Winning at scale with a better operating model

The narrative of ‘small’ as a valuable source of speed and responsiveness in business is rife, so it may be natural for anyone working in a large multinational to think the sheer size of their business is a fatal constraint.

My observation, from more than ten years working with global multinationals, is that it’s common among colleagues in these large organisations to talk about the co-ordination costs and overhead of managing global businesses. What’s surprising is that there’s less appreciation of arguably the biggest differentiator of ‘large’; the sheer volume of skills and talent in these companies.

Large organisations have the cumulative brainpower, skills, resources and commercial experience that a small company could only dream of. So, if you work in a large organisation, how do you organise to take advantage?

Here are the four headline requirements to turn scale to your advantage: Team assembly, Team Coordination, Connectivity and Commercial mindset.

Assemble your best team

Teams typically make better decisions than individuals and can break down complex problems among members and solve them faster. The key is bringing together the right blend of experiences and skills to solve the unique challenges of a project.

For different customers – whether the ultimate consumer, retail partner, or stakeholder – there will be different jobs to be done. Let’s call this the customer mission. The best commercial teams will have the right talent and skillsets to innovate and solve the customer mission without having to go outside the team for additional skills. That mix will include people with specialist skills from centres of excellence or shared services such as supply chain, legal and HR. The right sales specialists will be on board, as will marketers.

How confident are you in the skillsets of the marketers you would call on for such a team? We believe organisations need 4 modes of marketer orientation, described by the Brand Learning 4S™ Framework:

  • Scientists: integrate, mine and apply advanced analytics to data
  • Strategists: Create joined-up business, brand and marketing strategies to deliver differentiated customer experiences
  • Storybuilders: Shape and evolve compelling stories to engage internal and external customers
  • Socialisers: Socialise experiences, ideas and content

Each customer mission would ideally have its own blend of 4S Marketing skillsets along with other specialists to drive commercial success. In the simplified visual below, we illustrate how team assembly might vary for 5 hypothesised customer missions; core growth, market challenge, early stage innovation, innovation launch and brand partnership:


operating models


Co-ordinate your best teams around the most important jobs to be done

We are often asked what the future of strategy and planning looks like, in particular how planning can become more dynamic and help address the increasing pace of change businesses face.

The model below shares at a high level how resource allocation can be co-ordinated across global, regional and country groups, across different planning timeframes. Anyone who’s spent time in a big multinational will doubtless have lived through many different permutations of the global/regional/local set up. In this model a 12 month strategy is aligned across global regional and country teams.

At the planning level, regions take the lead for determining individual talents onto teams for 6 months as the requirements of customer missions become clearer.  This is the best time horizon for making choices on global talent allocation to respond to the fast-moving external realities whilst recognising the average duration of many projects. Regions are well placed to identify lead options for resourcing teams in consultation with country HR leads.

Within each 12 week cycle, the team itself is then responsible for decision making and delivery.

how to create operating models - a diagram

Build in connections so that teams across geographies and missions can accelerate

There’s no advantage in organising for responsiveness at the cycle level if teams can’t respond and adjust with learnings as they receive them. Central to this way of operating working well is the need for new ‘accelerator’ roles. These people need to quickly assimilate the learnings from cycle teams in similar situations. They take the results of experiments and quickly adapt them to pilots in other countries, respecting proven differences whilst working to share similarities and help the organisation to implement faster.

Keep rotating people through teams to drive commercial skills and remove silos

To increase urgency and decisiveness, it’s essential to remove silo thinking as fast as possible.

A key function and benefit of commercial teams is that people learn skills from other functional specialists on the team. To increase entrepreneurial and commercial orientation, it pays to think carefully about how to accelerate the ‘commercial curve’ of colleagues.

The concept of s curves (popularised by Whitney Johnson) describes the need to rotate individuals into new roles as they develop mastery of a skill and their current focus gets too comfortable. Johnson’s research shows that the optimised mix of learning curves is 70% of people in the sweet spot, 15% at the low-end and 15% at the high-end.

the S curve of learning

Big AND Better?

Releasing the considerable power of talented workforces in large organisations involves focusing on 4 elements: assembling your best teams, co-ordinating them around the most important jobs to be done, connecting them, and planfully rotating people to drive a commercial mindset.

To learn more about how Brand Learning is working with organisations to strengthen their operating model, get in contact.

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