Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Organizational Change

The Incredible Difficulty Of Focusing

Steve Jobs Quote, Credit Tribal Rain Makers Club

Think about this for a second. In a given year, you have 1800 hours to allocate, at work. 1800 hours? Do the math. A “traditional” work week is 40 hours, with 1 hour of lunch each day, which means 35 hours a week. A traditional vacation time, is 2 weeks, which means, you’re working 50 weeks a year. 50 weeks a year X 35 hours is 1750 hours, rounded up, is 1800 hours.

Now, yes, I realize, the typical person doesn’t work 1800 hours. Many of us work north of 2000 hours. But, for all intents and purposes for this blog post, let’s call it 1800 hours. Each one of those hours is precious. An hour chasing down a really “cool” idea, while invigorating and exciting, might be time poorly spent, if it takes you away from your core focus.

This is something that sales staff members on LinkedIn, who spam your inbox, don’t comprehend. If I have an extra hour (which never happens) and my choices are to listen to a random cold call pitch or spend an hour reviewing progress against goals, meeting with my team, etc. – I can tell you the cold call pitch, won’t be at the top of the list.

Additionally, it’s why, over the years, I’ve pared back the number of conferences I attend. There’s no shortage of great conferences to attend, but with each one you eat into those 1800 hours. That 3 hour flight is expensive; maybe not in actually dollars, but in time. The 3 days at the conference, while beneficial, needs to be weighed against, what else you could be doing.

Focusing is hard, because it requires you to say no to the wrong thing, so that you can say yes to the right thing. And often times, saying no, can make you come across as difficult or not a team player. Saying no, also means, you may not pursue something that excites you. It requires discipline.

5 years ago, my point of view, on focus, would have been much different. As it would have been, 10 years ago. A decade back, all I wanted to work on was the interesting, sexy, cool and of course, potentially award winning, projects. I raised my hand for every would be, could be, might be, fun project.

Today, that’s just not possible. There are so many cool, fun and interesting initiatives, that I’d love to participate in. Even if only to listen to how my team is going to tackle the challenge. But, realistically, it’s just not possible. To get something, you often have to give up something. To stay focused on the objectives I have, unfortunately, I miss out on many things that stoke the flames of my interest. That, however, is a conscious choice.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but there are 3 things I do to keep me focused:

  1. Have a clear understanding of my objectives and how they ladder back to the division and company objectives. But, equally important, is understanding how you’ll translate them into something meaningful, tangible and measurable for your team members. Every week I chart the progress towards those objectives and every month I manage up by asking if they’re still relevant and if there are any new objectives, that we haven’t accounted for. You can’t set and forget your objectives. They aren’t written once at the beginning to the year and then evaluated at the end.
  2. I create filters to manage requests. I’m sure your inbox is filled with meeting invites, “quick questions”, so-called “emergencies” and 1-off projects. If you say yes to all of them, you’re doomed. But, you can’t say no to them all, either. When I get a request, I ask myself 2 basic questions: 1, will this help drive my core objectives? 2, will this make the organization better. Ideally, the answer to both, is yes. If, however, you have something that, isn’t part of your core objectives, but could improve the organization, that’s a conversation worth having.
  3. I find an hour every day to do two things. I make sure to “walk the floor” and check-in with my team and my colleagues. Sometimes just stopping by, opens up a dialogue, where I can be helpful. Walking the floor, also gets me out of my office, provides a well needed break in the day and provides accessibility to my team. Additionally, I make time to work on pet projects. This could be something I’m pursuing on my own, or something I’m helping someone else with. Either way, I make sure to plan for these types of initiatives in my 1800 hours.

That’s it. Simple as they seem, it’s incredible challenging to stay to the plan. There’s always something vying for your attention. But, remember, you can’t get something, without giving up something. It’s all about choices. No one is busy, they simply have a priority that’s more important than your priority.

Bring Digital DNA. All Others, Need Not Apply.

Yesterday, we learned that Sona Chawla, our CMO and President of Digital would be leaving Walgreens. It’s safe to say, without Sona, Walgreens wouldn’t be the Omni-Channel leader, it is today. She will be missed.

Sona Chawla - Photo Credit, Chicagobusiness.com

But, what an amazing opportunity for her to join Kohl’s, in the newly created role of COO. As said in the article:

We are looking to make the connection for customers between our stores and our online experience in a way that is seamless and unique,” Mansell told Fortune. “In order to do that properly, you absolutely have to have someone who is responsible for all of those different functions.

Amen. Today, it’s a digital DNA that companies want in their Sr. leaders. Well, in Sona, they certainly picked a great one

In a world, where we talk about glass ceilings, far too often, this announcement makes me smile. There is no person, more deserving of this opportunity than Sona. To be clear, I don’t mean, there’s no woman, more deserving. I mean, there’s no person. She is, simply put, exceptional.

For me personally, I’m equal parts sad and thrilled. Sona brought me into this organization in 2011, as the company’s first head of social media. She’s also a big reason why I rejoined Walgreens, in an expanded role, in February of 2014.

It’s nearly 2016 and in so many organizations, digital, is still an afterthought. Digital talent is still swimming upstream, pushing for a seat at the table. Not at Walgreens. In the 7 years Sona was here, she took us from virtually nothing to a worldwide, recognized leader in digital and omni-channel. We’re a destination for great talent and a place that companies want to partner with.

She will be missed. But, we have such an incredible team and unwavering support for digital across the company. Frankly, that’s the hallmark of a great leader…to build a team, that’s bigger than any one person. She’s leaving us much better off than we were, when she joined, nearly 7 years ago. I’m excited for what’s next for her and us.

People. It’s Always About The People.

I spent Memorial Day in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It’s a beautiful place with a resilient population. To continue building and rebuilding, time and again, after hurricanes ravage not only physical buildings, but an entire community’s way of life, is nothing short of inspiring.

The sun was bright. The weather, warm. The beach, perfectly manicured. The food, flavorful. I explored. I partook in some local beverages. I ate well.

Two of the places I ate at, were owned by the same woman: Edith’s and its more casual sister restaurant, The Office. Before I go any further, let me say, if you ever get the opportunity to dine at either place, please do. The menus were diverse. The staff attentive. The prices, fair. And the experiences were completely memorable.

I was blown away by how amazing the staff was. Following the dinner at Edith’s, I remarked, “I’ve never seen such a complete commitment to creating an experience, at a restaurant.” A good colleague of mine, smiled and then told me an astonishing detail about the owner of places, Edith. Every year, she closes both restaurants for 6 weeks. During those 6 weeks, she pays her staff to spend time with their families and travel the world to learn from other chefs and restaurateurs. The 6 week hiatus allows the staff to recharge, learn and become inspired for how to keep Edith’s and The Office as one of the best restaurants in the area.

That a restaurant, which relies on tourism, shuts down for 6 weeks, voluntarily, is, in itself, an amazing story. I had so many reactions. But, as I reflected on this story, on my flight back, something clicked. In 2009, I wrote, “Make no mistake, the most important asset is human capital.” I also, often remark, that a critical goal of any organization should be, to get an unfair share of top talent. What Edith was doing, in ensuring that she was getting that unfair share, by investing in the important asset in an organization: The People. The local population of Cabo is constrained. It hasn’t grown much in the past decade, while the portion of Cabo San Lucas residents that have matriculated from the United States has grown significantly. It also remains a top tourist destination for United States residents.

The expectation that tourists have, can be quite high. Their choices for where to spend their hard earned dollars, are plentiful. By investing in the people, Edith is able to attract the best restaurant talent in the Cabo San Lucas area. And, it’s that talent that creates a dining experience, worth blogging about.

A better way to sum it up, might be this often shared parable:

Investing In People

It’s a great question and something we should all be thinking about. Are we, in fact, creating an environment, where we’re investing in people to a point, where we’re able to keep the best and attract the best?

The Jerk To Value Curve

We’ve all worked with a “jerk” or “asshole”, if you prefer. A commonly stated and referenced quote on the subject is, “A lot of people say don’t fire great engineers — but they’re wrong. It only takes one asshole to destroy an entire team.” The prevailing thought then, of course, would be, “you need to fire the jerks/assholes in your organization, regardless of how brilliant they are, in order to be successful.”

Of course, this statement, is quite easy to disprove. I submit the following geniuses, who also happened to be well documented jerks, for which, if removed from the organization, it’s clear the organization would be significantly worse off.

Steve Jobs
Michael Jordan
Jeff Bezos
George Patton
Thomas Edison
Bill Belichick
Benjamin Franklin
John D. Rockefeller
Jackson Pollock
Bill Bowerman
Pedro Martinez

I can go on and on, listing brilliant people, who were complete and total jerks, who were directly responsible for the successes of companies, teams, governments, the arts and humanity. Of course, when you bring up anyone from this list, especially Jobs, the response back is, “well that’s an outlier.” That may be true, but outliers are also the ones that we look at from the sidelines and wonder, “damn, how did they do that.”

This is not to say that we should aspire to be jerks or that we should tolerate jerks or that there is some pride to be had in being a jerk. But, it is to say, that the over-simplified, popular refrain of “organizations shouldn’t hire jerks and should fire all the jerks” is at best, misguided and designed for link-bait.

I see it as something a bit different. I think, it boils down to value. You simply can’t “out-kick your coverage” when it comes to being a jerk (perceived or real).

Jerk To Value Ratio

We’re generally accepting of a jerk so long as their level of jerkiness doesn’t outpace their value to the organization. We’ll accept Jordan’s jerkiness, so long as he keeps bringing home NBA titles. We’ll tolerate Patton’s indifference to “management” so long as he continues winning battles, taking back towns and increasing troop morale. Steve Jobs can a maniacal, heartless, condescending jerk, so long as he keeps inventing products like the iPhone that move the world and shareholder value.

We’ve seen this play out time and again across sports, politics, companies and life. Jerks, like it or not, are part of the success of organizations. The key however, is hiring the right jerks and putting them in the right roles, so that they enhance the organization, not tear it apart.

But, before all of you jerks start clapping, remember, your jerkiness can never be perceived to be worse than your performance or the potential performance of a replacement.

Are You Hiring The Same Person Over and Over?

We are a habitual people. We love routine and clear parameters. Most organizations have some type of model or playbook they use for hiring. These models ensure they are hiring people who will drive the organization to success. The models are based on years of historical company performance.

For example, at one organization I was apart of, they preferred brand marketers that came from one of about a dozen undergraduate programs, 8 business schools and who’d worked at a handful of specific companies. That was their recruiting model. If you didn’t come from one of those institutions, it was much harder to break in.

In my own interview with this company, I was told, one of their biggest concerns about me was that I didn’t “look” anything like their profile for a marketing leader. I went to a Big 10 school, not named Northwestern, had no MBA and never worked for Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, P&G or any of their other approved organizations. In short, I was a walking red flag. But, the woman running the division wanted to change the culture. She wanted people who didn’t look like the rest of the organization. She didn’t want another proverbial “Ken Doll” where we all have the same thinking, the same problem solving approach and the experiences to leverage. In this company’s culture, this was a risky bet.

Assembly Line

There are 2 inherent problems with this approach to talent building:

  1. As the great General George S. Paton, once remarked, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” When everyone you’ve hired as been taught to do things the same way, you’ll always solve problems using the same approach. While this creates some level of operational efficiency, because people don’t need to learn the company’s problem solving methodology, it also leads to a dramatic slow down in breakthrough thinking. In a digital world that changes exponentially faster every day, you can’t afford to copy and paste your solutions.
  2. The rationale for why you should keep hiring roughly the same person over and over is predicated on how your company has performed and what it’s looked like in the past. If the Apple / Microsoft and Google / Microsoft battles have shown us anything, it’s that a strategy of doubling down on today at the expense of tomorrow, is a quick path to mediocrity and stagnation.

I’ve always loved this quote from Scott Anthony’s Fast Company article, “How Do You Create A Culture Of Innovation?”

If you are trying to transform your company or your industry you likely need to bring in at least a handful of outsiders who will look at the world in new ways.

Getting the right talent in place is paramount to achieving and hopefully, exceeding your goals. There are two areas of talent you need:

  1. Core Team: Those under your direct supervision. These are the people you are hiring, you are managing, you are leading and you are enabling.
  2. Enablers: Those who are part of other teams, but in roles that are critical to enabling your team to succeed. I’ve often found this to be the more important of the two areas. For every 1 of these, you need 5 less people in your core team. It this reason, that I’ve always felt you need a horizontal approach to building a digitally fit organization.

In my last 3 roles, I’ve had the charge of building and transforming organizations. As I wrote about in December, this usually takes 5 years for things to fully gel.

The teams I built were high performing teams, but we were definitely “aliens” and looked nothing like the traditional mold for what a great hire looked like. At Campbell we hired people who had never worked in “Corporate America”, were bloggers by trade or who grew up in ad agencies. At Walgreens, there wasn’t a single person I hired who had traditional “pharmacy” or “retail” experience. I did however hire one of the smartest social analytics people in the business. He had worked at All-State, which at first you might say, seems the exact opposite of Walgreens. But, from a customer loyalty and retention standpoint, they’re very similar business models. Even at MARC USA, we brought in aliens from corporations like PNC Bank or those who were right out of school and didn’t have habits that needed to be unlearned.

As you build your organization, here’s 3 things to think about:

  1. Understand the tolerance of your organization for aliens. Some companies will tell you they want to change, but in fact, they really don’t want to change the important aspects. The changes they want are surface level or cosmetic. This is crucial. If your organization isn’t ready significant change, quickly, you’ll be setting your new hire up for failure, if they don’t fit the desired mold for max assimilation.
  2. Focus less on what they’ve done in their previous experience and more on what they’ll do (and how) to be successful in your organization. You’ll learn how they plan to leverage their own experiences and how they’re mind works. This will also force you to not look for a cookie cutter hire that fits an arbitrary predetermined set of requirements.
  3. Look for the 5 key skills that make up a Digital Unicorn. Yes, I’m serious. Digital Unicorns are a rare breed. If you can find someone that has 3 of the 5, you’re lucky. If you find 4 out of 5, go play the lottery. And if you find someone with 5 out of 5, send them to me ☺

There’s no guarantee when it comes to talent. Hiring the “best” doesn’t always mean you’ll be successful. Have you seen the performance of the Yankees lately?

But, what is a guarantee is that you’ll always get what you got, if you always do what you always did. Keep hiring the same person over and over and at best, you’ll keep pace with historical performance. However, a more likely scenario is that you’ll see a small drop off every year.

Look for the aliens. They’re out there. They’ll make you feel uncomfortable. But, ultimately they’ll make sure your organization thrives and doesn’t just tread water.

Looking Forward, My 2014 Predictions

It’s that time of year. It’s time for predictions about what the next year will bring in the marketing, advertising, social and technology space. As I’ve done for the past few years, before we start talking about 2014, let’s see how I did in 2013.

  1. “We’re going to see less emphasis on hiring heads of social and digital and more emphasis on hiring heads of analytics and insights.” I completely missed on this. I thought we were going to see the industry evolve. Instead we saw heads leave their organizations for other organizations. For example Shiv Singh left Pepsi to join Visa. Maybe 2014 will be the year of the mass hiring spree on analytics and insights folks.
  2. “We will see a run of acquisitions by older/established organizations on startups or young organizations.” I sorta nailed this one. It happened, but there wasn’t a run on these types of companies. Yahoo! of course, was the big player in this space, buying just about every startup company in the world. And Newscorp’s acquisition of Storyful for $25M certainly helped me feel better about my performance with this prediction.
  3. “There will be too many companies trying to solve the “social TV” question. They will all offer different metrics. The lack of standardization will cause a big problem and set us back. At the end of 2013 or the start of 2014 we’ll see one clear winner.” I missed on this too. Thankfully, twitter made some major purchases, like BlueFin Labs, which has helped bring greater clarity to the social TV question. This is one case, where I’m thrilled to be wrong.
  4. “Twitter will file for IPO. Simple as that.” Nailed it, simple as that.
  5. “Facebook will become less friend and more frenemy. To soften their transition toward frenemy, they will offer a tiered structure/classification that will essentially become a pay for access/feature model.” I’m giving myself a win on this one. While there wasn’t a tiered pricing structure, Facebook’s recent announcement that companies will need to pay if they want their content to be seen by fans, is starting to undo some of the great strides they made this past year thru partnerships with DataLogix.

Well, 3 out of 5…not exactly setting the world on fire. Keep in mind, in 2013, when I looked back on 2012, I nailed 90% of my predictions. That brings my two year average to 80%. Let’s see if I can do better in 2014. Here’s what I think is going to happen.


  1. Agencies will feel the squeeze from two ends of the spectrum. On one front companies like Accenture, IDEO and smaller boutiques take a chunk out of the strategy portion of budgets. On the other front clients will start transitioning functions like social media and insights in-house. This will cause a ripple effect that will lead to more large consolidations. These consolidations will be big, but not quite at the scale of the Omnicom/Publicis merger.
  2. SnapChat will implode. It will grow it’s user base, but won’t figure out how to monetize the platform. All the while, Facebook/Instagram, twitter and Google will come up with extensions to their platforms that will provide the basic utility of SnapChat, but for a mass audience.
  3. Google Glass will come to the mass market, but will flop, UNLESS the consumer version has a built in cellular connection.
  4. Amazon will purchase a grocery retailer to expedite the growth of their Amazon Fresh service. If I were betting, it would be Supervalu.
  5. Über will IPO.
  6. We will see a major movie studio release a semi-major movie available for stream/download before it comes to theaters. My money is on Netflix pulling this off from a distribution standpoint.
  7. Mobile payments will finally gain traction, making up for the poor launches from ISIS and Google Wallet over the past few years.
  8. Companies of all walks of life will start creating “products.” For example, we might see Nestle create a product similar to FitBit, that will integrate with their Lean Cuisine line. P&G might create a wearable technology type of device for babies. It’s coming.
  9. iBeacon and other proximity driven messaging/communication platforms, designed to sync and communicate with your phone, will struggle to take off. The problem won’t be interest or cost. The problem will be the continued relative poor battery life of phones and the privacy concerns of consumers.
  10. The next big mobile platform, won’t be a phone, it will be a car. Ford, BMW or another car manufacturer will bring a custom version of Android to their vehicles.

I feel really good about 5 of the 10. Now, all we need to do is wait and see, if I’m right.

5 Things I’m Pondering Right Now

Changing Landscape

1 – A Changing Mobile Landscape

Wow. The pace of change in the mobile landscape is staggering. Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia’s mobile handset business was inevitable. Blackberry being purchased by private equity was less inevitable. I think many though Blackberry might be purchased by someone like Samsung or Apple. The private equity move is a bit of a head-scratcher. That’s some serious change. Add in Apple’s launch of the iPhone 5S and 5C, both with the added security feature of finger print verification. Frankly, this security measure was long overdue and it was only going to be implemented well by Apple. We’re on the cusp of some serious changes, but I’m not sure these changes will end up being great for consumers. Why do I say that? Well, as the mobile world shrinks, will we see a slow down in innovation? Google is being less open with Android. Samsung wants to create their own OS. Microsoft has never really been good with leveraging an asset they purchased (see Skype as an example). There’s just a lot going on. While this might not be good for the consumer from an innovation standpoint, this could be great for the market at large. Less players, less devices, less fragmentation should create better standardization and hopefully start accelerating the road map for mobile marketing and advertising.

2 – Career Advice?

Yesterday, I came across this post titled, “Career Advice to My Daughters.” With a title like that, you knew it was going to get a lot of play. It was shared several times in my Facebook and LinkedIn feeds. Friends, called it “thoughtful”, “poignant”, “important” and a “must read.” I disagree with all of those words, except “must read.” I have a daughter, Cora. She’s 6. I became more and more irritated as I made my way through the author’s post. A great friend of mine, captured my feelings better than even I could. She said, “Wow. So, that guy’s advice is to basically NOT have a career? I’m baffled.” Another friend, this one a guy, said, “This is the same type of garbage that drives me nuts about younger employees. They’re “owed” great jobs. Companies do not owe you a job. They certainly don’t owe you a great job or career. It is a financial transaction. Provide value and be compensated. Be awesome and you’ll get the better jobs. On the plus side, if Cora and his kid were in a pool, Cora finishes in the top 50%.” I couldn’t agree more. While, I don’t need, nor expect my kids (both of them) to become CEOs, I do expect them to have an understanding of how the world works and that those who like ambition, drive and a clear sense of direction, struggle.

So Hard To Keep Up

3 – It’s Tough To Stay Digitally Fit…Even For Digital People

Keeping up in digital is challenging. I read. I read more. I try. I try more. I joined Snapchat. I hate Snapchat. I keep trying Snapchat. In a very sobering study from Adobe (PDF), it was revealed that less than half of DIGITAL marketers feel they are highly proficient at digital marketing. On some level, this isn’t surprising. For years, we haven’t invested in making digital important…certainly not important enough to invest in making our digital talent better through formal training-like programs. When we talk about building the digital capability and increasing our level of digital fitness at The Campbell Soup Co., we don’t focus on non-“digital” talent. Everyone needs to get more fit. Even those that are considered the most knowledgeable about digital, can always be smarter, better and more fit. When I read a report like this I feel even better knowing my kids are embracing digital and technology at such a young age.

Real Time

4 – Real Time “Marketing” Fatigue?

I watched, as many marketers did, the “real time marketing” efforts by brands during the Emmy’s. Most brands seemed to sit it out; and I happen to think that’s a good thing that reflects a return back to basic marketing fundamentals. Now, it’s possible, many brands sat out the Emmy’s because the Emmy’s aren’t as big as the Oscar’s. However, I tend to think it’s because marketers are realizing that real time marketing is a fad. Yes, I said a fad. Let me be clear when I say a fad, it’s the idea that an Oreo Super Bowl moment is repeatable every day. What isn’t a fad, isn’t being prepared, actively listening and striking at the right moment with an authentic on brand message that your audience actually wants to hear. What we saw with this most recent Oscar’s, were brands forcing the conversation. They were trying hard to replicate a moment. The problem is, you can’t force a moment. Moments happen, what you need to do is be ready to take advantage of the moment. Now, of course, leaders in the space, took umbrage with people calling them out for forcing a conversation and ultimately delivering off brand and mediocre creative experiences. They would have you believe that “no one” has this figured out and this is part of the evolution of real time marketing and it’s about innovation and test and learn. I’m not buying that. At Campbell, we often talk about how social is 99% preparation and 1% execution. If you spend your time preparing, you’ll almost always be able to take advantage of that 1% moment. If we want social to be better than robo-calls, infomercials and overly aggressive mass market direct mail, we need to focus on the preparation, not on trying to make execution the 99%. Our new soup campaign features a character called called, The Wisest Kid. You won’t find any tweets from him during the Emmy’s. There were certainly some great oppotunities, but we passed on them. Why? Because, we’re staying true to the campaign and our audience…the Emmy’s started after The Wisest Kid’s bed time. To have tweeted during the Emmy’s, with the hopes of catching lightening in the bottle, would have meant we were prioritizing short term gains and the expense of long term growth. Know your brand. Know your audience. Connect with them in a natural way.


5 – Does Your Digital Org Road Map Include Blowing It All Up?

Digital moves quick. Every day it seems like there’s something new to keep up on. When you’re building a digital organization or looking to transform an organization into a more digitally fit one, you have to have a plan. I know that sounds basic. I realize you’re thinking, well gosh Adam, tell me something I don’t know. Ok, now, think for a second; do you have a real 5 year road map for where you’re taking the organization? Does it have vision and strategy? Does it include how you’ll evaluate your progress? For some of you the answer is yes. That’s great. Now, let me ask you, does your plan include and account for blowing up your entire model at some point? I didn’t think so. Why is this important? Part of it is as simple as the old adage, what got you here, won’t get your there. The other part though is that the skills, staffing dynamics, focus, priorities, partners and economic environments change often. While your vision and strategy should be consistent, the road map to get to bright will need to evolve and ultimately, at some point, you’ll need to blow it up if you want to be successful 5 years out from the end of your 5 year road map. We’re 15 months into our journey to be the most digitally fit CPG in the world. It’s a marathon. But, a marathon that we need to run at a sprinter’s pace. The more I think about things though, it might be less marathon and more like a Spartan Challenge style race.  In Spartan Challenges, you need to adapt and adapt quickly and often. You have fire, mud, hills and other obstacles. Those obstacles force you to reassess your path quickly. You need to be nimble, but not sloppy, as you keep your eye on the end goal.

The Gross Misunderstanding Of Digital Talent

When most general managers put together a team, they focus on filling positions. You need a pitcher, a catcher, 3 outfielders, a 2nd baseman, a shortstop, a 3rd baseman, the 1st baseman and of course a bench of “role” players. They work within the confines of a budget or a salary cap, depending on the sport. Ultimately, every team is looking to win their league’s championship. Every team wants to put a winning team on the field. Of course, the only exception is the Miami Marlins; but I digress. It’s how you architect that team that greatly influences whether you win or if you’re just playing for second place.

When I think about building great digital organizations, I and others like me, suffer the same challenges as general managers in sports. We need to field a team that has us winning more than we lose and of course brings home championships every year. Now, the definition of championship will certainly vary by company and category. What’s considered championship worth by one organization may simply be the baseline expectation of what happens when you step on the field.

I’ve built a lot of digital organizations. I’ve talked with many people, smarter than me, who’ve put together digital organizations. While we may disagree on where to recruit from, what areas of the company to support the most or how many people you need; we never disagree on the fact that most organizations think about digital staffing the wrong way. It’s true.

If you want to build a great team you need to put great players on the field. Notice, I didn’t say the BEST players. While you don’t need the best, you certainly can’t put a minor league team on the field and expect to compete in the majors. It just doesn’t work. Ask the Marlins. The way most organizations build a digital organization is very hierarchical. They have a leader at the top, a handful of mid-level managers and several less experienced people to fill out the roster. In essence, they have many specialists (SEO, Social, Media, etc.) and handful of generalists and 1 person to lead them. The closest visual would be a pyramid. To be clear, you need all of these roles and types of experience. Though I’d rather see an hourglass represent a digital organization, much more so than a pyramid.

I was having breakfast on Friday with a really sharp head of digital at a large public company. We couldn’t be more lock step in the above. The reason a traditional pyramid model doesn’t work, is because for all their brilliance, most organization fail to grasp the concept of scarcity when it comes to building digital organizations. Scarcity? Yes scarcity. It’s one of the oldest economic principles. Scarcity states

limited supply, combined with high demand, equals a lack of pricing equilibrium. Typically, demand and supply will gravitate prices to a stable balance; however, scarcity of a good or service changes the way buyers will value the purchase, thus leading to new market conditions.

Simply put, if there’s less of something people value it more. This isn’t a new concept for organizations. They purchase commodities with a great understanding of scarcity. They acquire companies, distribution routes, patents and more, with an understanding of scarcity. But, when it comes to digital talent, they treat the marketplace as if it’s an over-saturated market, when it fact it’s a scare market. Let me qualify this for a second. There’s NOT a dearth of digital talent. Quite the opposite. There’s a significant amount of digital talent. What there is, however, is a very small amount of senior level (and senior doesn’t mean years, it means experience) 5-tool digital talent. I often remark that most organizations want a digital unicorn. The digital unicorn is the 5-tool digital talent.

  1. Marketing: They think of digital through the lens of marketing
  2. Strategy: They think of digital with a strategic foundation, not a bright shiny object syndrome
  3. They have the requisite technology background to understand when and where to leverage the right technology, platform or partner
  4. Execution: Unlike say a McKinsey consultant, not only can they talk strategy, they can also create direction and make something happen; often times leading the initiative
  5. Battle Tested: They’ve seen it…a lot of it…maybe all of it…and they’ve seen it again and again

How many digital unicorns do you know of? You probably know 1000s who fit 1 or 2 of the above. When you get to 3 or 4, you get into the 100s. But, if you were being honest with yourself, you probably only know a dozen or so who have all 5.

If given the option of putting a team on the field, where each player had only 1 of the 5, or putting a team on the field where every player was a unicorn, which would you take? It’s obvious right? You’d take a team of unicorns all day long.

So why don’t most organizations do this? I have 3 theories.

  1. They don’t value digital talent as business building talent. When’s the last time you saw a head of digital become the CMO or the CIO? Better yet, when’s the last time you saw a Director of Digital elevated into a VP of Marketing role? It’s rare. More rare than a unicorn. If an organization doesn’t see their digital talent as being major players in the future of the organization, it makes all the sense in the world to not to invest in unicorns.
  2. They don’t see digital talent as being scarce. They see the talent pool as wide, diverse and deep. When in fact, it’s narrow and shallow.
  3. They’re organizational structure was built on the traditional hierarchy model. You have a CMO, with a VP of advertising who has directors by specialty, who have managers by business unit who have specialists by brand/category. There’s nothing wrong with that model. It works really well. But, it doesn’t allow you to run an alternate model at the same time.

In addition to the 3 theories outlined above, I think there’s 1 other major element. Ego. In Michael Eisner’s tremendous book, “Working Together, Why Great Partnerships Succeed” he tells of the very pivotal moment in his career, when he almost didn’t ascend to run all of Disney. Bill Simmons, covered the topic when talking about Lebron and Wade teaming up. His narrative is much better than mine, so hear it is.

The company arranged a meeting between Eisner, one of its corporate lawyers and a former Warner Brothers executive named Frank Wells. Eisner expected to be offered control of the company, but there was an unexpected twist: Disney actually wanted him to share power with Wells. Co-CEOs.

Instinctively, Eisner turned them down. He knew himself well enough to say, “That can’t work.”

So what did he know? Still in his 40s, Eisner had already thrived in a successful alliance with Barry Diller before Diller left Paramount a year earlier. He wanted to run an entertainment company himself; not just for the financial and creative upside, but because he needed to know, Can I do this? Can I be The Guy? He doubted that two competitive people could run a complicated company like Disney and, for lack of a better phrase, share the ball. With that many decisions to make, one person needs final say. It’s the same reason we would never have co-presidents or co-NFL coaches.

Eisner realized all of these things in less than two seconds.

That can’t work.

Sitting a few feet away, Wells processed that same dilemma in those same two seconds. He was wired differently than Eisner, more of a free spirit and a thrill-seeker, someone who checked out of Hollywood for a few years to climb the tallest peaks in six different continents. You would never call him conventional. His next few words? Definitely unconventional.

“OK, you can be chairman and CEO,” Wells said. “I’ll be president and COO.”

Eisner quickly agreed before Wells changed his mind. But Wells’ intentions were genuine. He had no problem becoming Eisner’s Scottie Pippen, an unselfish sidekick who filled in the blanks, didn’t care about his stats and took pride in helping his team reach its potential. As Eisner wrote later, “We learned that one plus one adds up to a lot more than two.” Their partnership thrived for a decade before Wells died in a tragic helicopter crash, but not before they had transformed Disney into a multimedia empire. And it only happened because, in the matter of a few seconds, Michael Eisner and Frank Wells arrived at two separate conclusions that basically meant the same thing.

Most digital unicorns would never want to work with another digital unicorn. A digital unicorn, my self included, has an ego. To recognize that pairing up with another great digital unicorn would be the best move for an organization, would be a recognition that there is no “head” of digital. In today’s marketplace, where we’re still fighting for digital talent to have a seat at the adult table in organizations, it would be a difficult concept to wrap your head around.

But, think about it, if the current leader of digital in an organization broached the subject, wouldn’t an organization be more open to rethinking things? Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. When you’ve been doing something the same way for so long, it’s hard to recognize the need to change. That’s where a leap of faith is needed. The leader of digital must sacrifice his/her status as the 1 leader for the greater good and realize that to win…and win again…you need not, 1 digital leader, but several. If you’re smart and you can abandon your ego, you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter who the leader is. What matters is winning.

But, what do I know…I’m just a kid from Brooklyn, talking about unicorns, like they’re real.

Enabling Our Organization With Digital Fitness Kits

As I’ve written about before, we’re on a journey to become the most Digitally Fit Consumer Packaged Goods company, in the world. To make that happen, we need to run a virtual marathon, at a sprinter’s pace. Digital changes so quickly. One minute we’re talking about how Vine will be a breakaway success. The next minute, we’re throwing dirt on its grave, because Instagram with video is the Vine killer. It’s a breakneck pace. But, that’s why I love digital. No single day is ever the same.

I’m generally a high energy guy. Someone at the office once remarked that I always seem to have a bounce in my step. Well, today, I have some extra bounce. Digital fitness is about both a lifestyle choice and an every day commitment. Keeping up with our consumers and identifying the right trends to focus on, are critical to reaching our vision to be the most digitally fit. Today, after many months planning, we launched our Digital Fitness Accelerator Kit initiative.

Digital Fitness Logo

One of the things we’ve learned about our customers and consumers is the rapidly increasing importance of digital technology. To enable rapid understanding and adoption of some big trends, we identified a small group of people across the organization to be the first group to receive Digital Fitness Accelerator kits. I’m not gonna lie, I’m jealous; I don’t even have one yet!

The point of the kit is to provide participants with a a 90-day digital immersion across some key focus areas. After all, we need the right equipment to “train” for our digital fitness goal. In turn, we asked them for their feedback so that we could enhance the program and extend it to the broader organization.

So, what’s in the kit? It’s a collection of progressive devices, apps and information sources that allow participants to mirror the experiences many of our consumers expect today. These items are shaping the ways people connect with each other and manage their lives. Call it “fitness” or call it “knowledge” – this is the stuff we need to know to put the consumer first. To that end, each kit contained:

  • Roku – funny name, brilliant device. The Roku will help participants live like a cord-cutter, unfettered by cable TV. The traditional methods we use to connect with people are changing and Roku is an example of how.
  • The Numerati or Six Pixels of Separation – with both of these books, we’ll show how companies are integrating digital marketing, social media, personal branding and entrepreneurship to transform organizations. They also show the power of harnessing big data to make meaningful impact.
  • Recommended Apps – our head of Mobile and Emerging media courtesy of Zach Barkus, curated a list of 10 FREE apps and 10 PAID apps to download and explore. We actually provided little app cards, similar to the ones you’d find at Starbucks, that explained each app and why we included it in the list. We also added a $10 iTunes Gift Card to cover the paid apps.
  • Recommended News Sources – with all of us pressed for time and so many sources for digital news, my team created a list of trusted sources to help keep participants well-informed about the latest case studies, trends and competitive initiatives.

But, we didn’t stop there. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a heck of a kit, with just the above included. However, we went one step further. We included one more item inside that is the perfect intersection of digital and fitness. Each kit contained one of four devices that record and quantify the steps you’re taking, calories you’re burning and even the quality of your sleep. We provided either a Jawbone Up, FitBit Flex, Nike Fuel Band or Lark.

We know we’re living in a world of quantified lives. Enthusiasts of this movement use various self-tracking methods to “quantify” their approach to life and goals so they can see progress and areas where they need to focus. This might mean weight, workouts, energy management, sleep…even mood. We see quantified lives as something that’s here for the long term. The devices outlined above will help us start understanding why this trend will endure and how we can connect better with consumers.

Digital Fitness Accelerator Kit

Of all the kit components, I think I’m the most excited about the bag. Yes, I’m serious. It’s red, it’s lightweight, it has lots of pockets and it has a killer Digital Fitness logo on it. I have a feeling participants will be proud to carry their bag and show it off in meetings.

This was very much a team effort to make happen. From our IT Security team to the CIO to Sr. Level members on our brand teams; we had a lot of support to make this happen. It was Zach Barkus though that ran with the idea and brought it to life.

Building and enhancing organizations is fun and it’s rewarding. We’re betting that the Digital Fitness Accelerator Kit initiative is going to turn some heads, garner a lot of interest and rapidly bring people up to speed about the key trends we need to navigate if we’re to reach our vision and delight consumers.

Now, I just need to get my hands on my own digital fitness accelerator kit! Maybe, I’ll be in the next test group.

Friday Five

Roughly 5 years ago, I created “Friday Five”, a simple weekly email that went out to members of the organization who subscribed. Yes, people had to subscribe. I didn’t want to simply “blast” it to everyone. I wanted to people to want it; and I only wanted to send it to people who would find value in it.

Friday Five was born out of a simple problem: there’s simply too much information out there. Think about your own inbox right now. There’s email newsletters from existing vendors and agencies. Then there’s the FREE webinar invites. Let’s not forget about the invites from conference organizers, to attend and learn from experts. And then finally, you have the email chains that originated with someone in your organization reading an article about X…then wanting everyone else to be aware of the article. That’s a lot of information. A lot.

The problem with all that information is that individual pieces often contradict another piece of information. One newsletter says a Facebook ad generates $2.00 in sales, while another says it $14.00. That’s problematic when you’re trying to drive organizational change. There’s of course the other challenge…each and every vendor/agency has an agenda. That information they share is often used to push their organization’s point of view. For example, how many of you have seen an email headline saying something like “90% of the Best Performing Companies, Use Big Data.” And wait for it…that email comes from a Big Data company.

In any organization, big or small, you need to make sure the right information is reaching the right people. Friday Five was a way to make sure that happened. One of the very first things I did at Campbell was to send this email:

With so much information out there, links to click, articles to read, tweets to scan content to consume, it can get a little maddening. Every Friday, I gather up the 5 links (usually from that week) that you should spend some time reading. Feel free to unsubscribe, forward on, or request someone be added to the list.

The response was outstanding. That first Friday Five email dropped on Friday June 1, 2012…my second week at Campbell. We haven’t missed a week yet. It’s a lot of fun, to be honest. I get to play the role of master curator. Here’s an example of what I send in a Friday Five.

Obama campaign’s chief data guy gets candid about the data strategy that won the election
Great story from the guy who architected the strategy, based on data, the won the election. I love this nugget “We were heavily focused on open source, did a lot of coding ourselves, used a lot of databases, used Hadoop, R, Strata and worked with 20 different vendors,” – There is no 1 perfect source of data, but you can create a nearly perfect model by combining the right sources.

Teens aren’t abandoning “social.” They’re just using the word correctly
Much has been written of late about the decline of social media for the teenage segment. This is really a great example of poor insights being derived from great data. Take this passage describing the real reason Facebook usage for teens has declined:

“What is Facebook to most people over the age of 25? It’s a never-ending class reunion mixed with an eternal late-night dorm room gossip session mixed with a nightly check-in on what coworkers are doing after leaving the office. In other words, it’s a place where you go to keep tabs on your friends and acquaintances.

You know what kids call that? School.”

All social networks are unique. Each exists for a different purpose. We flock to them based on those unique purposes. As we think about how social integrates with our own initiatives we need to be clear on the experience we want to create and how a social network enhances that experience. If it doesn’t enhance it, we shouldn’t be using it.

Mondelez Program Creates Fast Mobile Pilots
I’m jealous of this. I admit it. The team at Modelez sees mobile as a critical part of their marketing success. To ensure they didn’t continue doubling down on the present at the expense of the future, they carved away dollars from brand budgets to fund their mobile futures initiative. A first of its kind program, Mobile Futures paired nine start-up companies with power brand teams to accelerate and scale existing mobile innovations in this first phase of the initiative. It’s smart and it’s a sign of where things are going. Speed wins.

17 (mostly failed) Brand Tweets From The Oscars
As we move to an age of what some are calling “real time marketing” we need to consider how to make our marketing more meaningful. This past Super Bowl was a tipping point for brands who might have been on the fence about social media marketing. Efforts by Audi, Oreo and Walgreens highlighted how providing quick and contextual marketing during an event can breakthrough. This post by Jay Baer does a great job of highlighting how easy it is to do bad marketing in social and how hard it is to do great marketing. As I turn the lens inward, we’ve definitely stepped up our game following the Super Bowl. For example, this effort by Campbell Kitchen during the Grammy’s sticks out as exceptional: http://bit.ly/WfVMp5 There’s still work to be done. The key for making a lot of this work is being honest about the social currency your brand has. Not all brands have a natural social currency that leads to a natural intersection of pop culture (eg The Oscars) and marketing. Additionally, I can’t stress enough the importance of planning. “Real Time Marketing” or whatever we need to call it, isn’t just about events, it’s about being in the moments and moments happen every day.

Nike takes social media in-house
Not unlike digital in the early 2000s, as organizations make social a key part of their organizations, they are changing their resourcing models for social media. Nike is the most recent organization to make the full transition of bringing social media in-house. The trend was started by Ford, roughly 5 years ago and has continued with companies like Burberry, Pepsi and Audi follow suit. I think this quote in a DigiDay article really nails the situation: “I am thinking social media strategy, planning and insights will all move in-house for this reason. Agencies will be relied on for creative executions and helping brands stay ahead in the space. What I am hearing from our agencies is that they are thankful for our digital talent, because it becomes easier for them to sell their ideas to us.” As Denise often mentions, we need to get closer to our consumer and really understand them. Our decision to bring social media in-house 3 months ago is enabling that to happen. So I guess you could say, it looks like Nike is taking innovation cues from Campbell Soup 🙂

That’s a typical Friday Five. Just five quick reads covering everything from macro trends (big data) to organizational models (staffing social in-house) to competitive tracking (everything Bonin does). Perhaps my favorite aspect of Friday Five is that it grants me the ability to eliminate hyperbole (aka giant headlines) and infuse pragmatism (aka reality). For example, people often talk about how amazing Oreo’s tweet during the Super Bowl was. I think it was pretty amazing too. But, not because of the creative. It was amazing to me because of how fine tuned they needed to be organizationally/internally to make it happen.

The headlines and emails from our partners would have you believe that the future of marketing was going to be glib tweets. The industry also touted the “virality” of the tweet. We did some real digging to understand the impact. We worked with some of our great partners in social analytics. The reality was, nearly 90% of all the viral coverage and sharing was from people in the marketing/advertising/social industry. That was a critical find. It allowed us to be more pragmatic about what we needed to do moving forward, instead of simply chasing the next big shiny thing. Being able to share that POV made future meetings more productive, because we could frame the conversation with real insights, not opinions.

I would encourage you all to find your own version of Friday Five. Don’t let the outside world steer your organization. You need to take ownership and lead the organization.