Learning Through Failure

Comms Hero December 1, 2016

Too often, employee culture is driven from above. Rigid protocol is commonplace, leaving no room for innovation; not initially succeeding at a new venture can feel like the end of the road. Yet, says opening speaker Chloe Marsh, head of engagement at social housing firm, RHP, “Nothing was ever achieved by staying in your comfort zone and playing it safe.” With this firmly in mind, CommsHero London got underway with a plethora of communications experts, its range of enterprising speakers – as well as several plates of doughnuts.

The second of three conferences, after Cardiff on 8 November and with the last taking place on 29 November, London’s #CommsHero began with a pep talk from image-led communications specialist, Fran O’Hara, who also documented the day through visual minutes. Sharing her experiences of working at Disney, dressed as a giant Tigger, O’Hara explained that to master a task in front of you, “Start where you’re going to end up.” That would have prevented her, O’Hara explains, from floundering in a fit of confusion when faced with entertaining hordes of small children in a heavy, hot costume during the summer tourist season.

And while Disneyland is oceans away from the roomful of communications professionals gathered in the centre of Camden, the message resonates: think about the task ahead, then plan for it.

Developing a ‘Dare to fail’ employee culture thus requires a solid base from which to launch your innovations. This is what Grant LeBoff, sales and marketing strategist for Sticky Marketing, says – in his role, digital and web-based marketing, evidence is crucial. LeBoff describes how communications and marketing, as a department, requires more time and investment than ever.

Rather than being, as it is so often described, an ‘adjunct’, marcoms should be integrated into business strategy and provide support for employees willing to take risks to get results. Perhaps what resonates most, however, was LeBoff’s assertion that in communications today, “You have to stand for something.” If global brand Coca-Cola can’t ‘cut through the noise’, as highlighted through its simplification of flavour and packaging design, then other organisations have no chance. “Keep it elegant and simple,” LeBoff says. Find your message, and run with it.

Thus commitment to delivering that unique or individual approach became the #CommsHero message.

For Helen Reynolds, digital communications strategist at social media training consultancy, Social for the People, this is on what effective communication is built. How can we be happier and learn through failures?, Reynolds asks. Most importantly, don’t take criticism personally. Your own happiness is vital to being effective and is part of what ‘Dare to Fail’ is about. Taking control of your own happiness and limiting your exposure to the negative side of failure has surprising results.

And, says Reynolds, if the worst does happen, make it into a story from which you and others can learn. “Don’t panic, deal with it and find a way for it not to happen again,” she says – but not before overseeing a communication challenged based on which #CommsHero team could build the highest structure from marshmallow and linguine (“Sainsbury’s had run out of spaghetti.”)

Social media and innovation in digital is another avenue down which communicators can get lost. Differentiating content between personal and corporate accounts can be difficult; pitching the right tone of voice problematic. But there are means of overcoming these obstacles. As Paul Taylor, innovation coach at Bromford Lab, says, “Would you follow your own corporate social media account?”

With this in mind, Taylor says, thinking big leads to the best results. He says, “When you think 10x bigger it forces you to do something fundamentally different,” and while this may seem daunting, “The best ideas come from groups of people, networks and people exchanging ideas.”

Tim Scott, HR and social media consultant, agrees. For HR professionals, Scott says, it can be difficult to overcome the idea that ‘Daring to fail’ is sometimes what’s needed to keep an organisation fresh. Changing the perception of outlets such as social media is perhaps what’s needed to ensure all employees taken on board the ‘Dare to fail’ mentality. As Scott says, employee advocacy, personal learning and development, increased brand engagement are just some of the advantages the less cautious, more integrated approach can deliver.

Asif Choudry, sales and marketing director of Resource, creator of #CommsHero, says, “The dare to fail concept is a celebration of the attitude of people and organisations who dare to be different and try out new ways of working. Most other events have speakers showcasing their finest work. However, as #CommsHero has always been about being different, I wanted to have a speaker line up of people who are brave enough to show off those moments where things went wrong on their path to a successful outcome.”

Choudry ends, “Delivering three events in one month was my way of showcasing the dare to fail attitude.”

Daring to take a risk and perceiving failures as prototypes for future innovation rather than the end of a chapter became the mantras underpinning the day at #CommsHero London. “Be yourself and accept that some people might not like it,” says Marsh during her round-up of the day. Only then will the confidence and resilience to ‘Dare to Fail’ begin to push the boundaries of average to show what employees really can achieve.

AMY SANDYS – @_amyms

Comms Chat – @CommsChat

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