How CMOs should play their first 60-90 days in a new role

We ask three leading Australian marketers from Movember, Naked Wines and Vanguard to share their dos and don'ts when it comes to the first 60-90 days in a new marketing leadership role

Those first 60 to 90 days in your new role are crucial. In fact, they’re so crucial, you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of books written on the subject.

In one such tome on those all-important first days, The First 90 Days, US leadership guru, Michael D. Watkins notes a quarter is the timeframe many organisations use to track performance and sales growth. It’s therefore also perceived to be suitable timeframe to use when ascertaining how well a new manager is really doing.

Chief marketing officers are no different in their need to prove their worth and importantly, set themselves up as big ‘M’ marketers to the CEO and executive team in those early days.  

In our latest CMO food for thought discussion, we asked three leading Australian marketing chiefs to divulge a couple of the vital things they did in their first couple of months that held them in good stead for being recognised as a strategic marketer and contributor to the business. We also ask them to share any advice around what NOT to do when you’re commencing that new marketing chief position.  

Chris Taylor

Chief experience officer, Movember

I’ve been in my new role as chief experience officer at Movember for about 90 days and during that time one of the most effective things I’ve done is to meet and listen to my team. Now that may sound fairly obvious, but when you’ve been brought on to set up a new function and lead a change agenda, spending time getting to know everyone, has been hugely important.

Chris TaylorCredit: Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor

I set myself the goal of 30 minutes with everyone in my extended team to introduce myself and try to get to know everyone on a personal level. Again, that may sound easy, but with team members located around the world, it’s a challenge. Add the challenge of starting during Covid restrictions and that makes getting to know the new team and organisation that much harder.

Usually as a newbie, you meet multiple people in face-to-face in meetings, lunchrooms and walking the halls. Zoom, with all its wonderful benefits, just can’t replicate the personal touch. Although it does make it easier to remember people’s names thanks to the Brandy bunch screen.

I try to make these one-to-one sessions as informal as possible, while trying to cover main topics: What’s your role, your career aspirations and what we do well/not so well as a brand. It is amazing the insights you can capture from your teams through this process. this helps build your understanding of the organisation, its legacies and challenges, and helps construct the narrative for what lies ahead as you plan for the future.

I’d advise other marketing leaders to not assume you know the new business before you start to try and change the way things are done. While at your level you will have good ideas, talking too soon before you’ve had the chance to build trust and connections won’t be appreciated. Take the time to understand the legacy and history of the organisation.

One question you’ll often get asked: ‘Is the organisation as you expected’? That’s a tough one to answer, and in my experience it’s generally no. While you’ll have done your research on the brand, spoken to your network and maybe former team members, nothing can prepare you for what it’ll actually be like.

But that’s half the challenge. If you don’t think ‘what have I done’ at least a couple of times during your first 90 days, then maybe you haven’t taken enough of a risk. It’s these moments when you realise the challenge ahead is what motivates you.

I’m lucky, when your brand purpose is to help men live healthier, healthier and longer lives, the motivation to rise to the challenge isn’t hard to find.

Paul Connell

Sales and marketing director, Naked Wines

For anyone starting in a new role or company, I am a massive advocate of The First 90 days by Michael D. Watkins. I've always used this and found the things I consistently do in coming into a role are:

1.  Spend time with consumers, customers and looking at the history of the business. Before I get tainted by the ‘what we do around here’, it’s good to be reminder of who we are serving. 

Credit: Paul Connell

2. I always spend time getting to know people from across all arms of the business. I am very conscious to role model from day one a more inclusive versus siloed approach when it comes to people and teams. As much as possible, your business equals the brand. So why shouldn't everyone have a way of delivering on that?

Specifically in a previous role where I had insight of both the customer and supply chain teams and could see they felt disconnected, I purposely overinvested in these areas from day one - to the surprise of my direct reports. This send a message that the marketing function and type of leadership I wanted teams to role model was much more about a collaborative view to winning versus being siloed. It’s massively important in those early days, as how people engage with you and your team can sometimes be based off a legacy of assumptions and interactions from past leaders.

3. Leave your assumptions at the door and truly listen for the first 30 days at least - if not always. Too often, I am surprised people are asked in the interview stage to have a definitive point of view of how to shape the business / priorities. By doing this too soon, you can find yourself looking only to confirm your hypothesis, wedded to work streams that actually don't create value. And you could miss those diverse inputs that could take your thinking in a different direction and help you setup a non-hierarchical, bottom-up culture where ideas bubble up from the bottom versus from a hit-list at the top.

Louise Eyres

Head of Marketing, Vanguard Australia

The interview process for c-suite roles, especially those in global organisations, is extensive to say the least – with conversations spanning future local colleagues, international division partners to global functional leadership and external consultants. However, despite the rigour of this process, there will always be critical components of the mandate that cannot be shared until you are in the door.

Credit: Louise Eyres

This was true for me at Vanguard. Whilst I had a clear understanding of the role, a critical component of the first 90 days was understanding the full extent of the real mandate. This included building a standalone marketing function as the first CMO and executing on Vanguard’s ambitious strategic plans to better serve direct investors and their advisers.

Understand the business and your clients

Immersing myself in the business strategy and culture at a local, regional and global level was a key priority. That involved meeting with colleagues across all geographies and functions, absorbing the founder’s story and vision and understanding how the Australian business fits into the global portfolio. What were the lessons learned from these other markets, where can we leapfrog and where can we partner?

Joining a client-centric business, spending time across all the key client listening and connection channels was invaluable and a discipline I have maintained – when not in lockdown. There’s no better way to know your client than spending time in the call centre with sales and client operations teams.

Build relationships that last

Investing time in building relationships early cannot be overstated. Not relationships in a transactional or tactical level, but relationships that are partnerships between colleagues with a shared vision.

Remember, there is no single source of truth

It is often tempting in your first 90 days to jump to solution mode early, bringing your most recent role’s perspective and transferring this blueprint quickly. Resist this urge, stay open to being challenged, curious of new models and sources to achieve your strategy, and hold on to that openness in the months and years that follow.

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