A high-octane breakfast fuelled by thought
It’s rare to start a Thursday morning being thrown into the world of F1, but we at the Internal Comms Leadership Breakfast were all grateful for it as Nicole Bearne – former Head of Internal Communications at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team – gave an incredible talk about delivering a winning mindset and the power of effective teams. This was an open forum, and over eggs and (many) cups of coffee this group of cross-sector IC leaders also shared their challenges, wins and new ideas.
So! If you couldn’t make it, here are the top trends and challenges that came through our initial discussion.
- Tone of voice is so important. It doesn’t have to be an essay to garner respect, it’s safe for leaders to speak with greater authenticity and in a lighter form. Encouraging leaders to consider their audience (at times easier said than done) especially with Gen Z well and truly in the workforce, will improve trust and transparency.
- As Professional Services firms look towards hyper-personalisation for clients, why can’t we apply that same technology and outlook internally? AI will certainly have the capability to transform this currently laborious approach, but we need to iron out the kinks in privacy and IP breaches first.
- Getting leaders to lead. Making the transition from specialist and individual contributor to people leader and culture creator (whether or not they know it!) is a perennial challenge. For organisations with a large frontline force, many of whom are affected by strikes, that courage in leading and facing opposition head on in an effort to bridge the ‘them/us’ divide is non-negotiable, it’s also very uncomfortable.
- In a global company with a finger in many pies, different departments will be varying in performance. So, when you have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategy restricted by available technology, how can you communicate to both the high-fliers and those in a dip? Carefully…
- Reducing noise is often top of the agenda, and we heard some interesting ideas around how to do it! We need to encourage people to harness their social media habits from outside of work and integrate them into the workplace – reduce emails and increase instant messages, write succinctly with the aim of communicating rather than nailing every single point down to the nth.
- Another tip: transition from ‘yes’ as the starting point to ‘no’. ‘No, I will not send your communications unless you can convince me that it’s absolutely necessary.’
- Think about your audience beyond function, consider ‘what type of people am I trying to communicate with? What would attract them to that role, and can I work my comms to play to those attributes?’
- And to end on a more controversial/‘less popular with your senior leaders’ question: Are people achieving what they need to achieve? And if yes, do they really need all those comms?
This wide-ranging discussion traversed some of the points Nicole was to raise in her talk; namely the power of strong and authentic leadership, bringing different departments and people together as one team through good communication, and the need for good culture to glue an organisation together.
Lessons to be learned from Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team
Working for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team for 25 years, Nicole has some pretty amazing insights and experience working with and in a high-performing team. Incredible F1 facts aside – an F1 driver can experience a cornering force of 6.5 g-force, that’s similar to the g-forces experienced by the Apollo astronauts on re-entry! – Nicole delivered some home-truths about teaming and leadership which we felt inspired by.
The pressure of the pitstop is incredible, teams train endlessly to achieve the perfect pitstop. 2.15 seconds, that’s how quick they can be. But when it goes wrong, like it did in 2021 for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team, it can be game over. That pitstop? 43 hours and the jammed wheel had to be cut off.
How did Toto Wolff, CEO, respond in the presser following the race? “Days like today are the ones we learn the most, but that doesn’t stop it being awful.” Never once does he blame an individual, a significant part of their culture, instead they always win as a team and lose as a team. They understood; we need to fix the problem, not the people.
- OUR 10th OF A SECOND
We all need to understand how we contribute to our organisation’s purpose. As Nicole positioned it, internal comms can articulate the high-level statement of intent, translate that to a departmental strategy and then to an individual strategy. On the racetrack, a 10th of a second can be the difference between 1st place and 5th. Every contribution, every extra 10th of a second, can help an organisation get over the line.
When Nicole and her team launched an internal weekly celebration of a team member, it became so popular that it went external and continued on as a talent attraction piece. Importantly they would ask everyone – cleaner or engineer, HR or canteen cook – ‘How does your role contribute to helping the car get around the track?’ And everyone had an answer. There was such a clear understanding of how their individual role contributed a ‘10th of a second’, they knew their value in the system.
- ONE TEAM
Often internal communicators are communicating to a diverse audience across departments, shift patterns, technological disparity and a range of demographics. To be one team, Mercedes-AMG Petronas had to act like one team. After every race there is an all hands in the factory to debrief everyone, and for senior leaders to honestly answer questions on the spot. This is recorded and disseminated. Most importantly, however, the Tech Director would come back at 8pm on a Monday night to give that same briefing to the night shift workers and create an equality of experience.
- FAILURE AS THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
“Each day we fail is a day our competitor will regret” – Niki Lauder
If you’ve seen the LinkedIn posts our breakfast attendees put up after the event, you’ll have noticed that Nicole and her team’s take on failure was a revelation. The focus on learning and constant evolution, determination to never make the same mistake twice, is arguably a significant contributor to Mercedes-AMG’s unmatched success. If we can create a culture where failure is reframed as an opportunity for learning, the psychologically safety exists for people to ask questions, admit mistakes and expediate the process of fixing and then innovating. It also has significant implications for a culture of safety, encouraging people to speak up and take accountability for the safety the team.
Nicole once ran a series of insights with senior leaders asking them ‘What was your most painful failure?’ The answers ranged from losing a key sporting match to a near fatal accident. They then used this story as a mechanism to share their learning, how they coped with the upset of failure and how to turn it into something valuable. Apparently, it got so popular some leaders were coming to Nicole with their failures, keen to be featured next!
This is only a taste of the coffee-infused breakfast learning, but we’ll leave you with ‘failure’ for now. If you’re interested in attending a future IC leader breakfast, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll notify you of the next great opportunity.