Resilience Through Learning - the Growth Mindset

In Brussels this year, the sunny surroundings perfectly matched the optimism, excitement, and delight of meeting old and new colleagues from the communications sector. Among the many intriguing topics we had the opportunity to discuss, I chose to begin with a focus on the crucial culture of learning needed to build resilience in uncertain times. One of the main message in Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen's speech, Director-General of Communications and spokesperson for the European Commission, was that now times are permanently uncertain and dynamic. It is crucial for us to continue learning as we transition from one crisis to the next. I was delighted to hear that Pia still sees herself as a communications practitioner in addition to now a communications manager.

The panel discussion on the culture of learning, titled "Using a Culture of Learning to Build Resilience," was moderated by Alexandra Hentschel, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Kademy. The panel featured Helen Humphreys, Executive Coach at Kademy Group; Nicki Allitt, VP Group Communications and spokesperson at ISS; and Neil Jenkins, Director of Corporate Communications and spokesperson at Iron Mountain. Before noon on the first day of the conference, we shifted our attention to the data-driven perspective on managing global communications teams.

Traditionally, most communicators follow a path of gradually accumulating professional competencies over time and through experience. However, as Alexandra Hentschel pointed out, the speed at which individuals progress through these distinct stages varies for everyone. Communication teams are typically composed of professionals in different phases of their careers. Therefore, implementing solutions that effectively develop both individuals and the team cannot be generalised.

Based on Kademy's accumulated know-how, a comparison between years of work experience and performance/job competencies reveals that entry-level job skills correspond to up to 2 years of experience. Technical expertise is typically gained between 2-4 years and 5-9 years of professional experience. People skills develop between 5-9 years and 10+ years of experience, respectively. Finally, business expertise is acquired. However, studies show that only 50% of communicators achieve "exceptional" proficiency in these categories during the specified years of professional experience.

When exploring team structure and profiles, a more significant consideration for communication leaders is classifying professionals based on their basic activity types. For instance, the clear and adaptable communicator is focused on content creation and interactions with diverse audiences, while the self-motivating organiser emphasises content creation and planning. The resilient problem solver is best suited for combining planning and change facilitation, whereas the proactive strategic and critical thinker excels in facilitating change and applying business acumen. The curious coach is most effective at combining business acumen with results measurement, while the influential negotiator excels in measurement and audience understanding. Lastly, the team-playing relationship builder is the type of communicator every team needs for long-term success by building relationships and channel management.

These types and the clustering of colleagues are not an end in themselves. They serve as a good starting point for determining the proper blend of training available to each person on our team. The training methods - all integral parts of the learning process can be arranged from formal to informal like this: team training; independent learning at your own pace; support with job tasks, templates, and manuals; various opportunities for collaborative projects; feedback from managers; coaching and mentoring. 

Nicki Allitt shared an intriguing experience defining the gaps and setting training targets for the ISS communications team. She noted that the most crucial areas of focus for training were in the areas of business acumen, knowledge of matrix influences, measuring results, and facilitating strategic discussions. One stimulating challenge Nicki shared was maintaining the balance between preventing younger colleagues from "burning out"  and providing the right degree of coaching and mentoring for more experienced professionals.

In global teams, project management always involves walking the fine line between global strategy and adaptation to local contexts. The panelists shared a practical system that proposes structuring the process with enough planned time between different phases. That includes launching at least two months before the start of the campaign with a drop-in session for all regional communication managers, followed by constant information exchange. Neil Jenkins emphasised the importance of encouraging local leaders to share their perspectives on how well the proposed strategy would work in their particular contexts. Helen Humphreys' experience highlights the effectiveness of assigning responsibility for individual programs to different regional leaders, who naturally apply their unique perspectives, ultimately achieving the much-needed diversity and variety in value creation. The strategic phase concludes approximately two weeks before the campaign begins with the distribution of ready-made communication materials to all regions for translation and adaptation to local contexts. And that approach aligns with my personal experience working with Daimler's global brand teams on brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Jeep, Setra, and Fuso.

Throughout the discussion, keywords such as focus, passion, transparency, growth mindset, and giving and receiving critical feedback naturally emerged, serving as beacons that illuminated the points of contact between the individual stories shared by communication leaders.

Many organisations strive to be flexible and agile in the face of wave after wave of change. Resilience plays a critical role in meeting their own changes, and supporting organisational ones. An often under-appreciated aspect of creating that resilience is the role of a culture of continuous learning.

To summarise, Alexandra Hentschel's words capture the essence well: there is always a better way of doing something. Let's maintain our desire and drive to discover it, day after day, for ourselves and our teams.