Dear CMO: Moving product is easy. Moving knowledge, as we’ve recently discussed, is harder.
We spend a considerable amount of time on branding, positioning, messaging architecture, and the outbound side of our desired self-image. Problems occur when our people can’t answer the third or fourth question about “why” we feel the way we feel about our brand and company. We might be able to parrot the outer wrappings but don’t really know the deeper context of our culture. Let’s pull on this thread a little more, because this is an important topic.
Whenever we find ourselves working with a new company — either as an agency, a consultant or even as a new employee …. we need this cultural transfer to happen as thoroughly and quickly as possible. This isn’t a casual undertaking. One doesn’t absorb the deeper context of a company …. its real mission, values, key messages, and rationales behind important decisions …. by sitting through a Power Point presentation. Or three Power Point presentations.
Just as you didn’t get your Masters Degree by reading a book, you absorb these lessons the way people learn: by listening, reading, questioning, applying, and eventually by teaching. At each of these steps, you’re likely to find yourself being corrected and moving backwards to an earlier stage to re-absorb these new lessons.
Sounds hard, doesn’t it? It is. And this is why it’s important to take this seriously and to put measures in place to facilitate this cultural transfer as a discipline in and of itself. Don’t short-change yourself or your company at this important step, because it will only mean your new cultural acolytes will take longer to get up to speed than they otherwise would.
Here are a few examples to animate this point.
* Articulate why your core product was designed, why it is different from alternatives and competitors, and why your company made the choices they did when they took the first steps down its current product roadmap …. what is the deeper context behind the “zag” when your industry is content with a “zig” strategy?
* List out the key objections that your channel partners would raise during a routine sales call in the last thirty days.
* How do you see your current market standing in the context of overall industry and societal trends, both here and globally?
How many of your people can handle three, four, or a dozen pointed questions along these lines? How many of those who could are new to your organization? Not many? I’m not surprised.
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. Treat culture like product training. We wouldn’t dream of taking product training lightly, would we? Why do we think strategy and culture are less important? In the absence of cultural and strategic knowledge, you’re a commodity.
. Question, probe, and improvise on your culture and strategy. See what works and what doesn’t. Get feedback. Keep working on it. Strategy and culture might be set in stone, but stone can be shaped to the needs of the day. Just make sure everyone agrees before you start swinging away.
. Teaching “why” has a more immediate and long lasting effect than just telling the “what.”
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One of the most important organizational growth strategies we can all instill in our companies is getting our “elders” to transfer their learnings. This practice is as old as time and probably started around campfires as storytelling and the beginnings of organized religion, and should be appropriately sized to the needs of the modern organization. Transferring culture is a lot like storytelling. Get your people to write down the important pillars of your culture and strategy in a place and manner that promotes the dissemination and deep understanding of this core knowledge. Wiki it. Re-write it and see if it holds together; get your management to critique it and fix it if it’s wrong, and re-work it until it’s right.
Does this sound like a lot of extra work? It is. And it’s important.