Four Common Marketing Transformation Mistakes

Are you making these mistakes while leading change?

At this moment, at least half of my CMO clients are launching a reorganization or marketing transformation initiative. This ushers in discomfort, chaos, and uncertainty.

Some will steer their ship through rough waters. Others will hide below deck just to avoid confronting the tension and discomfort that any transformation naturally creates.

In my two decades of witnessing hundreds of marketing and sales transformations, I have seen four common myths that can derail a perfectly good plan:

1. Poor definition of success

In her newest book, Dare to Lead, Brene’ Brown describes how she and her team learned a new method to ensure projects are successful. It’s when the team or leader can “paint done.” In other words, how will you know you have tripped over a successful initiative?

The biggest benefit to describing success is that it drives commitment. Many leaders will become obsessed with a trailing indicator, such as “driving more marketing qualified leads by December 31.” This has the reverse effect. It only drives compliance. Instead of focusing only on the end result, brainstorm with your team about:

  • Why is this initiative so important?
  • What is the upside to the brand, the company, the customers?
  • How will the team operate differently? For example, what percentage of team meetings will focus on strategic versus daily tactical activities?
  • How does the initiative (or milestones) get delivered? In what format? To whom?
  • What other early success milestones will you track (e.g. new and improved internal or external behaviors)?

2. Averting conflict and healthy debate.

My friend and global thought leader on effective transformation, Daryl Conner, sums up the power of healthy debate this way:

“Sponsors assume they can keep everything running smoothly with little uneasiness or tension during major transitions. They view how upbeat and content people are as indicators of success and interpret symptoms to the contrary as a sign of failure.

The most counter-productive comment any marketing manager or leader can say is “I just want everyone to get along and be happy with their job.”

3. Arrogance

Strategic contributors are confident. And you know a confident person when you see them.

They believe they have something to contribute, and still have a lot to learn themselves. Arrogance shows its ugly face when someone believes that they have a lot to prove, and that they have nothing left to learn.

Does that remind you of anyone?

And here’s the dirty secret: it’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Just listen for these arrogant remarks…

  • “I can do this in my sleep.”
  • “This simply cannot fail.”
  • “Our cultures are a fit.”
  • “The teams are configured perfectly, just as they are.”
  • “Nothing will change.”

When you hear any of these, run for the hills. Arrogance makes you vulnerable to competitive attack and employee disengagement.

4. Squelching empathy

In a desire to push for results, strong-willed, goal-oriented leaders often overlook the time and energy required to reach out to each team member and truly listen to their concerns and questions.

I once worked with the CEO of an engineering company that grew from 75 to 300 full time employees within a few months due to a merger. He hired me to help him build a clear, engaging growth strategy that would engage diverse global teams around an exciting vision.

The CEO was frustrated that team members did not understand the reason for the new organization change. He would tell me “I sent several clear emails. Don’t they read them?”

Effective change and commitment to mission-critical #marketing initiatives require connecting at a human level, not writing the perfect email. Share on X

Empathy—the ability to connect to the feeling of the experience, not the experience itself—is a powerful antidote to cynicism and resignation. Brown does an excellent job of explaining the different between empathy and sympathy, and how it can transform your teams. Here’s a short animated video explaining these distinctions.

Consider these questions as you embark on any marketing transformation, and enroll others in the required changes ahead:

  • Can I see the world as other teams see it, or am I acting like I need to have the answers?
  • How can I stay curious and ask for clarification around their concerns (versus giving advice or becoming defensive)?
  • How do I stay non-judgmental around their concerns?
  • Do I understand their feelings, and can I relay my understanding of their feelings? This is not about showing any sympathy for them, agreeing, or befriending them. It’s a learned skill to be able to name the emotion and address it.
  • How can I take a balanced view of their concerns or feelings, and avoid suppressing or exaggerating them? This is what Brown calls “being aware of their current state” and being mindful of the present situation.

Watch for these common oversights when you launch that next marketing transformation. Long term, these proactive measures will guide you to calmer waters.

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