A new frontier: CMO50 and their team leadership firsts in 2021

10 of our chief marketing officer luminaries share the lessons in leadership they experienced for the first time in the thick of the pandemic

As well as facing into the challenges of delivering marketing programs in the midst of the pandemic over the past year, marketing leaders have also had the very real issue of keeping teams engaged, resilient and motivated.

As part of this year’s CMO50 program, CMO was keen to understand some of the leadership ‘firsts’ our alumni experienced as they strived to manage teams remotely.

Here, 10 of our CMO luminaries tell us about one thing they did in the past year as a marketer or business leader that they’ve never done before.

Officeworks GM marketing and insights, Jessica Richmond

Communication remains critical for every leader at every stage of a business; but the last 18 months has required an even greater focus on ensuring team members feel connected to each other and engaged with the company’s purpose, particularly while working from home.

One small thing I’ve started to do which I think is having a positive impact is increasing the cadence of team communications. This has been in lots of ways. One example is providing fortnightly wrap up email summaries of all the great work that’s happening across the team. In addition to our existing meeting and communication cadence, it’s proved an effective way of helping the team feel connected to what’s going on. We’re sharing updates recognising big and small achievements from key team members, plus reminding them that despite being in different locations, they’re all still making consistent and valuable contributions to our overall growth and purpose.

CMO50 2021 #16: Jessica Richmond

Mars Wrigley marketing director, Ben Hill

Virtual team development and engagement was a big first for me. When I joined the business in February 2020, my main priority was investing in supporting my team’s engagement. Doing this successfully as the ‘new boss’ is difficult in person and the virtual component made this even more of a challenge to overcome for most of the year.

To do this successfully, I decided to focus on reigniting engagement by outlining a clear team purpose that aligned to key areas we knew unlocked team engagement. This ultimately led to a 15 per cent increase in team engagement (Gallup) and globally recognised team performance over the course of the year.

The experience of leading a new team virtually over the past year has come with its challenges but has ultimately made me a better listener and more empathetic leader.

CMO50 2021 #17: Ben Hill

RMIT chief experience officer, Chaminda Ranasinghe

The impact the pandemic and associated lockdowns are having on our mental health has been exacerbated this year. I have taken many steps over the past two years to help my teams develop new ways to work together to help deal with the restrictions and I have always believed in providing a flexible workplace as a leader.

However, this year I have seen the increased importance of reaching out and being socially connected even while physically separated and giving people more time off than normally provided. I took a number of steps including providing additional days off for self-development. The university followed this up with an incredibly generous offer for all employees to take a week of additional wellbeing leave. I am very proud of being able to champion the need for this as a leader.

CMO50 2021 #21: Chaminda Ranasinghe

The Arnott’s Group CMO, Jenni Dill

Recognising Arnott’s needed to be more agile and accelerate growth through NPD, we evolved the existing traditional marketing department structure this year and created three new cross-functional business teams. This saw us add another 20 additional people over and above the marketing team. 

The business teams include marketing, innovation, category management, consumer insights, R&D, supply chain and finance, each led by a business director. Powered by real-time data dashboards, daily sprints and iterative development, this new structure has driven a positive culture transformation and is delivering strong early results.

A good example of the new approach is the launch of teeVee Snacks x Krispy-Kreme, which was delivered in a record speed of seven days from idea to prototypes and six weeks to first line trial, cutting around 12 months from our normal development timelines.

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Jenni Dill

Marley Spoon chief marketing and growth officer, Kate Whitney

Before last year, I could have said that I’ve never had to manually pack meal kits. When our Melbourne facility shut down for a few weeks and we moved all of our production to Sydney, teams were asked to close their computers and help pack boxes for customers in our facility.

No matter what is going on in the background, our number one priority is serving our customers and ensuring they get their meals. Those days I spent in our enormous cool room was a great reminder of what our number one priority is, and how hard that team works to get it done each day. A humbling experience for sure.

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Kate Whitney

Medibank senior executive, brand marketing and customer experience, Fiona le Brocq

In the past 18 months, as we’ve all learned to manage the blending of work and home life, I’ve presented differently as a leader. It’s not just about acknowledging the spontaneity of a less controlled environment, but embracing it.

I’ve openly shared personal moments of joy and fear, celebration and exhaustion. And by doing this, invited our whole team to lean into this new way of working together. The old way of compartmentalising our lives has become illusive and redundant, replaced by a more human way of working and leading.

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Fiona Le Brocq

Freedom general manager marketing, Jason Piggott

If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that we need to focus on our people more, how we work, how we empower them. Prioritising the teams’ wellbeing and most importantly reflecting on the lessons of this period to inform how we might work into the future has been key.

For me, this was a personal journey of being more present in the moment and connecting even stronger with the team as a leader to provide support and guidance that was beyond just the immediate task at hand. It was a really about how do I make this individual’s working life better, more productive and provide a more supportive environment so they can bring their best self to the table. It’s not exactly ground-breaking, but a real effort to double down and ensure that my role as leader was about helping to unlock their persona growth opportunities.

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Jason Piggott

Siteminder CMO, Mark Renshaw

A unique aspect of the past year has been finding ways to keep our team’s culture alive, without forcing it, in an environment of remote working.

Across our team, we have a strong sense of healthy competition and togetherness, so building out a range of virtual initiatives, that allow our connections to organically develop, has been a new leadership experience for me.

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Mark Renshaw

Menulog marketing director, Simon Cheng

A first this year has been daily stand-up meetings (virtually). At the beginning of the pandemic, we decided as a team to start having a 15-minute meeting every morning for everyone to connect with each other. With a loose agenda, it was more of a chance to interact with each other and replicate the first moments of the working day where everyone greets each other over a coffee.

At risk of meeting overload, surprisingly, the team looked forward to this interaction every day and it actually became a useful tool for keeping up team morale and mental health. 

CMO50 2021 #26-50: Simon Cheng

V2 Foods chief growth officer, Andrew May

A first for me this past year was hiring someone without meeting them face-to-face. During the Covid-19 restricted environment, recruiting became a very different task relying on virtual interviews.

Going through the entire recruitment process without meeting the candidate and then onboarding them virtually takes a different approach to relying on spending face-to-face time to get to know a new hire.

CMO50 2021 One to watch: Andrew May

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