Marketing today is all about people

The marketing function has undergone tremendous changes in the past decade. Today marketing involves technology, engagement and most importantly creating and delivering an authentic brand experience from the employees’ and consumers’ perspective. Brand value as an asset, in monetary terms , is now fully dependent on
this brand experience.

A Forbes article– Are today’s CMO’s tomorrow’s CEO’s?’ aptly shows how marketing heads have the best holistic picture of a business due to their concentration and clarity of understanding the end-benefit of touch-points and infrastructure requirements to deliver the required brand experience.

Does the Islamic Finance industry understand the huge potential that marketing brings to its business and brand?

This is the question I try to answer in my article– ‘Marketing Islamic Finance’– that was published in the Jan 2015 issue of the Islamic Finance Today, and I explore  how modern-day marketing can work for Islamic Finance, both across Islamic finance and non-Islamic finance markets.

 

In Walks Change…

In an organisation when there is a new leader at the top the first thing that walks in through the door is CHANGE.

Whilst change is often not visible physically it does permeate every nook and corner and has different levels of impact across the organisation.

With the new executive, in walks a different perspective to the organisational tasks. There’s trepidation, hope, expectation all on the outside. There’s nervousness with regards to the image communicated and a desire to make a unsaid power statement from the new member’s point of view.

The Impact is Colossal

From my personal experience in managing brands and businesses cross-industry and across geographical locations there are a few important do’s & don’ts.

Do’s:

  1. Settle in and understand the culture

Each organisation, like any communal group, has its own set of behaviour which creates the work culture. Getting to understand this is extremely important in knowing the functioning of the organisation. Does that mean you need to take all the time in the world? No. Depending on the executive’s emotional intelligence  some can get up to speed within a month whilst others can take much longer.

  1. Talk with rank and file

Get in and get to know the people across various functions and designations.  Being available and going ahead and introducing oneself and having a conversation enables one to know about the concerned person and helps in making observations. Often times, these first impressions are valid as they are the outcome of a one-to one interaction which enables our brains to size up and provide us a good, bad or ugly sort-of score card. Where the executive is a matured and well experienced one, such impressions are usually bang on in terms of character assessments.

  1. Share your thoughts with the team leaders

This is a critical one.  As soon as possible get the team leaders on board with your thought-process and work style. Why? Team leaders are the ones who will get your work done, through their teams, for you. Therefore, they need to be made to feel secure in terms of their functions and they need to feel comfortable with your thinking and work style. Nothing upsets existing team leaders more than a newbie to the organisation trying to show that he or she knows better!

  1. Be courteous

Sounds very simple but, and this is more applicable across Asia, at a senior level as a new entrant we often forget courtesy in our one-off interaction with rank and file. Nothing earns more bad wishes than having a new leader of the organisation not acknowledge or smile when someone crosses path.

 

Don’ts:

  1. Walk in and shoot-from-the hip

What you were told by the board, or the recruitment consultant, or the HR of the organisation during your interviews should not be what you base your early days on. That’s close to committing executive suicide!  What you were told is the key points the organisation wants to achieve and for which they evaluated if you were the right person. That does not mean those points need to be delivered in your first 100 days.

  1. Point out what you consider mistakes

No one likes being told they were wrong. That’s just how we are as human beings. More so a group of executives whose laboured over their plans and activities.

  1. Change processes and functional responsibilities

There is a reason why the processes and functions are the way they are in the organisation. If you haven’t come from the same industry give yourself a bit of time to understand why certain processes exist as they do. Making a change as soon as you walk in is only going to earn you the displeasure of your team leaders.

  1. Don’t have half-day long meetings

This is connected with #3. If its knowledge of how a process works the way it works use #3 from the Do’s list. Talk to the team leaders and get a perspective. But calling an all-team meeting out of the blue for hours simply communicates an utter disregard for colleagues time and schedule.

 

That’s my list of do’s & don’ts that I’ve practiced across my career and been rewarded with developing some great teams who have delivered amazing results for the organisations.

I’d love to know your list of do’s & don’ts and how it’s helped you.

Manage Change Before It Manages You

Just as shifting city and home and moving to a new place has its initial period of anxiety, a change in business direction or in leadership in the organisation, brings about a period of anxiety, uncertainty and a plethora of questions within an organisation.

Change in any form is uncomfortable for us humans. We are creatures of habit and habit breeds its own sense of comfort and discomfort. Take for example our daily work day routine. If one of the items in our daily ‘routine’ goes out of whack, we get irritated and at times, are at a bit of a loss.

Business activities are managed by humans and thus when an organisation implements a change from what it had done; it brings about a fair bit of response. Some good, some not so good and some downright harmful to the business. The ‘enthusiasts’ (or early adopters) latch on to the big picture that the changed direction portrays and willingly start to move forward in the new direction. The ‘yes sir/no sir’ (followers) goes into a ‘wait and watch’ mode to try gauge which way is the wind blowing. Lastly comes the ‘resistant brigade’! A group who clings on desperately to yesteryears and falls back on the achievements of the past years.

Each of these three groups have an impact on the brand and its’ experience: 

1.   Enthusiasts: In their eagerness to contribute to the new, changed business direction, the enthusiasts rush into action without deeply evaluating the long-term benefit of the actions to the brand and the ability of the brand to deliver on the changed direction. Often more manpower and resources are taken up on these changed new actions if they are not evaluated for effectiveness. Enthusiasts often times end up working long hours alone leading to quick burnouts when operating at very high stress levels due to continuous delivery demands of the added new tasks.

2.  Followers: This group’s indecisiveness and inability to ask for clarity leads them to either do the work activity wrong or to take too long over it and thus deliver well after the timeline is past. In effect, making the task inefficient.

3. Resistant Brigade: Often the largest group, these try to push back through the “this is how it was done” process with the intention that if continuous resistance can be applied by using defunct processes and bureaucratic red-tape  then the enthusiasts would either burn their fire out or leave. All the resistance group succeeds in doing is wasting critical time and damaging the brand image through their inability to move forward.

 

How do we bring groups 2 & 3 around to see the positives in the new strategic direction or change that the organisation is undertaking:

  1. Transparency:  Line managers have to understand the change and explain, at length, how that change is beneficial and tie it back to the individual roles of staff and their function with regards to the effect it has on the brand’s identity.
  2. Top-down Leadership:  Senior management has to have in place, a support team selected from rank & file to ensure successful delivery of key projects that would aid in bringing the required change. This team should be empowered with the required authority in order to put in place new processes to enable change to take hold.
  3. HR in the Forefront: HR needs to be at the forefront in terms of providing senior management the right team, skills and competency wise, in order to help deliver required changes. Internal talent development becomes a priority for HR and is the starting point for staff performance evaluations.
  4. Deadline: An end target date for achievement of certain critical projects needs to be up in front. Critical projects that affect the brands’ reputation should be selected from the pool of projects that is in active stage and be project managed through specific project teams.

Following this 4 steps approach would enable an organisations’ leadership to bring about groups 2 & 3–followers & the resistance brigade– by having them involved in the critical projects, with each individual having a specific task aligned with their respective job-function.

What’s the benefit in doing this?

  1. Easier management of key projects to achieve success leading to revenue growth and establishing the desired brand reputation.
  2. Having in place a core team, a second line of command so to speak,  across critical functions upon whom senior management can depend to take the brand forward.
  3. Having in place efficient processes that aid in forward planning of daily work.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

What I Learnt in 2014

2014 has been a catalytic year for me in more ways than one. Professionally as a senior corporate executive and leader the lessons have helped me better myself. Here are my top five learnings:

 

 

#1 Leadership

Top of the list is leadership as that’s what provides direction, growth and self-development.

Lesson #1 in leadership was getting to understand and use my own emotional intelligence to read the climate and culture of my team in order to earn the respect of being their team leader and providing guidance that is valued, appreciated and most importantly recognized.  As a leader why is it so important to recognise and accept emotions? It’s because as humans we are emotional beings and our emotions impact on our behaviour which in turn affects our business actions.

Lesson #2 was the value of authenticity, as a leader, from my team. Being one’s self in action and thought and asking the team to identify how we could step up our game a notch brought about higher engagement. It created strong bonding and camaraderie to the extent that famous quote “All for one, One for All” (from The Three Musketeers)—was our team motto. Authenticity helped me in understanding and using the team culture in guiding the team to achieve their stretch targets with a smile on their faces.

#2 Culture

“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” Peter Drucker.

For an organization, culture is defined by the actions of its leaders, its people and the processes.

The lesson I learnt here was an eye-opener! One can be extremely competent technically but what is important is the ability to present one’s point-of-view keeping in mind the recipients’ cultural perspective which frames receptivity.  Technically one can be the best of the best by any parameters but what gets one ahead is the ability to manage both upwards and downwards. In order to have this skill, understanding the culture at play is very important.

#3 Advocacy

Employee advocacy is, perhaps, the least visited or viewed area among Asian organisations. One wonders why when business is by the people for the people. People are the only asset that organisations today, can use to create competitive advantage for themselves.  Providing peer and social recognition of an employee leads to a massive increase in commitment from that employee leading to advocacy that impact positively on the bottom-line. Yet the lack of specific employee engagement strategies emerging from the business plans leaves one wondering about the value an organisation gives to its employees. Is that why we see entrepreneurism on the rise?

#4 Growth

Having being involved in business strategy and its related initiatives in the corporate world for over two decades one key learning I have is that there is a direct correlation between business growths with individual growth. Alignment and line-of-sight between an individual’s goals, functional role and the business goal of the organisation is critical in obtaining commitment with accountability.

In the year past, by achieving this alignment within my operational team, it enabled the team to channel their passion into key initiatives thus surpassing achievements with flying colours. 

This brought into focus the importance of the marketing and human resource functions working closely together in order to map both, individual career growth and the organizations’ business growth.

#5 Profit or Social Responsibilities

For as long as we can remember the basic purpose of business has been to make profit. There is a major amount of literature on this topic on the public domain. Given the changing consumer behaviour, as a result of the financial crises and increase in technology usage, businesses have had to re-look at the profit-maximization model that had been in use. Trust, word-of-mouth referral and most importantly brand experience  that delivers a tangibly perceived value is the order of the day.

Managing a NPO doesn’t mean not achieving the profit target. Without that sustainability is in question.

For me the value of managing the business and marketing functions of an NPO is in the fact that one can put key social responsibilities as primary objective and through the achievement of those goals achieve the profit targets. This is what makes the functional role so very interesting and different from a pure profit-only organization.

 

I would be happy to know of your top five lessons of 2014 as well as your observations on my lessons.

Wishing you a very Happy & Prosperous 2015.

 

 

 

To Be or Not To Be Vulnerable

Visual courtesy: www.pinterest.com

Visual courtesy: http://www.pinterest.com

Classic leadership thinking is all about being stoic, firm, and decisive. Of not having a chink of weakness anywhere in one’s professional behaviour and of not showing any emotions.

Such behaviour is present due to belief in the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittestwhich is usually used to refer to individuals being fit for positions and tasks in comparison to others being unfit. Examples of firm and decisive leaders abound. Simultaneously examples of great leadership in the form of raw courage and humanitarian services and are available aplenty.

Is either leadership approach wrong?

No.

In the last decade our world, especially our societies and our economic environment, has changed tremendously. This has directly impacted on our behaviour in our roles as a citizen, a customer and, most importantly, as a professional.

Behavior forms our habits.

Whilst we may wear many hats every day, under each of those hats, it’s our behaviour that frames our character and creates our identity as an individual and leads to how we are perceived as a leaders in the roles we fulfill. Given our business models and management processes and the fixated need to hit the quarterly ‘profit numbers’, in the corporate scenario, we seem to avoid taking into account the behaviour of leaders and people and its resultant impact on business.

There are tons of great research available that clearly depict the behavioural changes of the past decade as a result of the financial meltdowns  & of technology becoming more user-friendly and more accessible.

The financial crisis’s left us being more prudent in our purchasing decisions and making better choices of our wants & needs. Technology in the form of smartphones and social media has given us the benefit of obtaining an unbiased third-party perspective on any issue and has created a world full of interest-based communities.

This has a huge impact on organisations. 

Within this changed (and still changing scenario) comes the issue of vulnerability (here’s the article that triggered this post) where corporate leadership is concerned.

To be vulnerable or Not to be’.

Corporate leadership has yet to take vulnerability as a positive. A decade back, vulnerability would have been an absolute no-no for a leader. It was akin to being weak, indecisive and wishy-washy.

Today showing vulnerability shows the leader to be humane i.e. caring and wanting the best for the other person; it shows an intent of listeningi.e. willing to take on board suggestions and advice and showing that the leader alone does not have all the solutions.

All of this is can be summed up as people-value.

Today’s leader has to be truly interested in delivering benefits that are valued by his people, in terms of their self-development, in order to achieve the long-term business goals.

Being vulnerable or expressing one’s vulnerability enables people to see the authentic side of the leader and not see it as a weakness.  Vulnerability enables the team to connect on an emotional level and acts as an enabler in the leader & team relationship dynamic. It leads to creating trust and with trust comes commitment that aids the leader in guiding the team to achieve the goals successfully.