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Fleit: The Evolution of the CMO

Caren Fleit |Korn/Ferry International
Monday, 14 May 2012 | 11:29 AM ET
Image Source | Getty Images

Strategic leadership does not rest with the CEO alone.

As the business landscape becomes increasingly complex and customer expectations increase, impactful leadership requires an approach that leverages highly strategic executive talent across multiple functions acting as a fully integrated team.

In addition to deep competencies in their own areas of expertise—whether finance, marketing, legal, supply chain, information technology, and so forth—these top executives are expected to be true team players who can contribute more broadly to the development of business goals and strategies across the enterprise. Together, they can make a measurable difference in how their organizations innovate, communicate, and meet consumer/customer expectations.

An increasingly important voice at the table is that of the chief marketing officer (CMO). As organizations across all industries strive to set themselves apart from their competitors, marketing has taken on new prominence. Highly effective CMOs are moving well beyond the longstanding role of being the proxy for the customer to one in which they provide strategic leadership, drive change, and achieve quantifiable business results.

In short, today’s CMOs are more intertwined with the business and are expected to contribute to fundamental business transformation.

At Korn/Ferry International, we have studied the core leadership competencies of highly effective CMOs; those who thrive in the new role involving enterprise wide transformation. We call these multi-talented individuals “transformative CMOs.”

Three core competencies distinguish the transformative CMO: Creating the New and Different; Focusing on Action and Outcomes; and Inspiring Others. When an executive team includes a transformative CMO who possesses the right set of behavioral and cultural competencies, organizations can push beyond the boundaries of the status quo and achieve breakthrough thinking.

  • Create the new and different, generating new ideas and breakthrough thinking with vision, creativity, and broad interests and knowledge. Executive teams cannot be held captive by their own frameworks and models. The ability to create the new and different is particularly valued by organizations that want to achieve market leadership. Transformative CMOs need courage to develop and embrace a vision and a point of view. They need to be able to work with a blank slate and look at the world broadly to make connections. Even well-established brands are constantly trying new approaches to engage customers and new markets. Transformative CMOs who embrace the new and different can energize their organizations through innovation and make an impact on the entire business value chain.
  • Focus on action and outcomes, attacking everything with energy, while also keeping an eye on the bottom line. Competitive pressures today demand speed and agility. Perfectionism, procrastination, and risk avoidance hamper the ability to take quick and timely action to generate desired outcomes. Transformative CMOs who demonstrate a bias for action and an eagerness to take the initiative develop a results-oriented mindset that drives the bottom line. They instill the necessary urgency within their teams and the organization to excel. At the same time, they strike the right balance between action and being thoughtful. They stay focused on their vision and maintaining momentum, while continually considering the best courses of action as new data emerge. They are agile and resilient enough to make adjustments. They focus on achieving tangible business results that align with the goals of the organization.
  • Inspiring others to build motivated, high-performing teams and to move an entire organization to perform at a higher level. Inspiring others is truly the foundation for success for the transformative CMO. To create the new and different, teams must be inspired and aligned behind a vision of change. When inspired teams are also empowered, they are able to accomplish more measurable outcomes. Executives who are passionate about the vision close the gap between the current reality and the envisioned future, while in the process igniting the passion and commitment of others. The overall goal is to inspire followers to operate at their peak. What motivates each individual may be different, but every person has to be focused, energized, and committed. Inspiration can also come from acknowledging that failure is sometimes the result of innovation. On Failing is allowed; being fearful is not.

Drawing upon the Three Core Competencies— Creating the New and Different, Focusing on Action and Outcomes, and Inspiring Others—transformative CMOs elevate their leadership and truly make a positive difference within their organizations. Companies interested in bringing in a transformative CMO must make sure that candidates possess these competencies, because simply having industry or category experience is no guarantee of success. Developing these competencies through training and experience can be challenging to accomplish.

The ultimate measures of success for transformative CMOs are the abilities to create the new and different, to focus on action and outcomes, and to inspire others in order to drive change in their organizations. They leverage key skills not only to build brands and target customers, but also to help set a course for how business is done. Transformative CMOs unleash energy and passion, painting a picture of what is possible, achievable, and attainable.

Caren Fleit is co-leader of Korn/Ferry International’s Marketing Center of Expertise. She is a Senior Client Partner in the firm’s Consumer practice, based in New York City. Korn/Ferry International is the world’s largest executive recruiting firm and premier global provider of talent management solutions.

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