It happens all the time. A new VP or CMO takes the helm, or a new consultant comes into the picture, and the first thing they do is critique the existing program, sometimes brutally and without background or warrant. The second thing they do is change it, often in extreme manners including replacing the internal teams or agency partners who have built and are often managing complex and integrated elements. If a digital program is underperforming, that may be a good idea, but oft times the end result is just a different approach that reflects the new person’s prior experience and prejudices and often ignores or discounts the history and circumstance that have defined the current state. Different is not necessarily better and if you are going to create this stress, it should be for good reason and good results. In some organizations, this kind of change happens frequently. Wait three or six or 18 months for the next consultant and then rinse and repeat.
You can end up with a digital case of whiplash where your programs are defined by the person at the helm instead of the business objectives, audience needs, and performance metrics that should be driving ongoing planning. Programs managed with such short-sighted leadership suffer from a lack of ongoing testing and optimization that are the hallmark of successful and efficient digital programs as constantly shifting emphasis, management, and goals do not allow you to apply a consistent approach to measuring and improving against those goals.
If you find yourself in the middle of yet another leadership change, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the best of the situation:
During the critique:
- Be prepared to give the new leadership a brief that helps them get up to speed quickly. Don’t sugarcoat anything including any underperforming or flat-out failed efforts. Make sure that you include both the rationale and the performance metrics used to evaluate the success or failure of each element.
- Examine the root cause of the change. There must be some lack of confidence in the current team or results or there may be something truly important that this new resource brings to the picture.
- Don’t take it personally. They were brought on to improve the existing state, so it is natural that they should be looking for opportunities for improvement. They don’t know you, are not your buddy, and they are under pressure to make a swift, positive impact. If you get a good sort, they will take the time to understand the current situation and make the existing team a partner in the analysis. If you get a bad sort, they will make the existing team a scapegoat regardless of performance or circumstance.
- Understand their background. If they are a long-time search person, they are going to be digging into keyword detail. If email or display or social media was the cornerstone of their last post, they will want to emulate that success because it is a comfort zone for them. The more strategic they are, the less importance they will place on their past experience and the more they will place on the unique set of circumstances and opportunities presented in this case.
- Speak up. If you believe they are making moves that will hurt the organization’s business, then you have a duty to make sure you are heard. That is not easy. The new person is in their honeymoon period and can likely do no wrong. Further, they are in charge of you or your programs, which makes you disruptive or not a team player if you resist the change they are attempting. On the other hand, they might bring a fresh perspective and some good insights to the table, so be open and accepting of their input. If you can help them create a better result, that is the best situation for all.
- Don’t be bullied. There is absolutely nothing worse for morale then letting the new guy (or woman) take pot shots at your team before that person can even know the situation. Stay as unemotional as you can and continue to state your case. Back it up with facts and historical performance.
During program transition:
- Advocate for evolution, not revolution in the changes they will want to institute. That way you can keep or improve upon the best performing elements and support them with new elements that you can test and integrate over time.
- If new tools, systems, or partners are being instituted, create an orderly transition plan that gives project managers the time and opportunity to assess and cover the risk elements inherent in these changes.
- Even if you are on the way out, do your very best professional job to support the change. Your reputation is at stake and you may be the incoming partner down the line somewhere else and would appreciate an orderly handoff when that time comes.
- Be the librarian. If you last through a number of leadership changes, you play a key role in documenting the ups and downs, wins and losses. That is valuable information for when the organization finally does get a clue and commits to a long-term plan with a clear set of objectives.
- Acknowledge that even the smartest strategy needs to be tested and confirmed on a regular basis. The environment changes, your competitors change, the market presents new opportunities; change is necessary and inevitable over time, and this new person may be the harbinger of a positive change.
- Sometimes it is about tactics changing to support the same strategy and sometimes the strategy takes a sharp turn. Know the difference.
All change is disruptive but not all change is bad. Change for its own sake or constant change without the application of an overarching strategy limits the ability of your digital programs to perform and also stresses your resources. Avoid digital whiplash with a commitment to long-term strategic planning, measurement, and optimization.