Leaders like to lead
Over the years I have seen the inside of many boardrooms and worked with marketing teams of all shapes and sizes. The most surprising thing I have discovered is the number one thing holding businesses back was, to put it bluntly, the people running the businesses themselves.
It’s not that they deliberately do this of course. It’s just when it comes to teams of leaders they all like to, well lead. But what is leading the leaders?
If there is no clear direction idea or strategy then everyone is pulling in different directions. Without a belief system which does not dictate detail but rather guides and informs decisions there is typically problems in alignment.
Photo by Margarida CSilva on Unsplash
I started my career as a graphic designer. The difference between a designer and an artist is purpose. You do not simply use self expression, your work serves a purpose. However I found that design briefs often fell short of this very important aspect of design. To a designer purpose should be everything.
Of course you would understand the purpose of the exhibition stand you were designing was to attract people to it. But why? What was the whole point of the company being at the exhibition in the first place? What was the real, significant purpose of the work we were doing? The same is with website design. Yes the company needs a website. But why? In truth a business does not want a website. It wants more sales or sales leads. How many web design briefs contain this vital but simple point? Hardly any in my past experience. To take this a step further if a brief did contain this information then how many new leads or sales are desired? What percentage change would that be from now? What revenue would that generate as an average order value? What business growth strategy is this connected to? Most importantly if the desired growth was achieved what would that mean aside from making money? What does success look like for this project?
Briefs should be telling this sort of purpose led information to then allow design agencies and marketing experts to respond in a meaningful way. Design could be driven by purpose not subjective artistic expression. Poor briefs are the main reason why projects of this type break down - “they just don’t get what we want” the company says. “They just don’t know what they want” the design agency says.
Why do briefs not contain purpose? Typically because the people writing the briefs do not know the real purpose themselves or struggle to communicate purpose.
How can an expert seriously give advice to get you nearer to your goals if they are never told what those ultimate goals are? How can a team be effective without a direction?
Over the years I have found ways of harmonising leadership teams in order for them to clarify their united purpose and the purpose of their activities.
When this is done, these leadership teams can then effectively build brands that resonate authentically with their audiences. They can pull together and instinctively know if something is “right”. They have a framework whereby they can test their ideas and behaviours. A framework based on purpose.
How do things fall apart?
When businesses start, usually everyone is on the same page. The entrepreneurs who begin the businesses have a dream. This dream becomes the reason they get out of bed in the morning and is easily communicated with passion directly to customers. The founders of the business are involved in its day to day running. They know what their customers need and this informs the strategies and offering employed. The dream is clear. The purpose is clear.
Typically the main focus of a startup business is survival. It’s not glamorous but its simple and clear and if we were being honest it is true. As time goes on and the business grows the team that surround its founders grow. As the years roll by founders find themselves getting further and further from the customer. Much larger businesses form boards. Some float on the stock market and have shareholders. Some buy out other businesses. Some merge with larger companies.
All of this generates stability and wealth but can easily lead to politics, disunity and misunderstood goals and objectives.
Leadership teams form with individuals representing areas of the business. Each role is created for a purpose - the person filling it fully aware of that purpose. As time rolls on though new faces appear in the leadership team who were not privy to the original purpose of the job they are now filling. People start to pull in different directions. Even if a clear business strategy is in place (and in small businesses this is not always the case) it can be somehow disconnected and unreal - almost meaningless, to the day to day running of the business. The actual effect the business has on the lives of customers is sometimes shrouded in corporate babble, technical terms, red tape and the many onion-like layers that shroud a leadership role, which span out from the core of the businesses and end up at a customer.
In the middle of all of this is the role of marketing. On the one hand there to hit short term targets - usually set over a year. To generate this months sales leads for the sales team to follow up on. To drive traffic and conversions on the website. To increase engagement. Modern marketing is metric driven and success can be measured in real time. This is used to set KPIs and determine sales conversion funnels. However this is usually short term thinking. It has to be because he company needs cash flow.
On the other hand it is also assumed marketing is there to develop a long term impression on the end customers mind. This longer term impact is much harder to measure.
Design and look and feel often sits initially in the Marketing arena but because there is typically no real basis for decision making in this area it can often become subject to the individual whims of a committee. “Design by committee” is a design which appeals to the average. What might of started as a creative, clever and effective way of communicating can become an average piece of collateral which appeals to the average person. Thats ok if you are looking to get your message across to the average person but what if you are not? I’ve seen design briefs completely change right at the end of a project. I’ve seen work which was signed off by Marketing then become remoulded from the ground up when other leaders see it because it does not fit with personal taste.
What if there was a better more effective way to get everyone on the same page early?
What often is not considered it that the wider actions of the various parts of a business affect the role of marketing. How much data is collected, the IT infrastructure, who handles the website, books events, deals with complaints, hires people for example are all areas of a business which impact on marketing and the ability for the company to be marketed. Anything which touches the customer experience effects the customers view of your business.
If there is a disunity within the leadership team then tensions and frustrations bubble up. People become stressed and dissatisfied. Pressures are brought to bear to keep companies profitable. Things move fast. Heads roll. In an attempt to bring order, complex strategies are proposed and long response documents are written. Thousands of unread words are written to justify existences, personality conflicts run riot as people scramble up the corporate ladder, sometimes pushing up others sometimes treading down on others. Everybody is running in different directions.
Does this all sound a bit too familiar? Do you need a simple and meaningful way of unifying your team to enable your company to sell more and for your people to get along better? Keep reading this blog!
The unifying power of stories
I have found that getting leadership teams in a room and getting them to look at their business in a different light can really help them to unify their thinking around a common purpose. The aim of such sessions is simple - to discover and define meaning.
As I explained in a previous post the best way to add meaning is to use stories. Story telling is the most ancient and effective ways of communicating meaning. It is through stories we understand the world around us. They give us a sense of perspective, culture and being.
Everyone can get behind a good story.
In the coming months I hope to share some of the techniques I've found to be most effective in this area. I found these techniques very positive and can unify even the most disjointed and negative of teams - probably because they feel unthreatening in nature. Once a solid story is in place I have found leadership teams can then go on to make decisions around there framework - influencing marketing and business strategy. Briefs become stronger and everything is purpose driven.
The trick though is to engage and involve all the leaders of a business. They all need to be in the room. They all need to be involved.
Sound like a daunting task? It is. But it's well worth it.
Stay tuned for upcoming tips and tricks to help get everyone one the same page...