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Its_A_Matter_Of_TimeRecently, on 24 of July, Ty Montegue queued up the question: Are CEOs to Blame for Short CMO Tenure? I could not post all the thoughts pertinent to this on the blog, it’s post-worthy. Ty makes the unique case for looking for causal relationships and drivers that have created the revolving door of CMOs. Here’s another perspective based on human nature’s resistance to believing truth.

In the end, (read to the end) CMOs and the rest of the CxOs in the executive suite must regard each other’s role equally. This is a culture shift much bigger than your own organization, but it starts within one. It is the change that will ultimately bring competitiveness and growth back to the economy.

This is a piece to understand causal relationships, so we can all improve – that is the ultimate goal, I believe.

Human Nature and CMO Tenure

Human nature fears change, innovation, the voice of the customer, the truth about the market. Naturally, when we hear someone telling us we must stop what we are doing now, something that might well be successfully driving business, and change to build a new business for the future, Operations, Finance, Accounting, Sales, and every other organization in the company will have an immediate reaction to resist the change.

Make the analogy of Darwinian forces driving evolution. The immediate biologic force is to put up defenses and antibodies to crush the introduction of the change-driving force. In the end, however, those species that adapt, and evolve, and build mechanisms to take advantage of these forces – their biology accepts and addresses the influence, win.

Industrial Age Thinking Gets In the Way

The CMO is that element in an organization that can and is immediately tuned to lead a company though the faster-than-Darwin changes in market dynamics.

The COO has just tuned in efficiency to six-sigma levels, and certainly wants stability – no interest in agile change there.

The CFO has tuned a budget and spending plan to generate revenue based on numbers in a spreadsheet created over a year ago. Dynamically changing the decisions made in the prior October-January budget cycle would go against all that Business School had taught her to believe.

The CEO is at the helm, and is listening to the Chief of Sales tell him how she is going to drive sales growth for the coming 4 quarters in line with stakeholder expectations. That is to say, ONLY IF the company sticks to “the plan,” as in no product changes, every known customer today buys, and no other dynamic shift comes into play.

Why would any CEO change the very stability that appears on the surface to be driving the results that will gain the favor of the board of directors at bonus time? A better question to ask is how can anyone possibly believe that this level of stability exists in any dynamic social system, which economies, industries and business markets by definition are? Academia, you have failed to teach us to focus on the things that change the most, instead we have learned to tune those things that never change – but obviously become “the past.”

Growth from the Bow of the Ship

Where does effective, forward thinking, change-driving perspective come from? It comes from the CMO. They are the creative and “what could be” thinkers on the executive team. They are also the least understood. And they are the first to blame when the intestinal fortitude to “stick it out” fails to persist over “let’s go back to the way it used to be” attitudes – yet another facet driven by human nature.

I wrote about the challenge for CEOs to balance innovation and efficiency while creating a climate for growth in Tip for 2013: Strategic Innovation Trumps Efficiency Measures.

When your role is to build the company’s strategy around the market (that’s the CMO) you lead from the bow of the ship. You look out and take in all the forces that will affect the ship’s course. The CMO sees the oncoming waves of influence, the reaction of the water (customers) and wind (partners) on the ship, the potential communications opportunities (promotions) and potholes (defenses), and the icebergs (competitive threats). You are building a strategy for all others focused on their specific operational tasks to put their effort in avoiding competitive icebergs, and capitalize on great potential with aggressive rigor and timing.

The CMO’s excitement in many companies is eclipsed only by frustration. Because,…

Those managers that are at the helm, in the middle of the boat (the CEO, the COO and the CFO) question what is clear to the CMO as an iceberg. They are unable to see or perceive the pending need for course change from the view deep in the ship’s protected control room, bridge or call it the ivory tower.

And, over decades, CMOs have learned that to stick out your neck, is to get your head cut off. Holding on for a two year tenure is perhaps the best that can be achieved at this company? When the stage for decision and influence inequity is set by the CEO in the executive suite, the seeds of failure have been sown.

Persistent Failure Point

All too often, decisions not to believe what competitors already know are made by CEOs, COOs and CFOs based on industrial-era management thinking. “Don’t believe the CMO, fire him and get another one that can tell the CEO and CFO what they want to hear. CMO tenure get’s short.

That strategy only lasts for two years…, then catches up and the cycle starts again. And, because we have short memories, and don’t want to admit the real mistake, we fail to recognize that this new CMO brought in to be more “aligned” with the COO, CFO and Chief of Sales, is telling us once again what the last CMO told us. That is: we must innovate, listen more to our customers, and focus on truth and ethics – in essence, we must change.

Change Starts with Leadership

It’s too easy to ignore that. And, Boards support CEOs that wow them with budgets and financials. What is missing on every Board of Directors? Equally valuable as the compensation committee is the Innovation Committee and Change Initiative Committee. Boards may do well to provide guidance not only in terms of management and compliance, but also growth, ideas, culture and the future.

Perhaps even CMOs should report to the Board, like many COOs do. Without an active focus on becoming an agile market driving company, industrial era companies will continue to be reactive, market driven companies, and blindly follow others who look at the past for direction.

To Ponder

As well articulated in the past, you can’t manage innovation, growth and change to respond to the market, from a budget spreadsheet or inside the walls of the Board room. Companies must have a CMO that is in touch with the future.

These companies will continue to become the road-kill in the ditch along the road. Their competitors travel the same road as smarter, more savvier companies entering industries and markets. These other companies have a readiness to listen to the dynamics of markets, leverage all that the social era has inevitably driven, a la Darwin.

And yes, these winning companies will follow the CMO as she or he creates the path to be a market-driving company – a category leader. But, alas, the CEO is not going to do it. It’s too risky, what would she say to the Chief of Sales? How would the CFO respond? Would people abandon the CEO standing alone? I don’t think so – but human nature avoids test that fear, so nothing will change.  Or, will it?

Please share your success story of navigating the icebergs, and evolving the CMO’s role in your executive team.

Image Credit: Neal. via photopin cc

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