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Driving Brand Growth In The Age Of Acceleration


Driving Brand Growth In The Age Of Acceleration

Significant change is happening all over the world. Change that brands must pay close attention to. In his book Thank You For Being Late, Thomas Friedman argues that we’re living through one of the greatest inflection points in history. The sort of tipping-point “hockey stick” visualization made famous to illustrate the dramatic rise in CO2 used by climate scientists shows up other places too, like cloud computing, big data, and the global migrant/refugee crisis. To keep it simple, Friedman consolidates these epic changes into three major groups:

  1. Technology continues to evolve in line with Moore’s law overtaking the rate at which humans can adapt.
  2. Globalization is bringing us closer together, at speeds and in ways that are challenging, both physically through migration and virtually via digital networks.
  3. Climate change impacts every continent with storms, droughts and other events increasing in frequency and often also in severity.

When the pace of change happens in so many areas at once, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Policy-makers are working within paradigms that are largely unable to respond with the agility (and consensus) needed to effectively manage and direct societies inundated with pervasive change. At the same time, individuals are looking to leaders to help them understand how to best plan for a future that is changing faster and is less certain.

There is a learning gap here which the smartest brands have begun to recognize. These brands understand it is their adaptability and resilience which will enable them to grow and thrive in this age of acceleration. They look to their culture and people for the answer.

For one example, we can look to AT&T. Realizing that in order to compete as a disruptive brand in an industry that was becoming less about telephones and more about data and networking, Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan recalls, “We felt a fundamental obligation to reskill our workforce.” With 300,000 employees, this doesn’t happen on a whim. The “scaffolding and incentives” to grow and learn must be sustainable, scalable, and result in outcomes that are desirable for the brand and employees.

Leadership at AT&T is transparent with managers about where the brand is heading and what the challenges will be. These messages get filtered down to employees so that everyone has a broad understanding of the objectives for the next year and where the company is headed for the next five. By acknowledging the skills possessed today will not be what’s needed to succeed in the future, employees can gear-up with needed skill sets. Partnering with major universities to create programs, certifications and accelerated degrees in the areas the brand will need, AT&T pays for or significantly subsidizes employee learning, so long as the employee does it on their own time.

Bill Blasé, AT&T’s head of human resources says, “It is a contract between the company and employees. It’s a new bargain. If you want to get an A in your performance review, now you have to do the “What” and the “How.” The “How” is that you get along with people, you achieve results by effectively partnering and teaming and leading change through [and with] others and don’t just sit in your cubicle. The “What” is that you are not only proficient in your job but that you are reskilling to improve your capacity, continuing to learn, and that you are aspiring to go beyond where you are. Maybe you’re a salesperson and you’re making yourself more valuable to the company by getting [to know] the technical side as well. You’re not just selling products but understanding how our network works. Our best employees have it down and they know it is the What and the How.”

But it doesn’t take an AT&T-sized brand to do something meaningful. Smaller brands might leverage local associations to create common curricula at reduced rates, or use existing learning platforms to provide shorter, accelerated learning in key areas the align with the brand’s direction. As we have pointed out numerous times, the crisis of leadership and credibility that is plaguing the world leaves a vacuum in which brands have an opportunity to demonstrate they are the most agile and capable of navigating change (while communities and governments catch up).

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