If you take on a new role, either in your current company or a new one, I’d urge you to think twice before taking on the mantle of “Strategy” or “Brand Transformation” in your title, because it tends to put a target on your back. Unless you’re part of a team designated to work on strategic initiatives, and unless that team is truly cross-functional, you’re destined to fail.
Twice in my career I had the title of VP or SVP of Strategy, and in both cases the experience was the same. When you designate a person or team as “strategy,” you’re implying that no one else is strategic, or that they can’t be strategic without your involvement. This likely couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s seen as a role that is necessary for “transformation” – another term that gets overused in corporate America.
Strategy is not the role of one person or team. It is the responsibility of anyone in a leadership position.
There are some cases when the titled role itself has been successful, most likely when it is embedded in a sales organization. But when you embed that role in marketing or in a non-sales environment, it’s destined to create tension. You’re asking the person with that title to take on a role that should be the duty of everyone around them — unless you empower them for success with clear structure, clear KPIs and a clear runway to work with anyone and everyone they need to order to achieve their goals.
Corporate consultants may suggest you need to designate a team in order to demonstrate your commitment to transformation and strategy. In some cases they’ll suggest you hire a “Head of Brand Transformation” to further demonstrate your commitment. This is also bogus. Transformation is a companywide goal, in much the same way as strategy. In fact, transformation is a form of strategy.
Rather than identifying a single person for “transformation,” you should be developing a “tiger team” comprised of representatives from every division of the company and have them work together in a pie-in-the-sky exercise. You need to unlock the shackles of corporate accountability, allowing them to ask the bizarre, riotous, revolution-driving questions about what could kill your business — or, conversely, infuse it with massive potential for growth. What is the fuel that could drive you forward?
When you identify a single contributor to lead this kind of thinking, you set her up for failure. Very few individuals can change the direction of an entire org. A tiger team of cross-functional thinkers is more realistic. They can be tasked to work together and develop a strategy that encompasses more than just one area. Single contributors are focused on where their paycheck comes from and what department they report into. Groups can look at the whole picture and develop a POV that is truly transformational.
And the development of strategy and the transformation of the brand have to be the tiger team’s day job – it can’t be extracurricular activity. Your tiger team has to be freed up from their daily grinds to focus on transformation — that’s the topic they need to get up in the morning and go to bed thinking about. This may mean restructuring some of your org to make it happen, but it’s a requirement for success.
I’ve seen many brands be successful with this model of strategy and transformation. I’ve also been in the positions where the strategy role was unsuccessful. Some of this failure may have been my own fault and getting mired in the weeds, but not all of the blame was on me. It was a team effort. My goal this week is to help those of you who do have the title of “strategy” be more successful than I ever was in that kind of role.