Want To Be A Change Agent? Here’s The Playbook For Transformation
If the sampling I see is any representation at all, pretty much every chief marketing officer job spec these days contains “transformational leader,” “disrupter,” “change agent” or some other phrase along those lines. They all pretty much say the same thing: “Please come get us out of this place we’re in!!”
Sometimes there’s magical thinking lurking in these job searches—the hope that a wizard marketer will come in and, with $0.50 and a toothless police dog, deliver transformation and salvation that lift the organization out of stagnation. This wishful thinking often leads to CEO disappointment, one of many reasons why the CMO is typically the most-fired C-suite role. But even the most grounded CEOs tend to seek change agents in their CMOs—executives with the ability to assess reality, create a vision and move an organization in a new direction. Easy to say, harder to do.
Amy Radin has spent a career making just that kind of change at the likes of American Express, Citi, E*Trade and AXA. She’s now written a book that encapsulates her experience leading change and innovation, combined with the insights gleaned from interviews with other corporate transformers. I spoke with Amy to learn more about what she learned.
Peter Horst: Congratulations on the launch of The Change Makers Playbook. You’re definitely focused on an issue of timely concern.
Amy Radin: The good news and the bad news is that this is an evergreen topic. People are struggling with the same questions about transformation as 20 years ago—but now you have so much more complexity and urgency. Back in 2000, when bigger companies were thinking about how digital will change the business, they still had the luxury of time—less complexity, not as many new entrants popping up all over the place. But now every single variable is a moving part. There’s more intensity, you have to move faster. You can’t mess around—you really have to execute if you want to thrive.
Horst: Is it the new normal that every CMO job is now about driving change?
Radin: I don’t think there’s any such thing as a status quo marketing role , unless your goal is to retire in six months. I don’t know an executive in any size, any stage company who isn’t thinking about how they have to change and adapt to attract new customers, keep their product relevant, build loyalty, work with their brands on social media, and so on. It’s pervasive. There’s no rulebook from the past that will tell you how to project forward and grow at least 5%. You have to be constantly on your toes and changing and adapting and listening to customers.
Horst: Your book breaks down three phases of driving change: Seeking, Seeding and Scaling. Tell me about that.
Radin: It’s a methodology, and not a process that implies you just go from A to Z. Innovation is anything but linear—it’s inherently iterative and unpredictable and you may jump around. But from my own experience and through the 50 or so interviews I did in researching the topic for my book, there emerged these three components that represent what you need to cover to drive innovation from the idea on the back of napkin to fully operational at scale.
The first piece is Seeking—discovering insights, defining the purpose of the brand, and developing the very beginnings of compelling concepts. It demands that you have this changemaker mindset, especially that you are very resourceful, because you may not have any resources at the beginning beyond your own passion, brains, and the helping hand of people who believe in you. But you’re so passionate about your purpose, and see problems you can solve in user insights. So you’re motoring forward towards prototypes.
The second part, Seeding, starts with developing prototypes – concrete representations, even if very rough, of your solution to user problems. I’m not a big fan of “silver bullets” so I stay away from buzzwords like “design thinking” and “agile”. Set aside the jargon, and just use common sense. Best way to get legitimate feedback from users about a truly innovative concept is to put a prototype in their hands. That can mean a sketch or a Styrofoam model. Nothing fancy, just what it takes to get people interacting, and to help you define how to bring your idea to life. Prototyping sets you on the path of considering all of the elements of feasibility, regulations, tech realities, and so forth, all the issues surrounding the business model. That’s where Seeding ends – in having a viable business model with sufficient evidence of potential that you are able to move forward.
The third phase, Scaling, is where you are looking to build a meaningful user base and build awareness beyond friendly users, beta groups, etc. What is important at this point is to recognize that the capabilities to scale are very different from those used earlier on, when you were finding and refining a concept. The demands customers have for quality, performance, safety, security, etc. are much more stringent at this point. People may be forgiving in a beta test—but now you have to execute very differently. So stop and think about what new processes, skills or resources will achieve growth in the user base at the quality and performance standards required to sustain the business and build your brand reputation. With launch, the cycle starts again—testing and experimentation have to be an ongoing part of a living product or service. Change makers are always looking to the future to see what’s next.
Horst: Where do people most often go wrong, and what do they most often miss when trying to drive change and innovation?
Radin: One of the interesting things I found in my interviews is that corporate innovators and founders of startups like to mock each other. But they have a lot in common and can learn more from each other than they may at first acknowledge. Teams at startups may lack diversity. They fall in love with their idea, with intense passion, but that passion—which is such asset—can also blind them to marketfeedback. They may look past the basic tech and engineering skill sets that are also needed to turn software into a viable business. In the corporate world, it’s hard to get out from under the orthodoxies of how things have always been done. People are trapped in existing mindsets, processes, and budgeting cycles. A typical scenario: the CFO hands out next year’s target and everyone works backwards to solve for the number—the engineer find dollars here and there to save money, the marketers add a new product feature. Who is deeply thinking about purpose or solving problems more effectively outside the norms? You make it harder on yourself when you just set out to solve for next year’s number vs. at the same time looking straight into the market for insights about what is going on in your customers’ lives and new ways you can serve them.
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