HomeBlog Leading Change: The CMO's Constant Balancing Act

Leading Change: The CMO's Constant Balancing Act

December 29, 2016|Caroline Bright

  • B-to-b environments are dynamic and constantly evolving, so CMOs must know how to react to drivers for change
  • CMOs must be capable of leading marketing change and transformation
  • CMOs must continually sustain marketing strategy and structural alignment

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus surmised nearly 2,000 years ago, change is the only constant. To ensure optimal performance of the marketing function and to maximize its business contribution in line with strategic priorities, the CMO needs to be capable of leading marketing change and transformation.

Our 2016 survey of more than 270 CMOs identified that 86 percent of CMOs are planning to undertake organizational changes in response to a mix of internal and external drivers (e.g. mergers and acquisitions in support of new business models, creating efficiencies, scaling for growth). Our research shows that CMOs must also react to drivers for strategic change. Top drivers ranked by CMOs include adapting to a change in economic conditions, changing to enhance customer experience, changing to enhance partner channel capabilities and changing to revise routes to market.

To succeed in such a dynamic environment, the CMO must be capable of reacting correctly. Crucial to this is ensuring the marketing strategy (and its constituent elements) is aligned with the organizational structure (e.g. processes, workflows, capabilities). This is often the ultimate balancing act for the CMO in responding to change, not least because changes in strategy have a direct effect on organizational structure and vice versa. For example, in responding to a rebranding transformation brought about by an acquisition, the CMO cannot consider the rebranding strategy without also considering the structural implications and the need to integrate multiple marketing functions across two organisations.  

To achieve balance and alignment, and to support CMOs in their leadership challenge of driving change, SiriusDecisions has recently launched a new change management framework. This best practice model helps the CMO through the process of transformation, resisting the commonplace response of treating change as an event. Designed for leaders managing transitions, this practical model breaks down the change effort into four sequential phases – scoping, planning, managing and embedding. In each phase, the CMO is responsible for specific actions:

  1. Scoping the situation. The CMO must undertake the environmental assessment (internal and external), identify and define required changes, evaluate change scenarios, prioritize options and make a compelling case for change. This step ensures that the strategy and organizational structure fit is designed into the process from the outset.
  2. Planning the change. The CMO must create and communicate the vision, build internal coalitions, establish the project teams (often multifunctional) and create the transition plans, breaking down the effort into consumable pieces.
  3. Managing the transition. This phase is about execution – aligning the right resources and influencers to overcome obstacles and celebrate incremental improvements. The CMO must again weigh the strategy and structure fit. For example, in responding to the growth driver to enter a new market via a channel marketing strategy, the CMO must ensure there is sufficient time to build the new channel capabilities and that this is reflected in realistic business goal expectations.
  4. Making the change stick. The goal of the final phase is to institutionalize desired changes and ensure that it is embedded in the organizational culture. The CMO must humanize the change. In our dialogues with CMOs who have successfully managed a change process or who have struggled to make it stick, many said that taking people with them at every stage is key to success. The CMO must ensure that all levels of the organization can identify with the driver for change, have a stake in the change and see a perceived benefit. Communication of the business imperative is often key to achieving this, but remember: A change in culture will not happen overnight. To make change stick, people at all levels of the organization need to understand the “why and how” throughout the change effort.

Effective communication skills and core leadership qualities are the foundational elements underpinning this process. And the CMO must master both. Leaders who successfully transform their organizations take the appropriate actions – in the correct sequence – to enact lasting change.

The ongoing test for the CMO is to ensure that any change maintains the fit and alignment of strategy and structure. Designing this into the early stages of the change effort is crucial to maintaining this balance. We recommend regular stress testing of this fit. The CMO must ensure strategic and structural alignment on a constant basis. 

Are you embarking on a marketing transformation or a process of embedding change? Do you wrestle to keep your marketing structure and strategy aligned to meet constantly evolving business goals? Why not start a conversation with us in the comments section, or contact us to explore further? We would love to share our perspectives and insights with you at our 2017 Summit, which will include a session on “Change Management and the Revenue Engine.” 

Caroline Bright

Caroline Bright is a Research Director for European CMO Strategies at SiriusDecisions. An accomplished b-to-b global marketing director and commercial leader with 15 years of experience in FTSE 100 multinational environments, she brings expertise in driving marketing-led strategic change, tackling complex market and organizational challenges, creating cultures for marketing success, integrating global and regional acquisitions, and developing and implementing international marketing and branding strategies. Follow her on Twitter @bright_ce.

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