TECHNOLOGY – Alumni Spotlights highlight the success of THF Alumni in Technology.
Niambi (THF ’04) is Director of Internal Communications at Blackboard, an education technology company.
Can you tell us about your position with Blackboard?
I’m the Director of Internal Communications at Blackboard, an education technology company whose mission is to partner with the global education community to enable student and institutional success by leveraging innovative technologies and services.
What are you major responsibilities and what does a typical day look like for you?
I am responsible for developing and leading the employee communications and engagement strategy.
My responsibilities include acting as a strategic advisor to executives and senior leaders, thinking about the business story from an employee perspective, telling compelling stories that resonate with colleagues across the organization, communicating effectively during times of change and helping employees connect the dots between what they do every day and what the company is trying to achieve. I also do tactical, day-to-day work, like managing and creating content for our internal communication channels, including the employee newsletter and intranet.
My job is fast-paced and we are in a constant state of change, so there is no typical day for me – it really does vary from day-to-day. But at the end of the day, my goal is to use communications to strengthen the overall employee experience. If I do my job correctly, employees will feel informed about the business, inspired by the work we do, connected to our culture and our colleagues, and engaged in helping the company succeed.
What do you like most about working for Blackboard?
I believe in the mission, and I love that the company believes everyone—regardless of geography, financial situation, stage of life or disability—deserves access to education.
As a woman of color, I think this is extremely important because access to education of any kind is critical to our ability to not only move forward in our own lives, but also advance our families and our communities. And that’s the case for many other women and people of color around the world as well.
The people are amazing too – high performing and committed to the mission and the values of the organization (integrity, excellence, innovation and accountability).
What do you like most about your position?
I love that I get to work with employees in different roles, levels and regions to help strengthen employee communications and engagement. I also love that I’m able to bring my multimedia production experience to my corporate communications role and do what I’m trained to do, as well as what I’m passionate about.
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of your role?
The most rewarding part of my role is the gratification I get knowing that I am helping my own colleagues become more informed and engaged , which in turns benefits the company. To see that in a tangible way, and to know that I have a hand in making that happen is very rewarding.
Oftentimes internal communication teams are small. For example, I am the sole person responsible for internal communications at my job. Depending on organizational size, this can be challenging, but also exciting. The challenge comes in managing expectations and workload and finding work-life balance.
What particular talents or skills are most essential to being effective in your role?
In addition to being an effective communicator, you’ll need the following skills to be successful in this role:
Agility: As companies are constantly evolving to differentiate themselves in the market, what they require of employees is evolving as well. You need to be able to adapt to new expectations and pivot quickly.
Curiosity: Information doesn’t always come freely or easily, so you may find yourself acting as an investigative reporter at times. Be inquisitive, ask lots of questions, especially things people haven’t thought of.
Project management: Oftentimes you have an editorial calendar and tons of projects to juggle. You need to be able to effectively manage time, allocate resources appropriately, set clear expectations and communicate project progress effectively.
Creativity: It’s important to be able to take complex ideas and transform them into simple, accessible messaging, especially if the content is something employees aren’t familiar with . That often requires some creativity in wording, as well as other creative elements – images, videos, infographics, etc. Find a way to present the information in a way they will understand.
Relationship-building: As an internal communicator, you work will with people in all roles, levels and regions across the organization. It’s important to be able to build strong relationships among a diverse group.
Tell us about your THF internship experience.
I graduated from Howard and had no idea what I was going to do. Fortunately, I found the T. Howard Foundation and was afforded the opportunity to interview with ABC News in New York! I began my internship the summer after graduation, which was extended from 3 months to 6 months, and then it turned into a permanent, full-time job. I ended up staying at ABC for 3 years and it was a great experience overall.
I started my internship with Cynthia McFadden of Nightline, and she was fabulous, a great first boss. Along the way, I met some amazingly talented people (directors, producers, stage managers and desk assistants, among others) and I even met a few household names, including Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Charlie Gibson.
From an experience standpoint, I worked every shift there was and did the not-so-glamorous work that comes with broadcast news. From that, I learned how to pivot on a dime, pay attention to detail, acknowledge my mistakes, and fix errors quickly. I interacted with everyone from desk assistants to executive producers so I learned to deal with a lot of different personalities and to get the job done. My role with ABC was a great way to start my career in communications. I’m so thankful to T. Howard Foundation and ABC for the opportunity.
What was your favorite part of internship?
The people and the relationships I built. I still have a very good friend that I first started out with at ABC. She is one of my closest friends today. I think it was a great training ground but also great place to build relationships and grow professionally with others.
Also, I love that my experience showed me that news wasn’t for me. That realization ultimately led me to the fulfilling career I have today.
How has your affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation made an impact on your career?
My affiliation with the T. Howard Foundation helped jumpstart my career. Despite being a top student, I did not have any post-graduate opportunities lined up. If it weren’t for THF, I don’t know what the trajectory of my career would have been. They have helped tremendously, probably in ways I don’t even know.
THF also keeps me connected to colleagues in the industry, the Alumni Network, and what’s happening in media, which is a huge benefit.
What advice would you give to THF interns/other alumni as they being their careers? Particularly those interested in communications?
Dress for the job you want not the one you have: Presentation and first impressions are huge. If the office culture dictates casual work attire, take a look at what the leaders are wearing if that’s what you want to be. Whatever role you see yourself in, look at those people and conduct yourself accordingly, while also being authentic to who you are.
Build relationships: Do not underestimate the power of anyone in the organization, whether it’s the receptionist, the janitor, the executive assistant , or the CEO herself. I’ve met amazing people in every role at every organization I’ve been a part of. You develop rapport and get more insight into others and yourself. It helps you grow from a personal and a professional perspective.
Always be curious. Ask questions! Never lose curiosity. It will carry you far.
Join key organizations: This is a great way to connect with people in the industry and learn best practices. There are tons of groups on LinkedIn you can join where fellow practitioners host events, share articles, discuss best practices, etc. I find them really helpful in getting smart about the industry and key players.
Professional development. Ask for a career coach – they can be extremely beneficial in furthering your career. Sometimes your job will have funds set aside and will actually pay for your coaching sessions. Before making the ask, I suggest doing some research to find the career coach you want to work with, then clearly articulate how you and the company will benefit from this resource, then present your case to your manager and see what happens!