Every leader has to find the style that works for them
Media 7: What is BAE System, Inc.'s motto in this thriving aviation era?
Caitlin Hayden: As a company, we have two mottos that drive and inspire us, representing our defense mission and our commercial work. They are: “We Protect Those Who Protect Us” and “We Innovate for Those Who Move the World.” Though the majority of our work is in support of the U.S. government and governments around the world, we are also incredibly proud of our work supporting civil aviation and transportation.
M7: How do you shape stakeholder perceptions with your messaging?
CH: We have a range of stakeholders we need to engage every day to ensure the success of our business, from our customers and government regulators, to our employees, prospective employees, shareholders, and community partners. We try to ensure we understand what our stakeholders need and expect of us, what else they’re seeing in our very competitive marketplace, and how engaging with stakeholders meets our business goals. That means looking at our stakeholders through different lenses, and tailoring messaging and content to the channels where we know they are getting their information and living their lives. We try to meet them where they are, using a full spectrum of communications tactics, from direct engagement in meetings and video-conferences, to tradeshows, advertising, events, social and digital media content, and media relations. For us, it’s really about delivering the right messages, at the right time, in the right channels, and starting a conversation.
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Learning what you’re not good at is just as important as learning what you are good at
M7: How do you design and implement effective communication strategies?
M7: What are the challenges for BAE System, Inc. when it comes to global procurement in the areas in which you work?
CH: Like companies in every industry around the globe, we focused a lot of time and attention on our global supply chain over the past two years. Because if we don’t have the supplies we need, we can deliver for our customers. We’re making business decisions to continue mitigating pandemic impacts and working ahead to prepare for possible additional disruptions. As a large, global enterprise it’s been critical to establish communication channels across the company to rapidly share risk insights across all of our businesses. This allows us to work proactively with our sub-tier supply base on potential risk areas to identify and mitigate issues as early as possible.
We always, always, always start with a few fundamental questions: What are we trying to achieve or what problem are we trying to solve? How does communicating support business objectives? Who are we trying to affect and in what way? What does success look like and how do we measure it? In a world of endless options but finite resources including money, people, time, and audience attention I think you have to start with the end in mind and be very clear about what success looks like and what you’re trying to achieve. From there, you start to back in to a strategy and choices that leverage all of the messages, tools, tactics, and techniques to help you get to that your goal.
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Don’t be afraid to try unexpected things within your career journey
M7: What are your go-to tips and tricks for keeping cross-departmental communication on track?
CH: Every leader has to find the style that works for them. I’m a big fan of regular one-on-ones with my team and my counterparts in other functions. I love a good icebreaker at the top of a meeting, to get everyone talking. I copy everyone on an email that I think needs to know something, whether they are on my team or not. And I delegate and empower my team to speak with authority, because if everyone is depending on me to be the channel or authority for sharing information, the system is going to fail. Whatever techniques you use, I think the best collaboration and communication between teams is based on trust, authenticity, transparency, and inclusion. Building authentic and trusted relationships with your counterparts is critical. I need them to know that when they work with me, what they see is what they get. That I’ll be honest with them, delivering good news and bad. I also try to make sure I’m bringing stakeholders to the table early and often, both because I want to understand how an issue affects them, but also because we’ll have better ideas. The best outcomes will almost always come from a team where everyone has a voice at the table, feels invested and safe, and brings different perspectives.
M7: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
CH: Being in my mid-forties, I feel like I really know who I am, what I care about, and where I need to work on myself as a person and as a leader. It’s a really fun time in life and in my career. I know so many things now that I didn’t when I was starting out in adulthood. If I had to pick just a few things, I’d tell myself that failing is okay and even important. Learning what you’re not good at is just as important as learning what you are good at. We all stumble and fall – it’s about how you recover and what you’ve learned. Second, don’t be afraid to try unexpected things within your career journey. You may find that you really enjoy doing something totally different from what you thought. I couldn’t have planned this career path for myself, through government, a global PR firm, a trade association, and now global corporation. It’s been so much more interesting because I took leaps. I’ll offer one last one, which is: find your tribe and seek out mentors. Look at the people you admire and don’t be afraid to reach out to them – even if for only a cup a coffee or lunch. People are incredibly generous with their time and usually say “yes.” Some of them may even become life-long friends, mentors, and champions.