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11 Dec. 2018 | Comments (0)

As communications leaders, we all know the critical role we play as strategic consultants to our senior leaders and drivers of outcomes. That tends to put our focus on the external environment, employee change management and the ever-frenetic and ever-changing media landscape. But a huge part of our role as communications leaders is to invest in our talent. At Mayo Clinic, we’ve done that through a disciplined approach that includes outlining key competencies for each role, helping our staff drive their own professional development and implementing formal career progression and succession planning.

It all starts with identifying accountabilities. While some organizations focus on the technical skills (e.g., media relations, content development, and crisis management, among others), at Mayo Clinic we decided that an umbrella approach to broad competencies would enable us to define key attributes for success regardless of technical expertise. Neither approach is right or wrong; instead, it’s a matter of which approach will help you invest and elevate your talent while also advancing your organization’s strategic needs. We identified six major areas of competency for all of our communications professionals:

  1. Collaboration/adaptability/attitude
  2. Communications expertise
  3. Project management/execution
  4. Relationship management and communication skills
  5. Strategic thinking
  6. Leadership

For each competency, we identified the expectations for each role. For example, under Leadership, we expect our:

  • Communications Associates to work as individual contributors and team members
  • Communications Specialists to lead teams of peers
  • Senior Communications Specialists to lead teams and manage contractors and agencies
  • Communications Managers to lead cross-functional teams and supervise associates or supervisors

And for Communications Expertise, we expect:

  • Communications Associates to have a basic understanding of the health care industry and external environment
  • Communications Specialists to have a strong understanding of industry and communications best practices
  • Senior Communications Specialists to have a thorough understanding of industry and discipline best practices; serve as communications subject matter experts; and keep abreast of developments in the field. 
  • Communications Managers to be considered by clients and colleagues as an expert, role model, and mentor in their functional area of responsibility.

This level of detail has enabled us to be specific with team members about the graduated level of responsibility for each job role, and then work with them on the specific skills and experiences they need to prepare for the next level. It also serves as a platform for transparent conversations when staff don’t have the required skills or knowledge. Part of investing in talent is having direct, transparent conversations so each staff member understands where they are, and what they need to do, to take on an expanded role.

We encourage formal professional development planning for each staff member as part of the annual performance review process. Every staff member is unique. Some are happy right where they are; some want discussions once or twice a year; and still others want a formal plan with continuous mentoring.  No single size fits all, so our approach has been to provide staff with the resources they need to drive their own development—a professional development handbook developed specifically for Mayo Clinic Communicators, formal professional development templates, access to internal and external resources, and a “Grand Rounds” program where we bring in speakers and share internal case studies. 

Formal career progression has helped us move staff across the career ladder based on our business needs. Career progression candidates must be nominated by their director, and their candidacy must be supported by the entire communications leadership team. Then candidates present their portfolios to a committee of cross-functional leaders. This puts the candidate squarely in the driver’s seat to guide their own growth and development, while directors provide support and coaching to help them prepare for the session. We also reinforce that career progression is about skills, ability and expertise—not about tenure or years of experience.

Succession planning has also helped us identify candidates for significant projects and stretch assignments. Every year, we review our succession plans for each leadership position, identifying staff who are:

  • Key Contributors—right skills, right job, right fit, right now
  • Future Watch—ready for leadership role in 3+ years
  • Emerging Talent—ready for leadership role soon, in 1-3 years
  • High Potential—ready now for leadership role

We also use Mayo Clinic’s leadership competencies to guide developmental opportunities, and work with our high-potential, Emerging Talent and Future Watch staff to help them develop work portfolios that will increase their skills and expertise. These lists are integral to identifying staff for large, complex projects and stretch assignments.

Together, the development of clear job competencies, career progression, professional development planning and succession planning are helping us to prepare a future generation of communicators and leaders, match skill sets with business needs and elevate the talent profile of our team. But, most importantly, these programs have made our staff feel like we are making investments in their job and career growth. In our staff engagement survey, we’ve increased by double digit percentage points in questions on providing resources to achieve career goals, holding future career opportunities and supervisors discussing career development with individual staff members. And that is the true litmus test—at the end of this day, this is about advancing each staff members’ skill development, passion and interests because we all do our best work when we love what we do.

  • About the Author:Amy Davis

    Amy Davis

    Amy Davis currently serves as Division Chair of Communications for Mayo Clinic, guiding the organization’s communications strategy, execution and performance in order to drive Mayo Clinic’…

    Full Bio | More from Amy Davis


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