New Rule: Adapt or Die

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At the end of this pandemic, when the smoke clears and we allow ourselves a night out or a maskless trip to the grocery store, I hope never again to write the phrase, “We are in uncharted waters…”. I know that’s only a dream because, well, here we are, in uncharted waters and storm clouds ahead.

And so we beat on, boats against the current…

My last few blogs focused on how marketing leaders can reframe the conversation now that everything has changed and the world has collapsed (it hasn’t, but stay with me), especially if that conversation concerns new ideas and solutions. That remains true.

But it is inarguable that people are frightened, confused and more than a little stressed out and they’re looking for something more. So let’s all accept that that the pandemic will leave an indelible mark on our lives and our businesses and now we have the chance to make up new rules.

Here are a few themes marketing leaders can use to give contour to the way forward.

Tend to the Talent

First and foremost, take care of your people. Reassure (and invest in) your team, and guide them through the crisis, but think ahead about your needs and what will resonate in the days ahead. The next normal will clearly require a new set of skills, so don’t be afraid to seek out aligned capabilities or push your existing teams into bolder paths and career trajectories. The idea is to generate new ideas and new ways of doing things, not a more efficient way of doing it the same.

Be Human

We’ve learned a lot about the nature of work in the last few months, and my hope is that some of it will actually stick. WFH is a great example.

Several years ago I noticed that several members of my creative team were at that stressful stage of life when they were starting new families. Exhausted new moms and dads would appear in my office, over-wrought with anxiety about work and their contribution and the daily act of just getting out the door and to the office. I realized immediately that the best thing I could offer them—even better than Chocolate Fountain Day—was flexibility.

And so I announced that I didn’t care where or how the team worked, as long as the team worked. And deadlines were met. And clients were happy. And the work was pure genius, diamond and ruby kinda’ stuff. Sort out schedules, team meetings, clients and hours, not to mention keep the HR Barons happy, and create a super-flexible model that accommodates the peripatetic lifestyles of Millennials, Gen X’ers and new parents.

My only two caveats: Miss a deadline and you’re fired (nervous laughter). Figure out a way to maintain team morale and cohesion (to wit: Chocolate Fountain Day).

Not sure if we ever got there, but it was liberating to toss off the confines of the traditional 9 to 5. Of course there were those who chose not to work this way, and those who simply couldn’t be trusted to work this way (which has its own share of issues), but there were more cases of improved quality and productivity. It’s one thing to be flexible; it’s another to understand what people are going through and respond to it in a meaningful way.

The result, for me at least, was that my best people became happier, less frazzled and more loyal to the company and to our team, which is definitely worth the hassle of sorting out a few extra scheduling issues.

The result, for me at least, was that my best people became happier and more loyal to the company and to our team, which is definitely worth the hassle of sorting out a few extra scheduling issues.

A recent survey by Axios found that, before the pandemic, less than 4% of American employees worked from home full time. According to the Brookings, that figure has jumped to more than half. Among the top 20% of earners—who are more likely to have jobs that can be done from anywhere—that share is closer to 70%.

Not sure we can go back.

The current uncertainty favors those organizations with the type of mindset that embraces change, disruption and purpose while moving quickly. It’s an attitude that questions accepted wisdom, to be sure, and obsessing over quantitative metrics and spreadsheetery. Instead it drives a test-learn-adapt way of operating and a bias toward action over the lumbering elephants of deliberation and debate. Lance Josal FAIA, the long-time CEO of RTKL, just wrote a great piece on how, in stormy times like this, it’s important to keep charging forward; and I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe the Millennials were right

I’ve been banging the drum about this for a while, but now is the time for architects and architecture practices to play an expanded role in their communities. Yes, all of those CSR initiatives you used to recruit Millennials actually serve a purpose—a higher purpose—especially if they support your people, your clients and your communities.

Enlightened marketers are already sussing out their new clients (or divining where their existing clients will be) and what strategies and structures are needed. Very wise ones are keenly aware that every move they make, big or small, during and after the crisis, sends a clear message about values, leadership and resolve.

If it has achieved anything, the current crisis has brought into stark relief the importance of meeting the moment with honesty, authenticity and empathy.

Every touchpoint is a moment of truth

If it has achieved anything, the current crisis has brought into stark relief the importance of meeting the moment with honesty, authenticity and empathy. Use it as an opportunity to revisit your message to clients (what you might call your value proposition) as well as your people and make sure it inspires trust, confidence, loyalty and a differentiated experience. How will you let them know that your company is ready for the future? Is it yet another Zoom call? An email from the mothership? Or is it time to try something new?

Companies that fall back on the traditional ways of working will likely stumble on the road ahead. The pandemic has given you and your team a ticket for what’s certain to be a crazy, turbulent ride; don’t squander it. Help your company define itself not by what has happened but what lies ahead.

I’m doubling down on the idea that the future of marketing is not about assets but collaboratives—ecosystems that include different skill sets, platforms and perspectives—that bring you closer to your colleagues, your clients and communities. Think in terms of what we can all do together rather than what you’ve done in the past.

This will set you apart.

Stay healthy. Be bold. And let us know what you think.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Eric Lefton

    Great piece. Almost didn’t read it because of the headline. Be human.

    1. Thom McKay

      Fair comment. Sometimes my snark works against me. But thanks for reading.

  2. Sim Ward

    “Companies that fall back on the traditional ways of working will likely stumble on the road ahead. The pandemic has given you and your team a ticket for what’s certain to be a crazy, turbulent ride; don’t squander it. Help your company define itself not by what has happened but what lies ahead.”

    Spot on. Best wishes

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