Building a team is about finding the right people with the right skills and creating the context and environment where they can deliver results.
Marketers have very little training in the task of team building, though.
Having built up a number of teams in different industries over the years, I have found that we must make a distinction between the ‘people’ aspect of teams and the ‘skills’ required. Most of the conversations about team building in marketing are about skills. It’s less about people and even less about creating a performing team – more on that later.
Nevertheless, let me start with skills: what we need in 2022 and beyond, why the current conversation about skills is broken, how to really find the right people, and, in turn, make them a high-performance team.
Skills requirements in 2022 and beyond
I’ve had the pleasure of talking to lots of other senior marketers in 2021 about what they need to be successful in their roles. While we end up talking about the skills required, it’s the drivers behind these needs that come to the fore.
Statements such as: “I need our people to understand that we now are distributing our products through lots of channels, not just in-store – aka the post-pandemic world is omnichannel – but we are still living in the past world.” Or “While we have digital capabilities and understanding, they are applied to individual domains and not across the business.” And “We need a better understanding of what is happening across our customer journey, how to measure it and how to apply more analytics to it.”
Ostensibly these all sound like skills issues. But I see it differently.
All of these statements are reflective of some very fast changes that have happened in the past 18 to 24 months as businesses move online. When ecommerce, marketplaces and the need for fast delivery all grew exponentially during lockdown and five years of change happened in five months, a different type of marketer was perceived to be needed.
And, if we look at the wide range of just digital tactics that are available, for example, digital advertising, analytics, search, content, video, audio, email, search marketing, social media, ecommerce, marketplaces, quick commerce, conversion rate optimisation, that’s a heck of a lot – and just the topline topics. It ignores the generic marketing skills that are also required such as understanding brands, marketing effectiveness, brand versus performance marketing, segmentation, positioning – you get the picture.
It’s no wonder that talking about skills requirements in 2022 quickly becomes a conversation about finding a person who has multiple digital/technical skills, who also understands marketing at a deeper level. We want to find the one unicorn who can create viral TikTok videos, use Adobe Analytics, knows CPAs are going up and can write SEO copy for an Amazon PDP. And be a team player.
Good luck if you find such a unicorn – and if you do, please send them my way
The skills shortage is not going away so here is what to do
As I wrote in a recent Marketing Week column, the only things we can guarantee in the next 10 years in marketing are:
- Even more technology driving every business
- Even more technology driving marketing
- More technology driving even more measurement and accountability
- More people on the internet accessing it through mobile phone screen
In other words, marketing will be like the universe in some respects – ever expanding. The technical skills requirements are only going to increase not decrease. For example, whatever your views about blockchain, NFTs, web 3.0, one thing is for sure, they are going to start impinging on the world of marketing.
Does this mean, horror of horrors, that we are going to face 10 years of articles about the skills shortage in marketing? Perhaps, by lazy journalists – but there is another way of approaching this – the one I use and all other smart marketers that I know use.
I don’t hire to fill a particular position with a unicorn. Instead, I look for a ‘batteries included person’. I look for someone who has demonstrable skills but who can also work things out. Self-starters willing to take charge, doers who are motivated, up for a challenge, willing to step outside their comfort zone.
You want to hire people who can figure it out and who don’t need constant supervision. People with batteries included are self-starting and self-directing. They come equipped with their own energy, excitement, ideas and capability. They’re also self-managing, which is good news for any marketer who manages people.
Put another way, instead of moaning about not being able to find a person with the right skills, find a person who has already done something to develop a skill – ideally related to what you want – and has the ‘batteries included’ mindset to figure it out.
Don’t get caught up in the whole ‘I have this specific requirement, and it must be filled with a person with this particular skill’ dilemma. Save yourself a lot of hassle and hire people whom you trust to learn as they go, who admit to not knowing, but commit to ‘figuring shit out’. Why? Because they have batteries included.
Finding talent – why there is no skills shortage (part 1)
So, how do we find a ‘batteries included’ person? Let’s start with what not to do. Let’s look at a typical recruitment process. Job advertisements are often so tightly written that there are few people in the world that can do the job. They include a 15-point list of mostly unrelated skills requirements, typically a mix of buzzwords around data-driven, communities and stories that sit at the intersection of tech and culture, being entrepreneurial and visionary while still being expert with quantitative and data visualisation tools and implementing the proper cadence of high value experimentation.
No, I did not make any of that word salad up – they are cut and paste from a short selection of mid-level marketing roles.
If a marketing style job spec was written for hiring a carpenter, they would expect them to be an expert at plastering, a brilliant bricklayer, proficient at rewiring and be able to present direct to camera on Channel 4’s Grand Designs show without a script.
Another even more absurd part of the skills shortage is the ‘10 years in TikTok marketing’ trope: the absurd amount of experience and skills for something that is brand new. A great example I found is ‘must have experience in crypto. You’ve probably worked in crypto before’. Are there even 10 CMOs with crypto experience in the whole world?
Remember, it’s always going to be brand new. Every year something new is going to come out.
Finding talent – why there is no skills shortage (part 2)
Now to my second hobby horse about team building: the outsourcing of finding great people by marketers to algorithms.
The same companies complaining about lack of talent are using tools that ‘siphon’ CVs using AI or machine learning to search for keywords not capabilities. Somewhere along the line, we decided that it was possible to tell the smart and capable people from the not so smart and capable people by means of keyword-searching algorithms.
Marketing leaders who are serious about hiring great people need to examine their own internal practices and fix whatever is broken. Get involved early and often. Remember, you are going to spend years of your life working, coaching and guiding these new hires, so you have to be involved from the start.
Personally, I like to see all of the CVs for any application. I have done that for 20 years. I don’t mind spending a few evenings going through them as I’m looking for signs of ‘batteries included’ – and the signs of batteries included always shines through.
If you use a head-hunter, great, no problem. Marketing directors can hardly say we are experts in knowing what to look for. Recruiters have the advantage of looking through hundreds of CVs each day.
But if you do outsource make sure as part of your brief you put that you are looking for a batteries included marketer not a ‘cut- and-paste’ person.
You will forgive my slightly irritated tone of voice – but lots of hungry, talented people get in touch with me who want to work in these roles that are supposedly having a skills shortage. It isn’t skills shortages that keep employers and willing and capable jobseekers apart. It’s the process of making hiring decisions based on preconceived pedigrees. It’s the inability to use first-principles thinking such as ‘if person A did something hard over there, maybe she could also do something hard here as well. Maybe she could pick up things and learn fast. Maybe we could spend money on courses for them to upskill?.
Don’t even use the word ‘diversity’ with me if you are using algorithms and writing specs requiring people to have ‘10 years in TikTok’ because this telegraphs that you have zero interest in diverse recruitment.
Creating a team ethos
When we talk about building a team, we always talk about in the context of skills, but much less about how that team operates.
One of the things I’ve tried to create is a team ethos – a culture of performance. I know there is reams of material written about ‘how much business can learn from sport’. Some of these do appear to be dubious – as the contexts are so different. However, there is one aspect of sports teams that I think is worth noting: how the best sports who have had success on an ongoing basis go about creating a high-performance team – aside from what they do on the pitch.
The example about high-performance teams that always comes up is the All Blacks due to their win percentage over a very (very) long period of time. When you delve into the story of how they create a high-performance team, there are elements that we can all learn from. From a purely practical perspective, when it comes to regular training, 70% of the All Blacks basic training is the basics – basic hand-passing and movement – not high-flying pyrotechnics that they are capable of. Their focus is on a combination of capability, behaviours and the right culture to allow winning behaviours. The All Black select, promote and retain people for their values not just experience.
Have I created a strong team ethos – a strong performance-based culture? The answer is not as much as I would have liked. When I have succeeded, it was when I was able to mix a team up by bringing in new talent to combine with the existing team. Changing the dynamic of an existing team without bringing in new talent requires a different approach to creating a new team from scratch – and, in my experience, is much harder. Inheriting a team always means you are compared with your predecessor.
The error I have made – on lots of occasions – is not being explicit about what good performance constitutes.
Paul Dervan is a CMO and author of a great marketing book called ‘Running with Foxes’. He has created six behaviours for his teams:
- Hard on the work. Easy on each other: We demand high quality work. We can’t relax this criteria. But we are nice to each other.
- Work ethic: We work hard. We won’t be successful without this.
- Critical thinking: We ask questions. We question the assumptions we believe to be true. We look for evidence. We have a healthy level of scepticism, but not cynicism.
- Humility: We don’t know what is right. We should care far less about who is right. Ego gets in the way. This is not about individual success. It must start with the team.
- Strong opinions weakly held: We change our minds when evidence suggests we’re wrong. This is not just OK but demanded of everybody.
- Share early and often: We share our work, our views and our results with everybody interested. We don’t spin our results, ever. This can be difficult, but the alternative is damaging.
Skills are less important, prioritise mindset, character and attitude
I argue that skills are less important than creating a culture. It’s about creating a real tangible sense of what’s possible. People can have the right skills but need to apply them in the right way. As mentioned, because of the speed of new technologies and software coming into marketing, we are always going to behind the curve on skills. If you have hired a batteries included person, you can overcome any skills shortage – and not just in 2022.
I’m not the only one who believes this. Damian Devaney, principal at TBV Global and former marketing director at O2, Diageo and Smurfit Kappa – a person who has built numerous teams with great people who have, in turn, gone on to do amazing things, says: “I’ve learned that when building a high-performance team, as with sport, it is mainly about selection. Get that right and you are more than halfway there. Functional skills are important and get you in the room. Today, we are all now looking for a balance of left and right brain thinkers. However, when creating a high-performance team, prioritising mindset, character and attitude is where it is at and where it has always been at.”
Forget skills, look for batteries included instead.