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Common pitfalls of transformation for Marketing & Customer leaders

There is rarely a business today that isn’t transforming. More of the same isn’t going to cut it when growth is flat-lining. Organisations are investing heavily in re-orienting their businesses around the customer, enhancing experience to differentiate, creating new value and streamlining operations to enable greater investment in customer initiatives. Regardless of what your organisation is calling it, customer transformation, digital transformation or otherwise, one thing is certain. Transformation is putting marketers in the hot seat as many realise their individual functions must transform rapidly to enable transformation to occur more broadly within the organisation.

For those leading and navigating transformation for the first time it is unfamiliar territory. Knowing the common errors organisations make and what to expect can soften the ride.

Looking at planning board

Lacking a clear vision or better yet using it

Speak to any CMO today operating in times of transformation and you will hear a similar story. Projects and initiatives are being spun up across the organisation, all competing for resources, all striving to solve different problems for customers.

It sounds obvious but often transformation efforts are hampered by a severe lack of a compelling, simple clear vision and north star. A clear vision and north star aggravates for change, gets people to start thinking differently and importantly acts as a mechanism to govern decision making. Without it organisations can end up with a series of confused and disconnected initiatives that take the organisation in the wrong direction, sound familiar? It also creates an environment where vanity or zombie programs can thrive as they can be disguised as another transformation initiative.

Customer and marketing leaders play a vital role in shaping this vision. Bringing the voice of the customer to the table is important to anchor transformation efforts around customer needs. These leaders also play a critical role in prioritizing the initiatives and activities that create the most significant value for the customer and the business.  Sometimes knowing what to stop is just as vital here as what to start.

Flying solo

It's not uncommon to see organisations appoint a new executive to drive transformational programs and broader change, whether that be in digital, customer or marketing. That one leader is charged with driving the shift in the organisation whilst the organisation continues to operate as it always has. Whether you are re-inventing the marketing team or transforming the way the organisation creates and delivers value for customers to drive growth, it is vital to create a coalition of the willing. Transforming a department or an organisation isn’t the role of one individual and is likely to fail if only one or two people are shouldering the change.  

Strapping in for the long haul

It is said that it can take a minimum of three to five years for transformation efforts to be properly embedded into an organisation and sometimes that can stretch to ten. I’ve found that leading transformation of a marketing function can take 18 – 24 months just to build foundational capability across key areas of enablement including technology, ways of working and people and herein lines the problem. Transformations feed off momentum and urgency. How can you maintain momentum over an extended period of time as team members become tired, and the realisation that the transformation will take years takes hold. Having clear short and medium term milestones help, along with celebrating wins along the way to build confidence and demonstrate notable signs of change. This builds momentum to tackle the tougher challenges that lie ahead.  

It’s a mind game

Well over 50% of organisations fail in the initial stages of a transformation. In all my time leading in transformation environments one of the toughest challenges to overcome was how to shift culture and mindsets. People inherently want things to change and have an appetite for it – until it means they need to do things differently themselves. Many companies and leaders underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zone, and when change starts leaders will retreat at the first signs of dissatisfaction. Renewal and change is painful – if it was easy everyone would be excelling at it.

Transformation in this day and age requires organisations to become customer led or focussed and many organisations are parading this as their new mantra – but how many are truly living it? In times of customer led transformation, organisations need to understand define what being customer led means in their organisation. Customer & Marketing leaders play a vital role in educating the C-suite and wider organisation on what good looks like as well as leading the charge to embed rituals and cues that demonstrate the importance the organisation is placing on customers.

Under-communicating by a factor of 10

We communicated the vision – why aren’t people acting differently and making change happen? All too often a vision is created and communicated once and then leaders are startled that people don’t know it or understand it. Worse still senior leaders are operating at odds with the vision - causing confusion and disruption. Communication whether through our actions or through communication mechanisms needs to be consistent and constant and invite thoughts and feedback in order for the transformation to begin to take hold. Credible and authentic communication captures the hearts and minds of the troops who will make or break success. 

Leaders need to make communication a top priority and see this as one of their key priorities - as this helps provide clarity in a time of chaos. But it isn't just the C-Suite who need to make it a priority. Transformation requires functional leaders to play a different role too and invest time in communication by consistently sharing important information and garnering feedback from their teams to help further shape the direction. Members within marketing or customer teams also play a critical role in the communication process. By becoming storytellers within the wider organisation they help bring the customer into the room, and motivate and excite teams to do things differently and adopt new approaches to innovate and create value.

Operating in ambiguity

Given their nature, transformations mean you, your lead team and wider team will be operating in ambiguity a lot of the time. This creates a lot of tension and friction. Telling people to operate in ambiguity is seldom enough as it only exacerbates the frustration. Regular, honest and transparent communication enables team members to understand, progress, what decisions have been made and those that are still open questions. Acknowledging the difficulty of operating within ambiguity also helps team members to understand the feelings they are experiencing are normal. Involving and engaging the wider team to co-create also helps, as it enables them to grapple with some of the tougher questions and better understand why the path isn’t clear along with providing valuable input to shape the direction and path.

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