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Organising for Success

James Humphreys, 1st September 2015

“Marketing has changed more in the last ten years than in the previous forty.”

Often, organisations recognise a need for change without knowing where to start. Perhaps the market has moved. Maybe there’s a sense that the marketing team’s skills haven’t kept pace with change. But, where to begin?

Recently, James Humphreys, who leads the Customer and Growth Practice at Wilton & Bain Management Solutions, convened a WBMS Insights panel to discuss the challenges that face a new Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) trying to organise their team for success. The panel comprised senior marketing executives from a broad range of industries.

When tenure turns toxic

Retaining talent is a challenge for most organisations. However, for some, success has turned against them. Coupled with inadequate training, lengthy tenure can result in a team whose average skills don’t meet the needs of a dynamic environment.

“You talk about lead nurturing and they look at you blankly.”

Worse, where people have been promoted because of longevity, the organisation can acquire a top-heavy structure of strong opinions, bolstered by narrow experience and corporate memory. Stakeholder management becomes difficult and the culture develops a resistance to change. This is compounded in naturally risk-averse sectors: those heavily regulated or with large investments in infrastructure.

A committed CEO is essential, but, where his or her time is limited, this too can slow change.

“What would take two weeks in a more agile business, can take a year, here.”

How can a newly appointed marketing leader – whether permanent or a path-finding interim/consultant – drive change? How can they organise their new team for success?

In the discussion, three aspects became clear:

  • Ignore the org chart
  • Focus on skill and will
  • Demonstrate value with quick wins

Ignore the org chart

Where the marketing organisation has been considered ineffective or simply unimportant, elements of the function will have been moved elsewhere.

“You have organisational resistance, a corporate immune system that attacks the new person who is trying to bring about change.” But …

“The org chart doesn’t matter a jot. Don’t waste time on it.”

Strong leadership from the new CMO is essential. “It’s not about org, but approach.” He or she needs to be the champion of marketing within the organisation, getting the voice of marketing heard. That, in itself, builds value as marketers across the business begin to identify with their function again.

Focus on skill and will

“I could structure the team a very different way and it wouldn’t make a huge difference. It’s the quality of the people, the leadership (or lack of) and the training you provide that is essential.”

“It’s more about talent and ambition – the skill and the will – than reporting lines.”

“You need to quickly identify those who are not just competent but are driven, who want to make a difference. Spot them and harness them.”

Often, talented people have been suppressed under layers of sclerotic management, conditioned by a toxic culture to expect that nothing can change.

“In one company I joined, the head of marketing had two stacks of paper beside his desk: the small pile was new opportunities being evaluated; the big pile was called NGH: Never Going to Happen. When people see that, their energy drains away.”

For many panellists, success came from simplifying the marketing organisation, removing layers of unnecessary management and ceasing useless activities; finding they could deliver greater value, with fewer resources.

“Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean you should.”

Give the team a reason to believe and Focus them on a very small number of KPIs that wholly align with the business’s priorities.

Demonstrate value with quick wins

Panellists agreed that delivering early, quick wins was critical to building support and influence across the organisation. If you don’t establish credibility at an early stage, “the fiefdoms will squash you.”

“You need to think outside the marketing bubble. You need to get the middle-management constituency on-side. They will either make something happen, or they will stop it.”

“Getting out and talking to people at the front line is important. Be the voice of the outside world. Get a debate going and be a conduit for people to make change happen.”

Early, visible success breeds confidence.

“You can’t attract talent, until you’ve got a reason for people to join you.”

But, once you have demonstrated value, “people start offering you things back. They say ‘I’d rather it sits with you.’”

The Central Marketing team (as distinct from Line of Business or P&L marketing teams) should remain small.

“The Central Marketing team is often perceived as a huge cost centre so it needs to be very small, of very high quality and in very high demand. You want people to say, ‘I need more.’”

The development of new marketing strengths for the business needs to be coordinated to avoid efforts being too fragmented or dilute to have impact. However, coordination doesn’t mean being physically centralised. Bring teams together regularly but let them execute in the field.

In summary, “Have a couple of very clear goals. Get everyone aligned, motivated and focused behind them. And then drive towards them with real rigour.”



To learn more

To learn more about how WBMS can help your business organise for success, please contact James Humphreys


+44 (0) 20 7621 3570


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