Hazel Melnick on last-minute requests

Hazel Melnick on last-minute requests
Hazel Melnick, deputy director of communications and engagement at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, shares with us her take on challenges she faces in comms.

Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

It was happenstance, although I’ve always believed good communications are the backbone to success. I started off in exhibitions and special events, and while I was mulling on what came next, I was approached to set up an internal communications programme for Docklands Light Railway. Perhaps it was kismet because I haven’t looked back, although I still miss the buzz of a big event. After two years at DLR I knew everything I’d ever need to about rolling stock – and have been in healthcare ever since. 

What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

Gosh there’s so many. Humour and resilience in spades for sure. And of course, everyone’s a comms expert! So, the ability to listen and to ask the right questions to really understand what a team wants to achieve, will hold any communicator in good stead. Often these conversations involve challenge and push back, so being able to build good relationships is vital in negotiating positive outcomes. Throw in some creativity and good story telling and you’re most of the way there. 

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?

We often get asked to develop a communications strategy before the project plan itself has been developed.

And being brought into projects at the 11th hour makes it so much harder to both maximise opportunities and manage so many competing demands.  

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Less red tape and a more streamlined approach to processes and decision making. For all the difficulties the pandemic threw at us, decisions were made quickly, and processes were more efficient; and having more autonomy when we needed to be so reactive made such a difference.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

Overall, very well. We’ve worked hard to help colleagues understand the scope of our remit, and how we can support them to achieve their goals and help to manage reputational issues within their service. We’ve also empowered them to improve how they engage across their teams and the wider organisation. 

When the pandemic struck it brought to the fore how much reliance there is on our department. A large part of our role is to make sure staff have the most up to date information to be able to do their job and keep themselves and their patients safe, which was crucial in the face of rapidly changing guidance.  

What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?

At an operational level, working in a hospital comes with huge and ever increasing demands. It’s incredibly fast paced, and things can often change at any given moment – so I do think you have to love the melodrama to thrive! And you need to be extremely agile and adaptable to reprioritise in an instant and still deliver successfully. 

At a strategic level, it’s fundamental that comms has a seat at the Boardroom table.

At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

We must show the ‘so what?’ element. While it’s useful to demonstrate the breadth of our work, it’s the outcomes that show our value add to the organisation.  

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?

Better use of technology will be crucial in improving employee engagement – people need information at their fingertips. I also think we’ll start to see artificial intelligence come into play, which will be a game changer in how we operate.  

And our focus for some time to come will be supporting staff and patients in a post-covid society, addressing burnout, inequalities in accessing healthcare etc. It will be interesting to see how this progresses as we develop our ICSs, especially around co-design of services and breaking down traditional boundaries.

It’s a fascinating time to be working in comms.