One of my favorite quotes about company culture comes from Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix and author of Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility. She says:
“The most successful organizations will be the ones in which everyone, on every team, understand that all bets are off and everything is changing – and thinks that’s great.”
The culture Patty describes is one that welcomes constant change. Employees embrace the fact that business priorities and customer preferences can suddenly shift, and so they’ve designed ways of working that help them quickly adapt with minimal cost and effort. This kind of environment is especially relevant for marketing and creative teams.
Market-led team design
Think about some of the challenges you face as a leader of an in-house marketing and creative organization:
- Communication channels are growing and will continue to grow at an increasing rate.
- Consumer buying behavior is frequently changing due to the ongoing and rapid adoption of new technologies.
- Technology has removed most barriers for smaller and more agile competitors to step in and begin to take any company’s market share.
How do these market conditions impact your team? Or perhaps the better question to ask is: how is your team set up to respond? In other words:
- Does your team culture embrace frequent change?
- Does your team’s structure foster customer-focused collaboration across functional areas and enhance your delivery speed?
- Do your day-to-day workflow practices help you efficiently and effectively respond to shifts in priorities or customer preferences while still promoting quality and innovation?
Marketing and creative organizations need to be able to respond to these questions with a resounding “yes” if they want to help secure their business’ competitive advantage and longevity.
Designing successful teams
To design or perhaps redesign your team for success, I propose using a three-pronged approach:
1. Begin forming a more adaptable culture
As a foundational step, you can begin to adapt your team to our current climate by first understanding where and how they can improve. Break down your marketing and creative organization into five major areas.
- Services and structure: How do your services match up to the precise needs of your stakeholders or customers? How well does your team’s structure help or hinder your ability to deliver on those needs?
- Leadership and talent development: How does your organization’s leadership style support your people? How does your method for selecting, training, and developing your people support your delivery goals?
- Day-to-day practices, processes, and tools: How do your daily ways of working enable your team to deliver quality work with speed, agility, and minimal costs?
- Physical and virtual office space: How do your physical and virtual office environments support your team’s processes and collaboration?
- Continuous improvement: How have you formalized ongoing learning and continuous improvement programs to ensure your organization’s long-term success?
Your assessment should reveal opportunities to improve in all areas.
This practice should be a regular strategic initiative. Repeating this evaluation on a quarterly rhythm will keep your team ahead of trends and begin to create greater comfort for change and continuous learning.
Your first assessment may reveal a large number of areas that you’ll want to address, but you’ll find that the volume of issues will begin to decrease with short quarterly time-lapses between each evaluation. Start with the small wins to build momentum. Prioritize more substantial improvements based on which will have the most significant impact from the least effort.
2. Build a scalable workforce
Marketing and creative organizations need to be able to scale their staff up or down as necessary in response to unexpected shifts in workload and unplanned needs for specialized expertise. Hire to cover your baseline workload, but develop practices and partnerships that help you quickly and easily tap into the remote workforce on an on-demand basis.
Leveraging the remote workforce produces the following benefits:
- Global access to specialized expertise
- Savings (limits overhead)
- Financial flexibility (scale up or down as needed)
To adopt this kind of talent strategy, start by reviewing your processes for two of the more time-consuming areas associated with contract talent: finding talent and onboarding.
New service providers are entering our industry to help you find specialized marketing and creative talent, such as Wripple, for example. When it comes to onboarding, consider how you can scale and automate your process with pre-developed written or video-based onboarding content.
Manage Lead with transparency, honesty, and integrity
As I mentioned earlier, new technologies and communication channels have made markets and consumer behavior unpredictable. For marketing and creative teams to move as fast as possible in this environment, everyone in the organization needs to feel 100% comfortable sharing ideas, observations, opinions, and more, in real-time. They need to trust that others won’t embarrass them, judge them, ignore them, or worse.
To build a culture of trust, traditional managers must become collaborative leaders who model transparency, honesty, and integrity for others to follow. For example:
- Openly share information and knowledge in real-time. Be candid about what you know and don’t know that could impact your team. Don’t avoid showing vulnerability.
- Avoid controlling, dominating, or interrupting the conversation. Create a space for everyone to speak up. Repeat back what you’ve heard and the points made.
- Regularly encourage team members to contribute their ideas and suggestions. Be caring, curious, nonjudgmental.
Create a psychologically safe environment, meaning people can feel free from interpersonal fear. If you don’t, team members will hold back their talents, which limits everyone’s success. A great book on the subject is The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy Edmondson.
Where to go from here
As you’d expect, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to building successful marketing or creative teams, so it’s always helpful to hear how others approach this work. I invite you to share your feedback and other approaches in the comments so we can continue to learn and improve as a community.
Brian Kessman is inMotionNow’s Head of Business Strategy. He has over twenty years of experience working for award-winning full-service, interactive, and brand strategy agencies. During that time, he focused on building and scaling digital teams and services across the agencies he worked for before moving into executive and leadership roles. Brian is also the Founder and Principal Consultant of Lodestar Agency Consulting, a consulting firm devoted to helping creative agencies thoughtfully redesign their growth strategies, delivery models, and culture to thrive in our rapidly evolving industry.