marketing learning organizationWith her the introduction of her “5Ts of Marketing Operations” model, my colleague Adrian Ott has given us a vision of marketing that has evolved beyond the fundamental 5Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion with Positioning added for the purpose of this article) and 3Cs (Customers, Competitors, Corporation).

Interestingly, add the 5Ts, 5Ps and 3Cs together and the sum is 13, the age Jewish and some African cultures consider the entry into adulthood.

Enterprises that have invested in dedicated Marketing Operations functions are much like the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. They’ve completed an important rite of passage, but have much to learn before reaching a level of maturity.

Learning is the operative word when it comes to maturity. The ability of an organization to learn — to become a learning organization & is fundamental to its long-term development. In 1990, MIT Sloan School of Management’s Peter Senge rocked the business world with his visionary book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization.”

Senge’s Influence on Organizations Hasn’t Translated to Marketing
Though the buzz of the learning organization has lost some steam after the dot-com-implosion and 9/11, one can still find Senge’s influence in subsequent published works and today’s management lexicon, as well as in practice in some highly successful global organizations.

Difficult to find, however, are examples of conscious integration of learning organization principles from Senge and others into the marketing practice. We’re just starting to acknowledge that we’re behind other organizational functions in our learning process. For example:

  • Few of us can clearly justify our marketing investment and demonstrate the return it brings to our organizations.
  • Our staff is expected to be loyal, deliver on increasingly-escalating expectations and wholeheartedly support our enterprises’ customer experience vision while simultaneously being treated as disposable assets.
  • We’ve built such information silos around these individuals that we lose valuable organizational insight whenever someone leaves, whether by force or choice.

ROI. Optimization. Enhanced customer experience. Better knowledge management.

These are just four of many areas that Marketing Operations is expected to address. With the rise of Marketing Operations in the enterprise, this is the ideal time to acknowledge our immaturity — our learning disabilities — and take steps to toward greater maturity.

Applying the Five Learning Organization Disciplines to Marketing Operations
Senge’s insight represents a compelling path forward. Consider the five disciplines of a learning organization that he so masterfully described some 18 years ago:

  1. Personal Mastery = Developing a commitment to individual learning to develop proficiency, not just in our work but our ability to clarify what is important to us and see current reality more clearly
  2. Mental Models = Learning to question implicit assumptions underlying decision-making processes and balance advocacy with inquiry
  3. Shared Vision = Achieving individual and group buy-in for key initiatives by securing enrollment, commitment and compliance
  4. Team Learning – Aligning individual and team learning through a commitment to a balance of dialogue and discussion
  5. Systems Thinking = Learning to view the system as a whole rather than focusing on the discrete parts

Each of these disciplines has huge implications on the effectiveness of Marketing Operations in organizations. Let’s explore how in a bit more detail.

Personal Mastery in Marketing Operations
We have long recognized the importance of training in marketing (even if for no other reason than to pay expected lip service to it). Marketing competency development (bridging the gap between current competency and desired future state) is a big buzzword today and an important component of Marketing Operations.

Marketing competency development is very much related to Personal Mastery, which can have significant implications when applied to other Marketing Operations disciplines such as strategic planning, collaborative decision-making, resource allocation, roles & responsibilities clarification, and team dynamics.

Mental Models in Marketing Operations
Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and take action. We tend to unconsciously make decisions based on these ingrained mental models, which control what we perceive can and cannot be done.

Bringing the skill of surfacing and challenging mental models in Marketing creates a powerful vehicle for making decision-making processes more explicit, better understanding our and others’ motives, learning to appreciate differences and discovering common ground.

This has compelling implications in Marketing Operations when applied to strategic planning, socializing new concepts and plans, achieving buy-in and alignment, leveraging voice of the customer and encouraging innovation and value creation.

Shared Vision in Marketing Operations
Many companies fail to advance their objectives because key fundamentals, such as mission, vision and values, are either poorly defined or articulated, or they are imposed on the team by a CEO or other authority figure without the opportunity for real buy-in.

People are often lost in the shuffle when new marketing initiatives are rolled out. Employee ambivalence, confusion, resistance and passive-aggressive behavior are unintentionally or consciously transferred to customers, partners, press, analysts and other target audiences. Training, socialization and winning buy-in are integral to generating committed action.

Developing shared vision is more critical than ever. Consider:

  • Marketing is becoming increasingly complex due to globalization and the emergence of new marketing and media channels
  • Increasing C-level expectations on marketing are requiring greater need for cross-functional strategic collaboration and more coordinated execution to meet enterprise strategic objectives

The implications of leveraging shared vision in Marketing Operations (as is true within the enterprise in general) is improved ability to better socialize new Marketing Operations initiatives, achieve ownership and buy-in, define mission and charter, clarify values and more effectively align key players across organizational functions who are instrumental in making a vision a reality.

Team Learning in Marketing Operations
An important challenge for organizations is evolving from the individual as the learning unit to the enterprise as the learning entity.

Group-think can be a painful symptom of organizations that have not learned from their experience. In “The Abilene Paradox,” the story of a group of cowboys deciding to go to Abilene for the day even though not a single one of them really wanted to go there is a telling reminder that more (however brilliant) minds does not necessarily equal smarter.

In work environments — especially fast-moving, outward focused marketing departments where we are motivated to show our colleagues how smart and competent we are — it’s a real challenge for the group to “get” the big lesson and see the internally-imposed barriers to its collective learning process.

Increasing focus on Team Learning in Marketing Operations also can have major impact on decision-making, marketing competency development, knowledge management, marketing intelligence, planning, process design, socialization and program evaluation.

Systems Thinking in Marketing Operations
To be effective, Marketing needs accurate information, a historical view into past successes and failures, and the ability to recognize patterns that link seemingly unrelated data points. To be optimally effective, we need the capacity to reflect and the critical ability to see patterns of inter-dependency.

Systems Thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It provides a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than isolated parts, and patterns rather than “snapshots” or “events.”

By embracing Systems Thinking, we are forced to look outside self-imposed boxes of comfort that limit growth and creativity. We can use Systems Thinking to help us manage overwhelm from complexity and overcome “learned helplessness.”

Because Systems Thinking requires a balance of linear and non-linear thinking, it promotes “out of the box” thinking.

In addition to encouraging innovation, we can leverage System Thinking in Marketing Operations to support marketing intelligence, knowledge management, assessments, product portfolio and marketing mix management, process design, marketing automation, leveraging the voice of the customer and demonstrating return on marketing.

Introducing the Power of 18 Marketing Maturity Model
Each of the above learning organization disciplines can be added to the 5Ps, 3Cs and 5Ts to create a new marketing maturity model. Let’s call these disciplines the 5Ds:
Discipline #1 — Personal mastery
Discipline #2 — Mental models
Discipline #3 — Shared vision
Discipline #4 — Team learning
Discipline #5 — Systems thinking

Now we have an even more evolved marketing maturity model, which I’ve coined “The Power of 18” – 18 being the age that a person is legally considered an adult in the US, the UK and China, for example. By embracing “The Power of 18,” Marketing can more quickly evolve from basic maturity (5Ps and 3Cs) to deeper, more fundamental, more sustainable maturity (5Ts) to full-fledged, fully responsible corporate citizenship.

And the beauty is, “The Power of 18” is simply a substantial step forward. Like the other models that preceded it, we can keep building upon this model to reflect increasing levels of marketing maturity and mastery of lifelong organizational learning.

As we apply these proven business insights and tools to marketing, we will be better equipped to address the strategic, accountability, optimization, scalability and cross-functional alignment challenges Marketing Operations teams face now and into the future.