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In recent conversations we had about growth and the role of Marketing with two CEOs , Kevin Dunworth of Celling Biosciences and Greg Stock of Zenoss, speed was a key factor. Greg emphasized the importance of an organization being able “to move at the speed of change; the ability to quickly evolve.” Kevin believes that “the guy that does the best is the guy who can make adjustments on the fly.” Essentially both of these CEOs are echoing Jack Welch’s words from  his 2000 remarks, “When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Clearly two things matter when it comes to long-term business success: speed and adaptability.

We’re not talking about the rate of change occurring in business and around us – a topic of so many articles today that address transformation. While the world around us is indeed changing, we are in agreement with Chris McKenna of Oxford University that the change itself is not accelerating, a topic he has explored throughout his career. We are also proponents of Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, who suggests that leaders use the idea that the rate of change is accelerating to create a sense of urgency internally and use this as motivational energy.

Organizations need to have this motivational energy to adjust to new, disruptive technologies, intensified competition, and customers that continually reset expectations. This is the real message – and what Greg, Kevin and Jack were imparting. How? Greg and Kevin were right on target – with speed and adaptability. These are fundamental to maintaining market relevancecategory position, and market share.

These days, this concept can be seen most commonly in the agile approach. Agile was taken from the operational world of IT projects. Today it refers to an organization’s ability to match internal speed with external changes.

How to Make Agile Real for Marketing

The benefit of agile for any organization is that it helps you increase the execution speed of your business. Your Marketing Operations function plays an integral role in making agile real for the Marketing organization. Whether you have such a function or not, you can still embrace agile. Here’s how to translate the basics of agile in IT to Marketing.

  1. In the IT world, agile starts with having a project. In Marketing, agile starts with having a plan.
  2. In the IT world, agile requires having a process for how to address issues as they arise. Marketing, like any other part of the organization, runs on processes. To keep pace with the outside, it may be vital for the inside to pick up the pace, not necessarily by working faster but by reducing the number of interactions needed in the process and the time for each. Hence the value of process mapping. If you haven’t yet mapped your processes, it’s time to make the effort.
  3. Agile IT teams rely on daily review that include alerts and warnings. If that sounds a bit like a dashboard, you’re right. Similar to the dashboard in your car, an effective Marketing dashboard signals when course adjustments, actions and or decisions are required. Certainly, you would want to reduce your speed if you’re about to run into the back of a slower-moving vehicle in time to avoid an accident. Hence regular reviews and a dashboard are essential to the running of Marketing.
  4. IT project speed depends on how fast information flows. Data is the lifeblood of every organization. Macro Industry data. Market trend data. Customer data. Competitive data. To be agile, Marketing needs skills and tools that enable the organization to process data quickly and then quickly take action.

Create Momentum to Move at the Speed of Change

Speed depends on how fast the information flows.

So far, we haven’t said one thing about technology. Marketing is certainly inundated with Marketing Technology (MarTech). More MarTech doesn’t necessarily equate to faster execution rate. Implementing new MarTech will not solve all your speed problems. Agility is more about your operating model and less about your tools. It takes the right mindset, a mindset that thirsts for speed and adaptability to create an environment that drives agility. Tackling agility is more of a shift in thinking then an investment in technology. It is about investing in overcoming inertia.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his well-regarded book New Directions for Organization Theory (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997), said that eliminating inertia is instrumental to being able to change as fast as the environment. Step back in time to your physics class. We can apply the laws of physics to organizational inertia, whether on the company-wide level or at a functional level. To break out of organizational inertia, you need to generate sufficient momentum to overcome the natural inclination to stay at rest. Velocity and mass produce momentum. Velocity is speed with a specific direction or vector. The other variable is critical mass.

Marketing, along with other customer and market-facing partners, is in the position to provide the organization with actionable insights. The ultimate test, though, is action. This is why it makes sense to invest in the analytics, process, and performance management capabilities often under the auspices of Marketing Ops. In this way Marketing gains sufficient speed and mass to create the momentum needed to act.

If you’re feeling like your internal speed is lagging – or even stalling – let us know. We’ll help you find out how you can pick up the pace to match the changing environment.

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