Seven Critical Marketing Skills: #4 Change Agent

Sycamore and Company has identified the Seven Critical Skills which separate successful marketing executives from the rest of the pack. This post focuses on critical skill #4: Change Agent.

About Our Seven Critical Marketing Skills Series

Critical Skill #4 - Change Agent

Today we look at the overly used attribute called “change agent”.  For our study it was defined for the respondents as “the proven ability to identify needed changes and then to drive those changes through an organization, overcoming obstacles and resistance while building a consensus.” A change agent is dissatisfied with the status quo... no matter how good it seems at the time.  If you're not moving forward, you're going backwards.

"I think to be a change agent is to inherently be dissatisfied with the status quo."

“The reality is, if you’re not making changes, you’re about to die.” 

A major responsibility of the marketing executive in a company is to introduce changes to the status quo.  Our respondents gave high marks to those people who could set their sights on a goal and then push through the changes necessary to deliver on that goal. The fact is, however, it’s a risky business.  Change dislocates people and sometimes those are powerful people, so making things happen – even if that is what the management declares as its goal – can be dangerous to your career health.

“I don't think the world is looking to change and be better.  And, I think marketers have to." 

“The reason companies like (mine) bring in a (person like me) is because they don’t have enough marketing talent and they want change.  And your challenge is to figure out what kind of things need to be changed, can be changed and how to sequence them, how to relate to them, without getting yourself shot in the process.” 

The role of a real change agent requires persistence and passion.  It requires a belief in the value of the ultimate vision.  As our respondents pointed out, the hardest challenges are when the business appears to be progressing very well.  The inertia of a business will be to maintain.  “If it ain’t broke…”

"Being a change agent is not always a fun job.  Because you might be the only one in the building who sees the end game... Marketing people today have to have a lot of courage and a lot of guts if they're truly going to lead companies to a different place.  And human nature is they don't want to and operations are not change agents.  They're not visionary.  Marketers end up doing that job.  I think they should... But, it takes a high level of courage and a high level of communication skill.  High level of persistence and patience and sometimes methodical patience, because it takes three or four times to sell change -- not one time." 

“...major changes may even be easier to make when leading an organization than smaller changes or more evolutionary changes...Most situations are where you’ve got a lot of good things happening and you want to make them better.  Or, you want to keep 80% and revise 20%.  And so that, I think, is one of the hardest things...and one of the most necessary in order to make substantial progress.”

“If things are just humming along great, you’ve got to ask yourself what do I need to fix, because things are always going to have to be changing.  If you’re not changing, you’re stagnating and if you aren’t declining now, you will I think that people who are not satisfied with the status quo, no matter how good it is, are people who are going to be more likely to succeed.” 

Has this changed in importance over time?  We believe so, because the rate and pace of the market has accelerated the need for change on the part of everyone.  Because of the rate and pace of the market a business can lose its footing very quickly and be in a spiral before they know it.

“... the need to be a change agent probably wasn’t as visible (in the past), but the people who were the most successful were the change agents.” 

“...the ability to change is critical, because consumers don’t stay the same and the ability to adjust to them is essential...the marketplace is moving way, way too fast for people to be stuck in the “well we did it that way last year”...So, the ability to be an agent for change and to help lead an organization through the obstacles you encounter, whenever there’s change, including just the human resistance to change, I think is very, very important.” 

“...because of the complexity of change and the speed of change, I think transformational leadership is critical.  Someone who can come in and implement big change flowing from consumer needs versus simply executing last year’s plans a little bit better.”

Can you train a person to be a change agent?

It would seem to be difficult.  How do you train someone to balance the brashness of a new idea with the sensitivity to get things done without breaking too much glass?  How do you learn to have such confidence in your vision that you can push through all the barriers that will inevitably be in the way?  And how do you know that in making the changes you are making that you’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Companies in trouble talk about the need for a change agent.  But how many companies that were doing well recognize the same need?