Listen to the ‘little guys’

Lucy Handley is Marketing Week’s deputy features editor and has also worked in advertising agencies so can bring a unique perspective to client-agency relationships when writing on this topic.

Management must listen to everyone in their teams as a great idea doesn’t care who had it.

A line in this week’s piece from new columnist Syl Saller, Diageo’s global innovation chief, really struck a chord. She says: ‘Most people think change is someone else’s job, but I can assure you, no matter what level you are in the company, you are more powerful than you know.’

It’s reassuring that such a senior person has her feet on the ground and encourages ideas from all. We all know the feeling of working in a job where you are an ‘on the ground’ person and where changes are made high up in management, in an office with a computer, and not actually in the bank/e-shop/ice cream parlour where their decisions will have an effect.

When was the last time you saw your chief marketing officer clean the loo with your brand’s best-selling toilet cleaner? Or, say you are in banking, has your chief executive ever applied for an ISA via your company’s own website and seen just how many hoops they have to jump through?

Yes, I know there are research teams and people who measure the ‘user experience,’ but really the CMO should be experiencing their brand every single day just as a real customer does, and just as the ‘little’ guys working in those shops and banks do.

There are more junior people in most businesses than senior ones – and they should really be encouraged to say they think their retail website is rubbish because it takes 10 clicks to buy something instead of two, for example. A great idea doesn’t care who had it – and management needs to be humble enough to realise they are not always right about products and that they are surrounded by people with brilliant ideas, in greater numbers than there are people on the top teams.

This week, our Secret Marketer laments the fact that a Spanish bank has ‘extolled the virtues of a great corporate message but failed to deliver that on the ground’ and of hiring call centre staff that don’t understand how to actually help people.

I know these ideas are not new, but it never ceases to amaze me how much the stars of Channel 4’s Undercover Boss find out when they go and work in their own shops. Yes, they get brilliant PR for doing so but hopefully they also learn that many of the best ideas come from the ground up. No amount of management courses can teach marketers what they can learn from their shop staff or call centre people.

I once went to a talk from Fru Hazlitt, now managing director of ITV online, who talked about shaking things up, and avoiding ‘paved goat paths,’ that is, making everyone think about new and better ways to do things. So my call to management is to let the ideas of people at all levels shine through – and avoid an exodus of talent later on.

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