CMO Series: Navigating Internal Politics
May 25, 2012 AMA Houston is hosting a quarterly series featuring CMOs that kicked off on Thursday May 24, 2012 with a great panel of speakers discussing "Been There, Done That! Navigating Internal Politics". This CMO series is open only to AMA members.
Summary: The panel was forthright, funny and in some cases, downright inspirational. They had very distinct personalities, almost archetypes of different leadership styles and personalities. Great tips or thoughts that made me think from these presentations are highlighted in blue. All responses are paraphrased and shortened; this is not a transcript of the proceedings.
The moderator, Susan Farrell of Captavi, kicked off the discussion with the interesting statistics (compliments of CMO Counsel) that in ongoing surveys, the average CMO tenure is two years.
Q: With an average tenure of two years, How to defy the odds? Why are you still there?
Diana: Essentially, Diana sees this as natural evolution, Year 1 is clean up year. You come in, you are the hero because so many things need to be done. Year 2 is the year to reap rewards. Year 3 require re-innovation and constant assessment. If you have not gotten third party support or public affirmation, your year 1 successes are not enough to carry you through to Year 3.
Clinton: Constant self evaluation is required. You also have to develop internal messaging that makes the team want to be a part of the company.
Catherine: Ever droll, Catherine pointed out that in an environment full of lawyer partners, she is evaluated all the time. She thinks that most marketers suffer from ADD and get easily bored; this drives a need to seek out the new challenges so we stay fresh.
David: He believes that we too often work in a vacuum focused on our own business areas. To avoid this, he shadows other departments one day per month to learn what they are doing. This keeps him immersed and shows his commitment to all components of the organization. Politics in nonprofit is very different. David initially struggled transitioning from the for-profit world. He noted that silo based behaviors are sometime indicative of the activities people participated in when they were young. If you were in sports or scouting where you worked collaboratively, you are more likely to still embrace team. If you were in solo activities, you will need to develop the team mentality of working together to achieve end goal. When he encounters resistance, he kills with kindness and he creates lots of one on one meetings with the people who have the most resistance to overcome. I have been places where people avoid those that disagree with them; this idea of focused attention to develop the relationship is so much more positive.
Q: How did you achieve your position? Did you have Mentors along the way?
Diana: No outside mentors. My advocate and partner on the inside is the CFO.
Catherine: No mentor. She had variety of bosses and learned from them. Best advice she received from a former boss: Don't argue with partners and Don't make it personal.
Clinton: He is currently fortunate to have a boss who is a great political navigator and has the opportunity to learn from him. His boss' approach is to always take a multidimensional view by seeking to understand motivations and angles of others in advance. A boss wants you to do great for your company; a mentor will hold you accountable for being great or the best possible version of you.
David: David currently has a couple of people that he looks up to and relies on. He practices constant communication with colleagues outside of his workplace to avoid tunnel vision. He uses drive time to talk with them. He also regularly schedules lunch to talk with people outside of his business or industry. Some of his greatest lessons came from his worst bosses and managers.
Q: What professional advice would you have given yourself if you could?
Diana: I train young women on my staff to focus on how they present themselves. Don't answer the phone like a girl or speak in soft and questioning tones. Speak with confidence. Speak with tone and pitch appropriate to business.
Catherine: Be prepared. Try to think of all the questions in advance.
Clinton: Remember: even if you are one day ahead in knowledge or planning, don't shortchange your knowledge. You are the marketing expert in your organization. Walk with confidence and deliver your message.
David: 20 years ago, he was so focused on career and self promoting that he was losing sight of what was around him. He would tell himself to: think less about own self elevation and more about elevating the company and the team.
Q: Mean vs. Nice? What to do when you have Toxicity on your team?
Catherine: Root out the negative people and kill the behavior. She also had to learn to that some people really have no innate political skills or empathy; if trainable, train; otherwise, they have to go.
Diana: "If they don't like me, they don't last." A team needs to be excited and happy to come to work and if they are not, they should look elsewhere.
Clinton: If they torpedo in public, respond with same. If they are subversive, be direct in responding to them. Don't dance.
David: Be honest. Be nice. Be positive. Create the culture you want. Lead by example to get your team to where you want.
Q: Absolute worst political situation you were in and how did it affect your career?
Catherine: Early on in her career, she was in a staff meeting and boss said it has to be done this way which was simply not possible. Her boss' reaction to honest feedback was calling it insubordination.
Clinton: He has very interesting long range ideas experience. He once managed a project where the oversight was his senior leadership team and Congress. The most viable option to achieve the goals was not politically popular or possible with Congress. The true and right answer was ignored.
Diana: She joined a company thinking there was a lot of low hanging fruit that she could immediately fix. Two weeks in, she realized that her CEO hated marketing and she could accomplish nothing. The inability to navigate around the CEO made progress impossible.
Q: What are the best tools used in your company to reduce politics?
Catherine: Lets marketing team express their frustrations or challenges with the strict policy is that it stays inside the group.
Clinton: Uses the swag cabinet to send appreciation to employees. He drafts letters of appreciation to go with the gifts for his boss to sign.
Diana: Uses two techniques to foster culture of respect: (1) thank you campaigns where everyone has to send one Thank You in writing per week and (2) meeting policy to pay a dollar for negative comments about people who are not in the room to defend themselves, their actions or ideas.
David: Honest answer: We don't do a good job currently. He believes that there are too many meetings. He would like for his team to have more time to work on dreams and challenges. He has also assigned children's books as reading (Harold and Purple Crayon). David also sent Thank you notes to employee's homes.
Q: What characteristics do you look for in new hires?
Catherine: Ability to laugh at yourself. Acknowledge mistakes.
Clinton: Integrity. Service before self. Personal motto is to be great. He also seeks intrinsically motivated people.
Diana: Scrappy, happy and motivated people
David: He utilizes his second interview to identify the personal fit. This interview is offsite and focuses on personal. He never talks to the current boss as he thinks troubled employees often pawned off to others via references. Looks for scouting, team sports, or other opportunities to work collectively on resumes.
Q: At this time, we asked the question of three staffing agencies in the room, what are the top characteristics sought after in a CMO when firms are seeking?
Trish Cunningham, Brookwoods Group: Most are looking for eight to 10 specific qualities (ex: leadership, intuitive, volunteer)
Michelle Acosta, Clearpoint Creative: Being able to navigate internal politics is key.
Steven Leeper, Matchstick: Seeking candidates who thinking about the company culture.
Q: What about about the age-old debate about the division between sales and marketing?
David: Celebrate successes as team. Don't over-think branding and allow slavish devotion to hinder you in reaching the goals. Our brand is our mission statement.
Catherine: Critically important to remember in a law firm that the attorneys are the sales people AND it is their money that marketing spends. Create tools to assist the attorneys that support them where they may be weaker in knowledge -- i.e. competitive set in certain markets.
Not only did the panelists frankly share insights, all of them did so while showing respect to their current employers and teams. As good CMOs, most mentioned their programs and the capabilities of their firms. Looking forward to the next CMO series event; this was excellent content presented in an engaging way.
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