In Mary Shelly’s classic 1818 novel "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus," scientist Victor Frankenstein assembles from the human detritus of the graveyard, the hospital, and the slaughterhouse the inanimate form of a man. In the 1931 movie adaptation of the novel, Frankenstein raises the monster’s form to an open window in the ceiling of his laboratory amid the flashing of lightening and the crashing of thunder. When the creature’s hand begins to move, animated for the first time, Frankenstein maniacally exclaims, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Bringing work to life for the creative teams within most marketing organizations doesn’t require the same histrionics, but it does require that people at all levels have the tools they need to better understand and organize their work.
Where To Start?
Keeping the marketing department busy is never an issue. The real trick for marketing leaders is keeping people focused on the initiatives that matter most and provide the most value to the organization.
In an article on CNNMoney.com, Julian Birkinshaw wrote, “At its core, much of management simply comes down to making sure the right people are working on the right projects at the right time.” As you might suspect, we’re talking about prioritizing work. You might also be thinking, “That’s nothing new. We’re prioritizing work all the time.” The question is, how often do you really get to focus on your top priorities?
Marketing professionals are often providing internal services to other departments within the organization. And like IT departments and human resource groups that also provide shared services, you regularly experience the realization that every internal client considers his request for services the most important one in the organization. Unfortunately, if someone needs a brochure or swag for an upcoming customer event, he often directly approaches one of the graphic designers or copywriters to fulfill the request. Although that particular internal client might get what he needs at that time, he is unwittingly hampering the ability of your team to consistently deliver to the organization, while also frustrating individual team members who are constantly getting pulled away from what they’re “supposed” to be doing as they are swept away in a constant stream of ad-hoc requests.
When individuals on the creative team become project and relationship managers, they are distracted from their primary roles; they struggle to manage priorities and balance the need to meet objectives established by the boss, as well as the needs of their internal clients. This is not only frustrating to marketing leaders, who realize that the squeaky wheels in their organizations are really directing the team, but team members become frustrated, too.
This is your domain. The first step to “bringing work to life” for your team requires making sure they always know what they should be working on now, what’s next, and where everything fits. Although we will never be able to totally eliminate all the random requests marketing teams seem to get inundated with, it’s important to create a place where everyone can collect, prioritize, and manage all of their work so they can collaborative on the projects that matter most. It might not be rocket science, but when team members clearly understand what they should be working on now and what they should be working on next, they can focus, be more productive, and actually be more creative.
I once worked with an incredibly talented copywriter who would become so focused on the project at hand that he’d often lose sight of what was next on his plate. Simple as it sounds, if your team can answer the questions, “What am I working on now and what’s next?” you’re well on the way to making work live in your marketing organization—and for the individuals on your team.
What’s more, as important as it is for team members to have the tools they need to better understand and organize their work, marketing leaders also require something that will provide them with insight into what’s going on within the team to make informed decisions and help everyone stay focused.
Visibility into purpose, along with some individual control.
Most people have a real desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves—and marketing professionals are no different. “When employees feel like they have some control over the work they are doing and when they feel like they’re making progress, they are generally happier and more productive,” wrote Linda Mignone, in a separate article for CNNMoney.com. “A team makes a bigger, bolder, richer sound, with more layers, like an orchestra. And the richest sounds come when the team feels like they are part of something big; a big idea, a vision.”
Just as marketing leaders need visibility into what their teams are doing, giving team members visibility into the purpose behind their work, along with the freedom to control some of their own priorities, empowers them to contribute at a higher level, take ownership of their work and brings their work to life.
Managing The Work Of Marketing Teams
Regardless of the approach you take or the tools you use to manage the work done by your marketing team, doing it successfully requires an approach that:
- Works the way people want to work—enabling stakeholders to request work, suggest due dates, collaborate, and negotiate. For some teams, this might mean incorporating a more social feel to how work is requested, or enabling the dialog and negotiation that usually transpires when work is assigned. Forcing people to work within a box or “process” that doesn’t feel natural “because that’s the way the software does it” is contrary to working the way people really work.
- Is tailored to all types of workers—team members, project managers and executives. Everyone on the creative team should be able to obtain value from the solution. If the only value a team member sees in new software, for example, is a better way for management to “watch what’s going on,” odds are the implementation will fail. However, if individual team members can see some value, too, management will be able to seamlessly collect all the project information they want—at the source.
- Portrays work in context—connects people to teams, tasks to initiatives and goals, and recognizes that people wear different hats. Projects aren’t the only work creative teams deal with every day. If you don’t have visibility into all the work going on and how it all relates to each other, you have an incomplete picture of what teams are doing. What’s more, the conversations about tasks, projects, and goals should be captured and addressed in a way that gives context to the conversations. Though I don’t advocate implementing Twitter or Facebook into the project management process, a Twitter-like approach that focuses and attaches those conversations to tasks and initiatives is incredibly valuable to creative leaders and organizations trying to make sense out of the quantitative data collected with most project-based work.
Although there are lots of tools to help organize all types of work, navigating the morass of available solutions can become problematic. All work is not the same. Structured work, unstructured work, ad hoc tasks, and repeatable work all need to be considered when looking for the best way to manage the programs and campaigns associated with marketing initiatives. Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit. What’s more, most of the methodologies we use today are 50 to 100 years old, reflecting approaches that hearken back to the assembly lines of the industrial revolution or the project management approaches that were part of construction and the space race.
Taking the first steps to bring work to life for marketing organizations, and all the individuals who contribute to marketing initiatives, involves prioritizing the work at every level of the organization (as an organization, as a team, and as individuals). Creating an environment where team members aren’t distracted from what’s important by a constant stream of unprioritized requests, and engaging the team with some control over their work, is crucial. Don’t be too surprised--as you watch your team start to respond, you might find yourself quietly muttering, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”
Read Ty Kiisel's previous article on CMO.com, "Marketing Visibility Royale."