstein quote “I have no special talent – I am only passionately curious”. It formed part of my talk to about 100 postgraduate and MBA students last week on the high and lows of writing a dissertation. My particular passion is for individuals and organisations to communicate better. That’s why I gave up a well-paid job in the private sector and went to university for the first time in 2009. It’s why I spent over a year researching and writing a dissertation looking at the importance of communication and employee engagement and organisational change. It’s why I’ve set-up my own business – because I want to help organisations see the benefits that communication and employee engagement brings.

Passion means that I give 100% to whatever I’m doing. My motivation levels last far longer.
The second is I am also a genuine people person. A work colleague once described me as the glue that held the department together. I soothe tempers and disagreements by firstly listening (a lot) and then suggesting options. I go out of my way to help people. Not because I’m looking for something in return but because I genuinely like to help people. I believe in not just talking the talk but walking the walk. A friend has set-up a campaign group calling for all retailers to stop selling energy drinks to children under 16 (it’s an emotive topic right now). She asked if I would help her with the communications. There is no budget. I agreed and now spend roughly a day a week putting together promotional packs, spreading the word around my business contacts and asking for sponsorship.

Finally, I am receptive. I actively listen to what people have to say. I like hearing new ideas, new ways of doing things. I also ask for feedback. I wrote a summary report on the skill sets required by governance practitioners in the Scottish third sector. I conducted interviews (only four I’m slightly embarrassed to admit – but the funding was minimal). I wrote the draft report and asked for feedback. Some of it was positive. Some of it wasn’t.

I re-examined the content – was my lack of knowledge of the third sector painting a skewed picture? The answer was yes, in parts. I took on board the comments that I could and explained why I couldn’t take on others. I am happy because I acted with integrity.

That’s me in a nutshell. So, although I may not know a lot about the third sector, I have a great capacity to learn. Skills can be developed (finances would be a good one for me to start with) but it’s who you are deep down that I think can make a difference to any organisation.

Am I right? Feedback would be most welcome!

4 Comments on What do I have to offer?

  1. Hi Lorna, I’m curious as to why you are interested in third sector as you also said that you have no knowledge of the sector. Did your research into the skill sets required to work at board level indicate that you had the correct skill set or do you have a desire to work in a particular area? The term third sector covers a multitude of sins, so to speak and having a keen interest in the work of a particular organisation is just as important, to my mind, as having an idea of the skills needed for board level governance.

    • Lorna mccallum // March 7, 2014 at 10:15 am // Reply

      Hi Karen, my curiosity in the third sector came about reallly as a result of the conducting the skillset research last year. The people I interviewed were exceptionally helpful and welcoming and i immediately thought they were ‘my kind of people’, because they had passion in their hearts. In relation to your point about did the report show that I had the ‘right skillset’. No, I don’t think it did. I think given the variety of organisations operating in the third sector it is very hard to define skillsets and given the small sample group would be extremely wary in saying what I identified would in any way be representative of the sector as a whole. I also think skills can be learned and it is who you are that makes a difference. So, your point about having a keen interest being just as important is, in my mind, absolutely correct. You also asked do i have a desire to work in a particular area – mental health as i mentioned is a topic close to my heart and in terms of functional expertise – i am a generalist and have been a trainer, webmaster and programme coordinator. i think the strengths i can offer are in demonstrating the benefits effective, managed, values-led communication brings to today’s workplace. Writing this article has been a great learning experience for me personally and I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to comment, you’ve given me some real food for thought.

  2. Anne Casey // March 5, 2014 at 8:18 pm // Reply

    Would have loved to have heard more about the dissertation Lorna as I too feel strongly about the need for good communication. From personal experience I know the importance of good communication especially in times of change and how it can make the difference between success or failure in making things happen.

    • Lorna mccallum // March 7, 2014 at 11:04 am // Reply

      Hi Anne. That’s really interesting to hear your experiences are so similar to mine. Yet, it continues to amaze me why more organisations aren’t waking up to the reality that communication matters. I’m a great believer that taking a few small steps is better than none at all. However, I do think it can be uncomfortable for organisations going through change especially where trust and morale is low because to me, it can ultimately mean altering behaviours if the change is to be successful. Would be happy to have a further conversation about my dissertation or perhaps meet up for a coffee if you’re in Edinburgh – it was a real eye-opener and I’d love to hear more about your communication experiences too.

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