CMO Moves

Culture is the Ultimate Growth Factor

We’ve all heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and by golly, it’s true! In today’s environment, it has never been more critical for organizations to embrace the fact that the only way to drive true long-term growth is to foster the optimal environment for their employees.  An environment that embraces and supports a collaborative, diverse and inclusive team dynamic where every person’s unique marketplace perspectives and talent are considered a valued contribution.  This is not a new concept, but what is new is the countless CMOs, CBOs and CDOs who are taking an ownership position to help drive cultural transformation within their teams and across their organizations.  As culture expert, Stan Slap, has said, “If you can’t sell it inside, you can’t sell it outside". To achieve their objectives, CMOs need to work closely with their HR counterparts and their CEO to ensure that everything from the physical environment to the performance metrics to stereotypes to internal communications and more is addressed and upholds the brand promise, the purpose of the organization and the right culture. Here are some tips from my CMO Moves guests:


Culture comes from behavior

“Culture means a lot of different things to people. For me, culture is simply the way people behave. So, I ask, ‘What is it about our behaviors that are helping us grow? What is it about our behaviors that are slowing us down? What is it about the culture we're going to cherish and what is it about the culture that needs to change?’ I believe as a leader that it's kind of a cop out if you walk [into a new role] and believe everything that isn't yours is bad or wrong. I'm really intentional about trying to celebrate the things that I know are amazing here and that make H&R Block a very successful company. At the same time, I also identify the things that are keeping us from realizing our full potential and capabilities. What are the things we should be able to do to accelerate our growth?”  Listen to Jeff Jones, President & CEO of H&R Block

Activating a growth culture

“When Satya became the CEO, one of the things he really did was to focus the leadership team on the culture that we aspire to have. We spent a lot of time really shaping and talking about and debating the core of the culture that we aspire to create at Microsoft. We landed on this notion of a growth mindset and trying to move the company from being a ‘know it all culture’ to a ‘learn it all culture’. So, we all signed up to activate that culture within each one of us before we tried to move on and coach other people on it. And it's been a four-and-a-half-year journey. We're certainly still not done, but we're well on our way. The number one job for me is trying to activate and live that culture myself with the way I behave, the way I treat other people at the company. And then thinking about things that we do inside our organization to further the culture at the company. It's easy to just think about what you're doing inside your group. But if you can think about everything you're doing as for the whole organization, you can actually start to really have a bigger impact than just the team that you live in.”  Listen to  Chris Capossela, CMO of Microsoft

The right culture can fix the wrong strategies

“Culture, at the end of the day, is everything. Having the right people with the right mindset, with the right culture will go places and that has been my experience and that will continue to be my number one priority, to have the right culture in the organization. When you have the right strategy and the wrong culture, the wrong people, you may destroy the strategy. If you have the wrong strategy and the right people, the right culture, they will fix the strategy. The CMO is the lighthouse of a leadership team that can really excite all the others about the opportunities that we can, as an organization, capture. As President, you play a different role. More in the sense of getting the congruency between where we want to go and do we have the tools? Do we have the resources, do we have the systems, do we have the people, do we have the training in place to get there?” - Listen to Nuno Teles, President of Diageo Beer Company


Diversity improves the business bottom line

“Everything that we've done [focused on diversity], all the transformations, and this company is growing. The top line growth on both categories that were challenged two and a half years ago - the printing category and the personal system category - we've grown share on both categories. All of our net promoter scores, both from the consumer, but more importantly for clients are at an all-time high. All the marketing work that we delivered this year with very diverse teams, and with paying attention to things like the director of our films and the creative people who do the filming, have actually scored higher than any of the work that we've delivered before. I can’t sit down with you and say as a business person that I can prove a correlation of one or close to one, but I'm pretty sure that by next year we will be in a position to begin to establish that more numerically direct correlation. But unequivocally, the business case for diversity is being proven with our work in 2017.” Listen to Antonio Lucio, former CMO of HP, now CMO of Facebook

Surround yourself with people who are fundamentally different than you

“I think one of my biggest learnings in life is it is really natural to surround yourself with people who are like you. But I think the key to having a really good team is hiring people who think fundamentally different, completely differently. And that means different cultures, different genders, different ages. I don't want a team full of 10, two years out of business school, Harvard MBAs, right? That sounds like the worst team on earth to me. I would say the same thing of [a team only of] computer scientists. You're going to get just one sliver and it's a very intelligent, very educated, very expensive sliver, but you're going to get one single point of view and frankly the world is just not that simple.” Listen to Charlie Cole, Chief eCommerce Officer for Samsonite and Chief Digital Officer for Tumi

Raise the value of empathy

“By encouraging people to self-examine, by raising the value of empathy, it's given people on the team the sense that their differences are as important as the commonalities that they have. I have a team that is majority women and I find that what we need as communicators more than anything is this level of thoughtfulness in what had once been a more male-dominated industry. The better work seems to be coming from people who have a higher level of sensitivity. By even just allowing these conversations to come to the surface, people really do examine their beliefs, false or otherwise. I hope that we've created a safer environment because if you're expecting innovation, if you're expecting creativity, it only comes from an environment where you do feel safe, where you feel no lack of judgment and a complete openness to try and to occasionally fail. It's not about making everyone the same, it's about respecting everyone for what they bring, and not silencing any voices.”  Listen to Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify


Allow employees to take risks

“In the digital way of managing cycles, which is extremely fast, people need to come to work and feel empowered to make a difference. The cycles of innovation are so fast that there's no way we can control every single test and every single thing that the team does. We need to trust them with experiments and with the decisions they make along the way. In order to do that successfully, I think culture is extremely important. It's a way of making people feel that they can make a difference and that if they fail, it's not going to be a disaster for their career. We want them to come to work happy with the level of risk that they're taking every day. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to create an environment where people feel that they bring the best of themselves. I do think that one of the most important things that we can do as leaders to create great business results is to have an awesome environment to come to work in every day.”  Listen to Barbara Martin Coppola, CDO of IKEA

Break down barriers

“We have a culture of challenging convention and challenging ourselves and challenging our competitors. I think that challenger convention is a big part of our culture and that's pretty cool because you're going to push yourself, you're going to push boundaries. It's inherently creative. It's inherently curious, right? If that's what your culture is, you need to be competitive, you need to be very creative, and you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit that's alive and well in you. And that creates an environment that's exciting and innovative and inspiring. It also creates an environment where there’s no fear because we want to do things differently. We want to break down barriers.”  Listen to Peter McGuinness, Chief Marketing & Commercial Officer of Chobani


A leader’s job is to hear all voices

“It's important to draw out people who are different than you. Diversity of thought and approach are so important. I've become very conscious of the fact that there are people who are the opposite of me; who are thinking something through carefully before they speak. The loudest voices can't always rule the day. I make sure that I listen to people who have a very different point of view. For example, I'm a ridiculous optimist and I can make good out of almost any situation. So, I'm careful that I balance that out with people who tell me things I don't want to hear. People who are going to take much more of a risk assessors’ view because I know that I will ignore some triggers if I don't have people around me who are going to think about things from a much more critical perspective.” Listen to Linda Boff, CMO of GE 

The role of marketing is dependent on company culture

“I think the role that the marketing department plays in each company is very much dependent on the culture and how their particular business model has developed. Is it very operationally focused, or purely consumer-focused, or production and engineering focused? As you change industries and companies, one of the biggest challenges is really understanding the core basis of that company's business model. Even if you're in the same industry, competitors can have different business models based on the way that they've learned to make money. The challenge, especially at a senior level, is really understanding as fast as you can, what makes this particular company, business, and culture work. Then, how do you bring in the core things that you know about marketing that can drive for growth?” Listen to - Deborah Wahl, CMO of Cadillac

Culture is more than great relationships

“One of the reasons I joined Ford, to begin with, was because I was so excited for the company to become a brand that was instilled in values. I think everyone who will talk to you now about launching a brand campaign or a brand initiative will tell you that the brand needs to start from within. What is, not only the customer's perception of your brand but your employees’ perception of the brand? I was very naive when I went to Ford in terms of what my definition of culture was. Having worked at places like Burberry, Nike, and Apple, my perception of culture was as simple as, ‘Hey, if I get along well with you, it's a cultural fit, right?’ But I very soon realized that it wasn't just about getting along with people. It’s about how you get work done, how things operate in the organization, and how you communicate ideas.” Listen to Musa Tariq, Former Chief Brand Officer, Ford

Make sure your culture aligns with your employer

“I think it's really important to say, ‘Hey, what is my culture? What are my values? Does that align not just with the company, but with the team I'm going to be working with? Does that align with whoever is going to be my boss?’ I think that's really critical. So, whenever I'm interviewing candidates for a role, I always share with them how I work, and what my values are. I ask them to share with me their purpose. Not just, ‘I just want this job’, but, ‘Why? How does this job fit into the arc of your story? How will this job further you as that story unwinds? Where do you want that story to go?’” Listen to Dara Treseder, CMO of GE Ventures