What Makes a Top Workplace?


Visiting one of DIRECTV’s Denver offices this week, I felt a special energy.

People were upbeat and friendly. A hum of activity filled the halls. Lively conversations spilled out of the elevators.

A lobby sign reminded employees they’ve made the company a Denver Post top workplace for three years in a row.

(Kudos are in order here for Denver-based communications leader Anthony Martini, HR leader Carlos Botero and all of the leaders and employees at our Denver sites.)

It was not unlike the company’s many other locations, where people are highly engaged in entertaining the future by delivering the best video experience in the world.

What makes a top workplace?

While there are many models and methodologies for identifying top workplaces, for me there are three things. They all need to be present for an engaging and energizing employee experience.

Purpose. What is the company’s vision? How is it changing the world? And how are employees part of something much bigger than themselves as individuals?

A compelling and inspiring purpose motivates people to pour their heart and soul into their work. It drives discretionary effort, where employees put in significant amounts of effort above and beyond what their jobs require.

Many companies today report low levels of engaged employees. That’s why I’m especially proud of my colleagues at DIRECTV, whose high engagement and strong financial performance put in the company in Towers Watson‘s high performing companies norm.

Leaders play a critical role. They’re the ones who articulate the purpose and communicate every day in their words and actions how their teams further that purpose. One of their most important roles is also to express a genuine interest in employees and inspire them to deliver their best efforts.

Communication is the catalyst. It gets back to the tree-falling-in-the-forest question in my first post. Without effective communication, a compelling purpose is nearly nonexistent.

“Start with why,” Simon Sinek said in a TED talk with 22 million views, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

People. We spend most of our days with our work colleagues. Talented and positive people make the workplace come alive.

It starts with having a compelling employer brand, articulating the promise of the employee experience your company offers. That branding brings top talent on board, and ongoing development keeps everyone growing and stretching.

Add to that an inclusive work environment that values everyone’s ideas and insights. This leads to a constant stream of innovation, not to mention better decision making and happier employees who enjoy coming to work each day.

Possibilities. Limitless potential encourages people to keep stretching and growing — to learn and develop themselves as they contribute to the success of their organizations and their teams.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is on track to climb what used to be known as a corporate ladder. It does mean that people have an opportunity to build valuable skills and experiences, that they’ll put to use at their current organization or another one.

LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and colleagues call these “tours of duty” in The Alliance. In this framework, “Employees invest in the company’s adaptability, and the company invests in employees’ employability.

This creates multiple possibilities for the future, strengthening both people and organizations in the process.

A top workplace isn’t about free food, yoga classes, pet care or a myriad of other perks.

While those are nice and most people wouldn’t refuse them if offered, those are extrinsic rewards. This makes them more ephemeral and less powerful than intrinsic rewardswhere the enjoyment of the work itself is the reward.

Enjoyment and inner fulfillment come from a strong purpose, great people and limitless possibilities. These are a lot less expensive than 24/7 meal service. And much more sustainable and satisfying to boot.

Say It In a Subject Line

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How can you get your message into the first three to five words?

If the recipient read nothing else, would they get the main message in those first few words?

And how you can grab their attention right away?

These are the questions I’m asking when I’m reviewing materials my Comms team or others have drafted.

Is the main message in the subject line? Or the slide headline? Or the blog post title?

It’s in those first few critical words – or increasingly, images – that your audience will decide if they should engage further or move on to the next message.

Your subject line and preview text may be all your reader ever sees of your email, so make ’em count. Check out some great email subject lines to inspire the ones you write.

And make sure you’ve included keywords, “an informative word used in an information retrieval system to indicate the content.”

Even The New York Times, long known for its lyrical headlines, is now including keywords.

And there’s a bigger goal as well.

“What matters more than a story’s ‘searchable’ factor is how ‘shareable’ it is on social media,” the article by Margaret Sullivan goes on to say, “so headlines need to serve that purpose too.”

And what makes something interesting and shareable and interesting echoes the themes in 4 Questions to Transform Your Elevator Pitch.

So how can you say it in a subject line?

4 Questions to Transform Your Elevator Pitch

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This week, I’m preparing to give a one-minute elevator pitch.

This should be easy. I’ve done personal branding sessions. I’ve defined my unique value proposition. And I’ve drafted a pitch, complete with words like strategy and collaboration and results.

But somehow, those formal statements are things I would never say. They wouldn’t feel natural. They wouldn’t sound believable. They wouldn’t be interesting.

And as Tim David says in his HBR post, Your Elevator Pitch Needs an Elevator Pitch, they wouldn’t be authentic.

So what should I say? What should you say the next time you’re on an elevator or at conference and someone asks you to tell them what you do?

In one minute, you have about 120 words to pique someone’s interest and spark a longer conversation.

Being in the TV business, pivotal scenes or compelling narratives often come to mind. As The Wall Street Journal reported in a tribute to Mad Men, elevators have been described as a neutral zone where “time, physical space and tension get neatly compressed.”

So how can use use that to your advantage?

First, who are you pitching to? As with any communication, consider your audience. Who are they and what’s important to them? What problems are they trying to solve? And how can you help? Answering these questions will help you tailor your pitch.

Second, why are you pitching to them? What do you want to accomplish? Your general objective should be to generate interest in a follow-up conversation, not to close a sale or land a job. Think of your elevator pitch as opening the door to more dialogue.

Third, what do you want them to know about you? If the person were to remember just one thing about you, what would you want it to be? Focus on that area and edit out everything else.

Fourth, how can you say it authentically? Translate corporate jargon into real words that anyone could understand. Could your parents understand it? How about a kindergartner?

Here’s the start of mine for this moment in time:

Hi, I’m Caroline Leach. I help people learn to love change. Whether it’s winning customer loyalty, working in new ways or creating a culture of volunteerism, I use communication to lead change. And involving people makes them more excited about the future. 

Best-selling author Daniel Pink has great ideas about creating an elevator pitch for our digital world. One is having a one-word pitch. If, according to Pink, Google equals search and MasterCard equals priceless, what one word defines you?

I chose “transform.” I also considered “change.” But while many people are inspired by the idea of transformation and its possibilities for reinvention and growth, people resist change, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter summarizes so well on ten different levels.

People don’t always like to change. But they would eagerly transform their lives. And communication can connect the two in a powerful way that ultimately leads to sustainable change.

Pink also suggests summing up your pitch in a tweet. In 140 characters or less, what’s your Twitter pitch?

My tweet is I help people learn to love change.

And that’s what I’m exploring right now in my work and in this blog. And as that changes and evolves, so will my elevator pitch.


Why Not?

Cal Commencement 2015

If you think you can’t do something, ask “why not?”

Probe a little further and dig a little deeper before you write off a potential solution or a course of action.

Two graduation events in the last week week made me think about this.

Our Comms team celebrated the USC graduation of Jamie Zamora, a terrific intern who will join us full time on our Corporate Citizenship team led by Tina Morefield.

Jamie’s colleagues Brooke Hanson and Brynne Dunn asked our whole team to share their words of advice for Jamie. A few of the themes? Build a network, take time for yourself and enjoy the journey.

The whole world is before you, with problems to solve. And you can be part of the solution, starting with the questions you ask.

Some of these themes were echoed in the UC Berkeley commencement I attended this weekend to see my nephew Kodiak Spydell receive his degree in architecture.

And for all of the challenges in the world today, I was encouraged and inspired by this group of students now entering the work world.

Enthusiasm and idealism were tempered by the sober realities we all face — environmental concerns, increasing inequality and economic instability, to name a few.

The “a-ha” moment for me was the extent to which each person can be part of the solution.

No degree is required. Just one simple question can unlock ideas and solutions, no matter who are you.

Instead of thinking “that would never work” or “they won’t let us,” try asking “why not?” instead.

What are all of the possible solutions? What would need to happen to make one or more of them work? And how can you take the first step?

Why not try one of them? What’s the worst that could happen? And what’s the upside if something works?

This kind of thinking struck me in Marc Benioff‘s commencement address at Cal.

As a pioneer of cloud computing and the CEO of Salesforce.com, Benioff has built “the fastest growing top ten software company in the world and the largest customer relationship management company.”

Deeply troubled by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana that could have allowed discrimination against the LGBT community, he spoke out.

In doing so, he galvanized the support of fellow tech leaders and took steps in his own business to make it clear that the threat to civil rights carried consequences.

This had strong echoes of a TEDx Manhattan Beach speaker, David Hochman, whom I mentioned in my first post. He shared his life’s mantra: Why not me? Why not now?

This kind of thinking was evident in Marc Benioff’s actions.

And it came full circle in a story my dad told about his days as an engineering and business student at Berkeley in the tumultuous 60s.

A final exam in a course asked only one question — “why?”

Almost all of the students began writing furiously, filling page after page with lengthy responses.

Except for one student (no, not my dad), who aced the test with a two-word response — “why not?”

You Matter


What are our deepest human cravings?

To feel that we are important. That we have something valuable to contribute. That we matter.

Tony Schwartz summed it up well in an HBR blog post called, The Only Thing that Really Matters.

“How we’re feeling — and most especially whether or not we feel acknowledged and appreciated — influences our behavior, consumes our energy and affects our decisions all day long,” Tony wrote.

“Our core emotional need is to feel valued,” he continued. “Without a stable sense of value, we don’t know who we are and we don’t feel safe in the world.”

That reminds me of a great TED talk by Simon Sinek, called Why good leaders make you feel safe.

(And as an aside, if you want something engaging to do during your commute, get the TED app and listen to a playlist of talks on a subject of interest. Work Smarter, Before Public Speaking and How to be a Great Leader are favorites.)

Back to Simon. He talks about the importance of creating trust among people and fostering a safe environment as a way to build up people and organizations.

The result? “When we feel safe inside the organization,” Sinek says, “we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.”

He describes leadership as a choice, not a title. Looking after your colleagues makes you a leader, Sinek says.

That can sometimes mean acknowledging a hard truth. The principal of my son’s school wrote a poignant email to parents the day that people across the country heard of the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook.

“The randomness and unfairness of this event remind us the deeply troubling fact that we can never fully protect our loved ones,” he wrote. He named our unspeakable fear. Which made it just slightly less awful, to be reminded that we can’t, in fact, control everything. Even if, as humans, we would like to. And we strive to.

What does this have to do with communicating effectively with employees? With winning their hearts and minds? With showing people that they matter?

It means listening – to hopes as well as fears. It means building trust. It means showing by your actions that people are important. That they have value. That they are needed. And that they have an opportunity to be part of an inspiring vision that is bigger than themselves.

Two people I know are really good at this.

First is Joe Bosch, DIRECTV’s CHRO and my boss. He gets the HR team together frequently, and a tradition is his presentation of a  “Bosch toolbox.” For an individual who’s done something notable, Joe invites them to the front of the room and reads his personal note on the box, which is filled with fun tools.


Second is Andy Bailey, who leads employee recognition on my team, with a focus on our frontline employees. Andy’s mantra to “start every meeting with recognition” is something I’m proud to experience every day as part of our culture at DIRECTV.

When the Myers Briggs personality types came up in conversation yesterday, it reminded me how many thinkers, versus feelers, are in leadership roles (myself among them as an ENTJ). And thinking is good for many important activities – strategy, operations, analytics and metrics, to name a few.

But people have to deliver on those strategies. And they’re more fired up to take that next hill if leaders and colleagues are touching people’s hearts as well as their minds. So people know they are appreciated. That they have value. That they matter.

That you matter.

5 Lessons from Blogging


New Year’s Day always seems so full of promise. Remember that feeling of being on the brink of something great?

That’s the day I launched this blog. My goal was to go on a learning journey to explore the future of corporate communications. I’d post every Tuesday and Friday. Life would be perfect.

This isn’t my first blog. Three years ago I launched a blog on our company’s social collaboration platform. My goal was to drive adoption and role model what colleagues could do with social business.

What have I learned so far from blogging?

Pursue excellence, not perfection. It’s important to write great posts, but it’s also important to publish with some level of frequency. Find the right balance, whether it’s a blog post, a work project or an exercise program. Know when to take the leap. And make the “thumb slam” I wrote about in my first post.

Do your most important work in the morning. That’s the only time you can truly control. Texts aren’t stacking up; people aren’t asking for a minute of your time. This is the best time to do what’s most important to you. For me it might be a blog post or a big work project. Getting something important done first thing makes me happier and more productive for the rest of the day.

Don’t be afraid to look silly. In launching social collaboration at work a few years ago, I felt out of my element. But I realized I could learn what I needed to know. I started an internal blog to share my learning journey and ask for help from others. Earlier this year I debated whether to post “What’s Your Theme for 2015?” It seemed too soft and self-revealing. But I gave it a thumb slam. And 2,154 views and 61 comments later, I’m glad I did. Colleagues inspired others by sharing their themes for the year – from brave to intentional and from growth to transformation and more.

No one knows all the answers. Doesn’t it always seem like everyone else but you has it all figured out? Except they don’t. And the way to figure it out is by doing it. One step at a time. Have a plan, sure, but take in feedback along the way and make adjustments as you go. Pamela Druckerman summed it up well as, “everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”

Work and life are one in the same. No more searching for an elusive work/life “balance.” They are one in the same, and it makes life easier to approach it as one big mashup. What am I learning in one area of my life that I can apply in another? And as my HR colleague Linda Simon wisely says, “enjoy every day.”

On New Year’s Day as I was fine tuning my first post and figuring out how to point the servers with my domain name to WordPress, my husband, Kevin, made me a cake. The one that opened this post. Sweet.

And although my posts aren’t perfect and neither is my life, there’s joy in losing myself in the thinking, the writing and the learning. Sweet.

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid to Fail?


#MPOWR was a perfect theme for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on April 23.

At DIRECTV, our headquarters campus was filled with the energy and excitement of visiting children. They got to see what their parents do each day to bring the world’s best video experience to more than 39 million customers in the United States and Latin America.

They also got to meet two amazing filmmakers, Sarah Moshman and Dana Michelle Cook. We screened their documentary, The Empowerment Project, which encourages girls, boys, women and men of all ages to dream big.

My daughter and I were introduced to the film at a National Charity League event. After the first few minutes, I couldn’t wait to bring it to colleagues in the DIRECTV Women’s Leadership Exchange and beyond.

With backgrounds in reality TV, Emmy-award-winning filmmakers Sarah and Dana wanted to show more positive images of strong women in the media.

So they launched a Kickstarter campaign, formed an all-female crew, and took a 30-day road trip across the U.S., interviewing  “ordinary women doing extraordinary things.”

It didn’t take long to see that the women were far from ordinary – both behind and in front of the camera.

“Be bold and naive,” said architect Katherine Darnstadt“You are a leader of your life,” said pilot Sandra Clifford.

“Do right by people,” said Navy Admiral Michelle Howard. “Treat people with dignity, and then that means in the last days of your life, you have no regrets. That’s a measure of success.”

“You don’t necessarily have to find passion in your work, you just have to find passion in your life,” said chef Mary Nguyen. “Just know that if that passion is your work it will become your life.”

How true. Writing is my passion. Why? It’s about thinking. It’s about making connections among sometimes seemingly disparate ideas and people. It’s about changing beliefs and behaviors. It’s about expressing thoughts and ideas in interesting, inspiring and engaging ways.

This is why I love my work in corporate communications and why I love writing this blog. They both absorb me in the amazing “flow” state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as “the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” In the film, Dana described her empowered feeling during the road trip as not having worked a day of it.

So what would I do if I weren’t afraid to fail? I’d write more often and share this blog with others.

When I launched this blog on New Year’s Day, my intent was to post twice a week. And while I haven’t been as prolific as I planned, I’m happy that a goal I set on January 1 is something I’m still doing four months later.

Now it’s time to move on from “designing at the whiteboard” as yet another extraordinary woman, Tara Sophia Mohr, would say, and leap into sharing this blog with others for their input and feedback.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?


To learn mThe Empowerment Projectore about The Empowerment Project and bring it to a school, business or community group, visit the film’s website, check out the project tour video and follow @EmpowermentDocu on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Their Instagram collage opened this post.       

Communicating Change


If the purpose of the Communications function is about reputation as I wrote in a recent post, then its reason for being is change.

Changing mindsets. Changing beliefs. And ultimately changing behavior. All with the goal of developing a well-known reputation of being a great place to work, buy and invest, in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

If a communications strategy, plan or tactic isn’t ultimately about change, it’s unnecessary. Why communicate at all if you’re not working toward making your organization and your team better?

And what better season to embark on change than the spring? It’s the time of new life, new beginnings and new possibilities.

Whether you’re launching a major organizational change or you want to make positive changes in your own life, here’s what’s worked in my experience.

Start with why. “Why? How? What?” is the golden circle of action, leadership expert Simon Sinek says in one of the most-watched TED talks, “How great leaders inspire action.”

It’s modeled on his book, Start with Why. He defines “why” through a series of questions – “What’s your purpose? What’s your cause” What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?”

It reminds me the key question I learned in a “Strategy 101” course by McKinsey & Company for DIRECTV leaders. I ask it often – what problem are we solving for? It’s another way of starting with why.

It could also be framed as a vision statement. An aspirational view of what the desired future state could be.

Or as change expert Darryl Conner would ask, “what’s the burning platform that is forcing you to change?” As he aptly describes, people will change when the pain of maintaining the status quo exceeds the pain of changing to a new state.

Form a key team. Any change effort needs a key team of people to lead and champion it. At DIRECTV we form steering committees. These are the people who, in Darryl Conner’s lexicon, are the sponsors of change.

It worked well as we institutionalized a focus on the customer experience and winning loyalty for life. It began with a steering committee and an operating committee and grew to encompass leaders and employees alike. We now have one of the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the pay-TV industry.

It enabled us to create a connected enterprise with new social collaboration tools. We began with a vision of employees being able to connect, collaborate, access and share information, anywhere and any time, leading to increased engagement, productivity and innovation. Nearly 90% of eligible employees have adopted our social intranet.

And it drove new ways of working and increased pride in our company when we moved into a newly renovated headquarters campus with more natural light, open space and new amenities. Not only is it a more environmentally sustainable space, but employees also gave it high marks, after initial concerns about how their work areas would change.

Paint a compelling picture. How can the future be better than the present? What has to change in order to get there, and how? Why is staying in the present state going to be more painful and less advantageous than making a change? What benefits will various stakeholders experience?

These are all questions you must answer in one way or another as you paint a compelling picture of what the future will look like.

Involve people. Every successful change initiative I’ve worked on has involved people throughout our organization.

With the customer experience, we had a steering committee, an operating committee and a learning lab that was ultimately scaled across the organization.

With our connected enterprise, we launched an Enterprise Collaboration Council with leaders across the company. We engaged key stakeholders in a beta test, which improved the platform and created early evangelists for social business.

With our new headquarters campus, we formed teams of employees to give input into new ways of working. A few examples – the conference center, the cafeteria, the fitness center, wellness, sustainability and workplace flexibility.

We engage our employee resource groups in major change efforts, because members come from all over the company and communicate well about change.

As you’re building your communications team, look for people who have grit – those who are resilient and can figure it out as they go.

Address resistance. Resistance was a concept I resisted for a long time. It challenged me because it falls in the realm of emotion rather than logic, where I prefer to dwell.

But with my recent exposure to the work of Darryl Conner, I’ve come to accept that resistance is a normal part of change. And that the absence of resistance isn’t a good thing, but a warning sign that issues aren’t being actively addressed.

So look for resistance. Acknowledge it, validate it  and use it an opportunity to explain the why behind the change.

The picture above is from the awe-inspiring Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle, which my family visited last week. I chose this image because it reminds me of the messiness and the chaos that can be part of change, but also of its ultimate beauty.

Share wins. Change isn’t always a fun process. But done right, there will be some early wins. Make a big deal of those. Share successes with key stakeholders. We’ve done this through videos, awards and events. Use wins as a chance to bring people together and increase enthusiasm and inspiration.

Reflect and repeat. What did you learn through the change process? What worked well and what would you do differently next time? Apply that learning to your next change effort, or as you scale the current change.

Think back to some of the doom-and-gloom you may have heard early on. The naysayers. The critics. Maybe some of those voices even came from you. Did the worst outcomes come to pass? The best? More than likely, the change was a net plus.

I’ve changed colleges, careers and companies. With each change there was some fear and resistance. But there was consistently a better outcome ahead because I was willing to change.

Every time I’m launching a new change, I think about that.

What’s in a Name?


What’s the best name for what we do as communications leaders?

As the shapers of corporate reputation, developers of corporate narrative and engager of employees, consumers, investors and communities?

Is it Communications? Corporate Communications? Corporate Affairs? Corporate Relations? Public Relations? Public Affairs?

Other corporate functions have simply translatable, one-word descriptors. Human Resources is about people. Marketing is about products. Finance is about money.

What is the one word that describes communications?

A look at the past, present and future may shed some light on it.

Looking at the past, “communication” comes from the Latin verb “to share.” And sharing certainly is at the heart of what happens in any communication. Yet there’s so much more.

Looking at the present, some of my colleagues in the field recently shared the names of their corporate functions. To my surprise, Corporate Affairs appeared twice as often as Communications.

Perhaps that has to do with the wide variety of functions captured under the corporate umbrella. They can include public relations, employee communications, investor relations, government relations, corporate events and trade shows, and corporate social responsibility, to give a few examples.

Looking at the future, one definition of corporate affairs that appeals to me is its focus on “future changes because they guide companies through industry trends.”

A future orientation is imperative in our rapidly changing world. And that requirement is mainly about our mindset.

The bigger determinant of a functional name is clarity. This takes on even more importance as humans are tasked to process more and more information in less and less time.

If “corporate affairs is essentially about communication,” as several sources stated, then the function should be called what it is. Communications.

One thing I find counterintuitive in the communications field is how much jargon can creep in. The Urban Dictionary defines jargon as “speech or writing having unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing and vague meaning.”

How often to you come across jargon during your work day? Or in the space of one meting, email or conversation?

It reminds me of a teacher I had in elementary school. When we were learning about verbs, she would ask us to come to the front of the room to demonstrate the action of the verb – for example, crawl, walk or run. If we couldn’t physically show the verb’s action, she said, it probably wasn’t a verb.

That’s a good proof point for jargon. If you – or the speaker – can’t describe the action or the idea in simple, straightforward words, there isn’t enough concrete substance.

Hypothesizing that Corporate Affairs could fall into the jargon category, I conducted a one-day experiment. It had two questions. What do you think someone in Corporate Communications does? What do you think someone in Corporate Affairs does?

Who did I ask? A variety of college-educated people I came in contact with during one weekend day.

For Communications, I heard the words connect, network, brainstorm, innovate and deliver a message. Not bad for people who don’t work in the field.

For Corporate Affairs, I heard silence. I got puzzled looks.

I heard responses like, “I don’t know exactly what the functions are,” and “maybe it has to do with promoting a company’s interests and doing things that help the company behind the scenes.”

So I would advocate calling the function what it is – Communications. Or Corporate Communications.

And what defines the Communications function?

In a word: reputation.

A reputation for being a great place to work. A reputation for providing desirable products and services. A reputation for being an attractive investment. A reputation for being socially and environmentally responsible.

And that reputation must be backed by reality. The organization has to deliver on its promise – on its consumer brand about what the product or service delivers and on its employer brand about what the work experience delivers.

And those brands must be mutually reinforcing. One of the reasons an employer brand will attract the kind of top talent an organization needs is because of the strength and desirability of the consumer brand. And employees are the people who will deliver on the promise of the consumer brand.

These were the powerful learnings in creating an employer brand a few years ago, in partnership with Mark Schumann, author of two books on employer branding, and Michael Ambrozewicz, a communications leader on my team.

Our work led to the creation of an employer brand statement, an underlying strategy and a book that outlined its use for talent acquisition and employee communications.

Today it’s woven through the fabric of our organization and informs everything we do, as we entertain the future.


Tell Me About a Train Wreck

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What are the questions – asked and unasked – you’ll encounter in an interview for a corporate communications job? Here are mine.

Can you write? This really means, “can you think?” As acclaimed historian David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That is why it’s so hard.”

Good writing is the price of admission to corporate comms. That’s why I’m often surprised by the number of people in the field who aren’t strong writers.

How do you become a good writer? Read voraciously. Write frequently. Edit liberally.

Are you smart? While you don’t have to be Mensa material, you need to have common sense. You need to possess a pragmatic, practical intelligence to navigate our VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – world.

How do you solve problems? This is where I ask people to tell me about a train wreck. A project gone wrong. A major mess-up.

I want to see what early-warning indicators they observe. How they take accountability. How they turn things around. And how they analyze and fix the root cause so it won’t happen again.

Essentially, can they figure it out?

Do you have grit? Psychologist Angela Duckworth says grit is the key to success.

What is grit? It’s “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals . . . having stamina . . . and living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s never giving up. And according to Duckworth, it’s more important than talent or IQ.

This is why I’m looking for candidates with passion and dedication. People with a relentless commitment to making something happen, whatever it takes.

Will you thrive in this culture? Every company has a distinct culture, or the way work gets done. Is it formal or informal? More structured or less structured? Conservative or innovative?

I ask candidates to tell me about the environment they most enjoy working in. Then I’ll ask why and for a few examples. As they speak, I picture how they might interact at a meeting or with various leaders at the company.

Are you savvy? This isn’t a question I’ll ask directly, but I’ll listen for signs that someone knows how to navigate an organization. That they know how to articulate their point of view appropriately, at the same time that they’ll listen to and consider their colleagues’ points of view. That they know how to resolve conflicts with professionalism and poise.

Will you add a diverse perspective and skill set to our team? The more diverse the team, the more effective it will be. Research bears this out.

I’m looking for people with a different take, a fresh perspective or a novel twist on doing things. This is part of always striving to improve and get better.

How flexible and agile are you? Can you quickly see when change is needed? And if so, can you pivot? Do you remain calm and unruffled when the best-laid plans need to be scrapped or redirected?

Are you social? A communicator has to be active in at least a few social media platforms. This is no longer optional. It’s a requirement.

When I’m preparing to interview a candidate, I start with a Google search and the person’s LinkedIn profile. Then I see what they’re tweeting. And how they’re communicating visually with pictures, videos, infographics and more.

Great story: A candidate flying in for an interview with my team tweeted about the great DIRECTV service on his flight, complete with a screenshot. We hired him.

Bad story: A candidate who tweeted “nailed it” after an interview. A fellow USC Annenberg alum shared this on a career panel we were on last year. That tweet ended the person’s candidacy.

What kind of a leader are you? In one word, how would your team describe your leadership style?

Here I’m inspired by my DIRECTV colleague Jen Jaffe who leads talent development. We were recently on a leadership panel at our company’s Young Professionals Network. She asked her team for input on her leadership style, so I did the same.

It’s an instant 360 feedback activity. Try it with your colleagues sometime.

How much upside career potential do you have? As candidates tell me about themselves, I’m listening through the filter of our leadership competencies.

Are they a strategic thinker? Someone who can innovate? Lead change? Deliver results? Build talent and teamwork? Establish productive relationships? Act with integrity? And build a deep understanding of corporate communications, our business and our industry?

What are you looking for in your next career gig? Life is too short to work in a job where you aren’t learning, contributing and making progress toward your most important goals.

That’s why I’m eager to learn what the candidate wants to get out of the job. It has to be a great fit for the company and the candidate as we work together to transform TV and entertain the future.

And lastly, one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, offers a great course on reaching your goals by blogging. She advises people in each post to “write and write until something surprises you.”

My aha moment was seeing the relationship between heading off a train wreck and acting with grit. The Little Engine That Could did exactly that.

And it’s what each of us needs to do every day. Because we’re all capable of far more than we think we are.