Organisation change: flex for the future

At a recent meeting of our US team, stories abounded from our colleagues of the continuous pace of organisational change facing global companies and their marketing departments. The frequency of marketing restructures, led by shorter tenures of marketing leaders and cost-saving programmes, was a common theme. Findings from the recent 2012 Marketing Week / Ball & Hoolahan survey in UK reported that more than half (53%) of marketing departments will be restructured in 2012 as companies lower their headcount in the light of continued economic uncertainty. Moreover, the same survey reported that in 2010, nearly 63% of marketing teams experienced transformation programmes.

This type of change creates considerable challenges for marketing leaders. Adapting to a new corporate direction is tough for Marketers as they seek to provide long term brand consistency for customers. On top of this, Marketing leaders need to provide the right direction to their teams as they navigate turbulent times. In particular, as the business changes, how should Marketing operations and its processes change – how radically and how frequently?

In turbulent times, some may argue that defining processes for Marketers is outdated. Why not encourage a more free flowing approach where individuals are encouraged to be creative and entrepreneurial, not constrained by process and but instead find their own ways around the organisation?

Yet process clarity is critical in today's complex organisations. Even the most innovative organisations thrive on lucid ways of working. Taking Apple as a great example of this, the late Steve Jobs is quoted as saying "Apple is a very disciplined company and we have great processes…Process makes you more efficient".

So if process is important, how should it be managed against the reality of the ever-changing organisation? In my view, processes should anticipate organisational change and be defined to enable fluidity. Rigidly defined processes give themselves a shorter timeline on their usage. Too often, marketers inherit overly complicated descriptions of ways of working. At their worst, processes are described through exhaustive flow charts, with processes and tools defined in lengthy books that contain pages and pages of academic complexity and detail. Seldom are these read, let alone understood or implemented. They are then rendered worthless when a change in business direction is put into place, as marketers struggle to cope with a new reality. More often than not, at this stage, the process book is simply thrown out of the window.

World-class processes need to be future proofed as best as possible by allowing them to flex as business priorities change. The detail of process definition needs to be stripped back allowing Marketers to understand and operate with the core principles. Far better that Marketing is aligned around the organisation's core beliefs of what drives growth most effectively than attempting to mandate highly detailed methodologies. Still more important, that all members of the marketing function understand what excellent marketing looks like in their organisation and the simple, top line approaches to delivering it. Marketers are smart enough (and busy enough!) not to need pages of sub-processes, flow charts and nuance. Simple approaches, with clear steps, communicated in an engaging and memorable way are much more likely to stick and to flex gently as the corporate climate changes around it. Practical examples should then illustrate all the principles, bringing them to life in a way that is relevant for the team. As Helen Lewis, Consumer Insight & Marketing Strategy Director from the Unilever Marketing Academy is quoted as saying "There are areas where we know we created things where the principle was fine, but the practice of it was too complicated, the tool was too complex…the tools people talk about are simple, impactful and require everyone to change." Great marketing and the core principles behind it don't change, however, they do need space to evolve to changing times and opportunities.

Flexing for the future is key as businesses cope with continued economic uncertainty and anticipate leadership changes in the year ahead. Don't cling to rigidity and detail - embrace simplicity, embrace powerful principles, embrace the flex.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your  organisational design capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Organisation Design.

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