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TC Enterprisexx        enterprising women lean in


LAKSHMI GRAMA
Acting Associate Director Office of Dissemination and Digital Communications 
Office of Communications and Public Liaison, National Cancer Institute (NIH).

Describe your job
I am the Director of Dissemination and Digital Communications at the National Cancer Institute, a US federal government’s cancer research agency. I lead our digital communications activities including NCI’s websites, social media channels, call center, digital analytics and communications technology platforms.

Mastery: What key skills got you this job?
I think one of the key things that got me this job is my deep understanding of the National Cancer Institute’s mission in helping people with cancer and my ability to marry it with an appreciation of how new developments in communications technology can help advance that mission – fundamentally it comes down to a passion for the mission and the ability to think about technology in support of that mission.

Personal Brand: Describe your personal brand in the workplace
Futuristic, Adaptable, Pragmatic.  I try to combine my passion for work with a sense of pragmatism so that we can make progress towards our goals in an achievable way.

First Impressions: Have colleagues had a misconception about you based on a first impression about you? How did you handle it?
Being a short person and someone from a minority community, when I first walk into a room for a meeting with new folks, people may not notice me. In fact, this happens often. I am not one of the first people someone will come up to talk to. But I try hard to not let it bother me or stifle me. I find that once I start talking, my knowledge and the way I articulate things clears up preconceived notions and there is an acknowledgement that I might truly have something important to say.

Networking: Who are the key members in your network?
Having a mentor early in your career is very important. I was lucky to have one in my second job and I learnt a lot watching her work and she recognized the potential in me and allowed me opportunities to grow.  Being sincere in your work and always ready to help/coach others has stood me in good stead. Others are more willing to carry your water for you if you are willing to give of yourself to them. You build a reputation as a leader and problem solver at each level of the organization that you are. 

So I would consider my network to be all the people I work with not just the “leaders” in the workplace. The people in my network are within my company and outside.

How have members of your network helped in your career?
As an example, I have been an active volunteer participant in the community of digital communications professionals in the federal government. This has connected me with leaders in the digital communications space that that has opened up opportunities to build my influence beyond my organization to the point where now I am regularly invited to speak at major federal communications events.

How do you nurture relationships with members of your network?
I am not as good as I would like to be in nurturing relationships. But with people at work, I try to connect personally periodically. With my outside network, I have found professional social media communities to be really helpful. I am active in our Department-wide Yammer network where I help new people who are asking questions with information about how we may have solved a problem. I also ask for help from the community. 

Communication: How do you start a conversation with someone new at work?
I used to wait for the other person to start the conversation. But these days, I am more willing to step up and start the conversation at work.  I introduce myself and ask what the other person is doing and indicate that I am happy to chat about our work if they would like.

Influence: Why do people listen to what you have to say?
I would say that I am considered to be a person of influence in my organization. Even when I was not officially part of the management team of the office, I took the initiative to lead projects and propose strategies and solutions to tackle some of our key challenges. My deep understanding of my domain and ability to explain technology and its impact in non-technical terms have helped me build that influence.

In every organization, key people wield influence; what influencing skills could you learn from someone in your organization?
I would like to work with someone who is very politically astute. “Politics” is a key aspect of any workplace and being able to effectively read the political cards is important. I am not as good as that as I would like to be and at the very highest levels (the Senior Executive Service level in the US Federal government) it is a critical skill to have. I haven’t seen someone who is good at “politics” and is a good person but I am hopeful to find someone like that.

Change: How do you influence change at work? Do you step forward to offer ideas on doing things differently?
Absolutely – in all my positions so far I have had to look at processes and see how they could be changed in light of new technologies. These changes can be very threatening to people. My strategy has always been to listen to the people who actually do the work, hear what their challenges and concerns are, and when I propose solutions to some of the problems do it in an open way and constantly communicate about the change. I cannot minimize the need for open communications. That is what I think has helped get me where I am.

What do you do differently to positively impact a situation or a project?
I learnt a lot from my mentor who was collaborative back in a time when it was not a buzzword in business. She always sought to bring together different perspectives and give them a fair hearing before making a decision. She was a good listener and a coach. I think these two qualities are essential in leadership. 


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