Sometimes the best solutions are some of the most counterintuitive

Hamish Thomson

  • Author, former regional president and global brand head, Mars Incorporated
  • Website
Hamish is the author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right (Wiley $29.99), and former regional president and global brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, Chicago). He was also a senior sales and marketing lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands) and an account exec in the London advertising scene. Based in Sydney, he is a strategic consultant and non-executive director of OzHelp Foundation.

Exceptional CMOs do exceptional things for themselves and for those they inspire. At your best you are creative, innovative and inspirational. We have a problem though. We now live in a corporate world that demands sensibility where everything you do is measurable and stakeholders demand predictability – the antithesis of breakthrough and transformation.   

So, let’s take a look at six counterintuitive solutions to everyday CMO problems.  

#1 Engagement doesn’t matter  

Like you, I have been involved in engagement, employee, culture and pulse surveys my entire corporate career. Most times I’ve enjoyed them and many times I have benefited from them.  

But if pushed into a corner, I would ignore the focus groups, the feeling forums and the motivational posters dotted throughout the office. Instead, I would dedicate 100 per cent of my time to hiring radiators and removing drains from my organisation. Radiators do what they say. They radiate energy, positivity and possibility. They have a can-do attitude that is infectious and when you are next to them, you stand that much taller.  

Equally, I would move with ruthless pace on removing drains from my team. Regardless of how technically brilliant they are, if they are pessimistic, hold limiting beliefs and suck the lifeblood from opportunity, save yourself a load of lengthy surveys, and remove them quickly.  

#2 Results are nice, but awards matter  

As a young copywriter within the London advertising scene, I was exposed to this concept over a boozy lunch with one of the agency heads. Results are the lifeblood of success, however, seldom will they create the sense of organisational euphoria that meaningful awards will offer. A coveted Golden Lion Statuette, a Great Place to Work award, a Supplier of the Year accolade, a Sustainability gong, or even the simple acknowledgement of an associate or team of the month award. They bring a sense of collective unity and unbridled pride to an organisation that far outweighs the corporate rhetoric of a charismatic CEO or glossy employee value proposition brochure.  

Yes, results are important, but always remember that awards can matter too.  

#3 Contentment equals inertia  

There are two types of dissatisfaction. One is healthy and the other is constant. I have the latter. It can be a very demanding and relentless leadership style.  

At its core is the concept of never being content. When you are satisfied, you do not feel the need, energy nor desire to act or change. This is not lazy or apathetic, it is simply a state of contentment.   

The one thing we universally know about contentment, however, is that it does not drive you towards action. Discontent and dissatisfaction do. This is why I love CMOs who are never content with the status quo.  

#4 It’s not always right to be right  

No one likes someone who is right every single time. Those who must win every single debate, dialogue or discussion on every single occasion. In their mind, there is always a winner and a loser.  

In the corporate world, these are the worst type of leaders. They value their own opinions ahead of others, are self-important, lack inner-confidence and unacceptably, they limit transformation by curbing thought diversity.  Individuals who work for them are resigned to inertia. They don’t challenge or question and why should they? They know they will lose.   

I used to be that type of leader and it does not make me proud. Concede, compromise and unlock potential in others by stepping back. It is what exceptional leaders do.

#5 Bad bosses are great bosses

Throughout your career, shit will happen. This will almost certainly include having a bad boss, or possibly even a series of bad bosses. Treat this as an opportunity and not a cause for anxiety.

Relish the chance to observe them and do so with an open mind. Document all behaviours that resonate against your values. Ingrain them in your memory and make sure you never repeat them as a leader. Surprisingly, bad bosses are actually gifts. They give you the chance to learn what not to do. If you get landed with one, leverage the hell out of them. It’s a strange lesson, and one I did not appreciate for many years.

#6 Experience is overrated

Before you sign off on your next marketing manager with 10 years of classical brand experience, consider the following recruitment philosophy; C+W>E (curiosity and willingness is greater than experience). This won’t be applicable for every role, yet if it brings in talent with an insatiable curiosity and passion for possibility, well, count me in.

Like many, my expectations for corporate and marketing leaders are longer than those listed above. They are demanding, challenging and I believe, stretching. Importantly, they are considerably shorter than those that I set for myself. I hope this never changes.

Tags: Leadership strategies, CMO role, marketing strategy, marketing leadership

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