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My approach to planning is…. In business we all want to drive profitable growth but the question is, how? My belief is that you really need to understand your category and brand dynamics and why people buy or don’t buy your brand in favour of a competitor. My starting point is defining the issue and to establish the core consumer questions. Once you know what is inhibiting growth you are on the path to finding a solution to unlocking it. Innovation and keeping a brand relevant and fresh in consumer minds is fundamental. I am a fan of Byron Sharpe and believe in his philosophy that continually gaining new customers is the key to success and that choosing to be a niche brand is not sustainable. In Cannes this year I attended a talk from BBDO India who developed a campaign for Ariel washing powder #share the load. It was rich in insight but also incited action, the core of the insight is that they empathised with women and showed amazing understanding of their lives. The results are that the brand is now back in growth and taking share from the competition. It all goes to prove that there is no such thing as a dull category but dull minds.

My approach to building trust is…. Be authentic, let people get to know you and what you stand for, create a shared vision and be there for your team, don’t be afraid to ask for help or guidance, nobody knows it all. I once heard someone describe themselves as a bridge between their team and the rest of the organisation filtering and allowing them the freedom to succeed by focusing on
what matters. Being open, honest and accessible are key but most of all to have integrity and common Vs personal goals builds trust quickly. Don’t blame
people, I am involved and if something goes wrong I have skin in the game too. Last but not least is have your organisation’s best interests at heart and be prepared to leave your functional interests to one side and lean in to help on bigger matters, being helpful is truly valued.

My secret to fostering accountability is… Be super clear on what success looks like, set objectives and give everyone a clear job description. Help people to succeed don’t ask them to do things without adequate resources and be there for them to guide and mentor. So far in my career I have worked for large organisations and it is critical to realize the value of cross functional working and involving the right people. Let everyone know what their particular role is in the project and ensure initiatives are properly supported. Finally, realise that we are always learning, take time to reflect on what went well and what could have been better, fostering a learning culture helps people take accountability and achieve more in the long run.

My advice on managing difficult people is… Stay objective and fact based, don’t respond emotionally and look at real data and context. Being proactive and dealing with the issue in a timely way is also very important. I always try to separate the issue from the person and work on understanding the issue and why they are being difficult, I also examine my role in the situation, and ask should I do something differently. In particular difficult situations it is very helpful to seek feedback from others who are familiar with the situation to get a balanced view. A perfect result is when you can reconcile differences and move on with the person to build a productive relationship. There are however, times when you have exhausted all options and you realize
that the person concerned has irreconcilable differences with the organisation, or simply is in the wrong role, as a leader you need to help them figure this
out and facilitate their next steps in a fair and respectful way.

My approach to leading through change is… There is no doubt that change is constant, this is especially so in the telecom industry where things are changing all the time, new technologies become available, we enter new categories, significant competitive moves happen, plus like any other business there are operational, cost and regulatory challenges. This requires a high degree of adaptability, agility and a need to know that you might have to change your plans very quickly. It is therefore, important to have a vison, purpose and a north star to guide you. So anticipating change is vital and when things are relatively stable build your war chest, in my case grow brand equity, stand for something that consumers believe in and are willing to pay for, at Vodafone it is the strength of our network. It goes without saying that keeping your team onside is key and open communication is vital at every step of the way, let the team know as much
you can share and involve them in how to adjust plans and make the necessary changes. Knowing that change is inevitable requires that you create a culture that accepts and embraces change, where people see change to be exciting and a positive challenge.

My secret to ensuring I continue to grow and develop as a leader is…. Humility is important and knowing that you are always learning, knowing what made you successful before is not guaranteed to do it again. I spent most of my career in FMCG companies, Coca-Cola and Diageo where brand marketing and strategy was at the core of the business, I then moved to Vodafone a technology company that is a great brand in the category but operates differently from pure FMCG companies, technology and products have a big place at the top table and the role of brand is to influence and guide strategy. Continuing to grow as a leader, demands a lot of self- challenge and a dislike of being comfortable, I believe, you are not growing if you keep doing the same thing with the same people all of the time. The single biggest factor, in growing as a leader is to simply throw yourself into leading and developing your people, a great team, is your best asset. Creating an environment where everyone is learning and enjoying what they do is the best recipe for success.

The biggest challenge facing my industry today is…. The big challenge facing our industry today is the race to convergence, up until recently there were distinctive brands offering consumers and businesses, mobile, TV, broadband, landline and hosting services. Companies operated within a relatively tight category, this is no longer the case. Now we have an industry where brands who were once known and famous for offering one particular service, can offer all four services to customers. The big questions are how to differentiate, fund services and how to set pricing to avoid a race to the bottom and facilitate investment in future technology. For customers the challenge is how to navigate and select between options and companies, and it is our role to help them navigate through change and give them the best products and experience.

The greatest opportunity available to my industry today is ....The world of IOT and the possibilities it brings is growing exponentially, the brand that facilitates consumers and business to access this will be the brand that wins. Therefore, the opportunity for the industry relates to the fact that at the core of our digital world is a strong network. At Vodafone we are preparing for the future, we are building gigabit broadband through SIRO, a joint venture company (Vodafone & ESB) and we continue to enhance our mobile network with 4G+ speeds.

If you could step into the shoes of one person for the day, who would it be and why?.... I recently watched an interview with JK Rowling and I thought she is a person I really admire. Through story telling she has sparked the imagination of so many children and adults, her stories have brought great joy and the business success is phenomenal. What I admire most is how she followed her passion to write and the business success followed. In the world of building brands we all want to be good story tellers and passionate about what we do and JK Rowling is inspirational in this regard, I love the quote “we do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves” She continues to reinvent herself and is now writing different genres of books, this demonstrates a willingness to change and grow. Finally, I respect that she gives back to the community through various charities; she is a person who cares about people and making the world a better place.

Leadership tips from Anne Mulcahy, Head of Brand Communications & Insights - Vodafone Ireland

Articles by Caroline Baldwin