The Pen Is Mightier Than the Org Chart

Never underestimate the power of the written word.

As I indicated in my last article, marketers have to act as the quarterbacks of the organization, coordinating across many different functional areas, from sales to finance. There’s just one minor problem that we run into: the org chart.

The org chart gets in the way whenever you need someone in another department to do something. It doesn’t matter who the person is. Discounting all other factors, the org chart says that someone else manages them, someone else evaluates them, and, most important, someone else pays them.

Imagine if Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers dropped back to pass, and the wide receivers didn’t run their patterns. Or the running back refused to take the pitch on a running play. It would be impossible to get anything done (perhaps you’re familiar with that particular sensation!). Yet that is the situation that marketers often face as they try to push a complex project to completion.

You can’t change the structure of the org chart, but you can find ways around it. No, I’m not advocating Machiavellian politics or blackmail, though those techniques can certainly be effective — especially if you brought a digital camera to last year’s holiday party! One of the best ways to work around the org chart is also the simplest. To get your way, simply ask for it in writing.

Yes, the pen is mightier than the org chart.

It is a fundamental truth that even the hardest-working people have a tendency to be lazy. Not lazy in the sense of unwillingness to work, but lazy in the sense of allocating their figurative elbow grease to the squeakiest wheel.

Think about it. Which project are you more likely to complete — the project that was assigned to you in a meeting three months ago or the project your colleague follows up with you about every morning? If nothing else, you’ll want to finish the project just to get rid of her!

As a disciplined marketer, you should use this tendency to your advantage. Be polite, be direct, and, above all else, be persistent. After all, you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Here are a couple simple steps that can make all the difference:

  • Take notes at every meeting, and circulate them afterwards. Not only will this let people know that they’re on the hook, but it’s also a great opportunity to put your own spin on the results of the meeting. Make sure that you specify a deadline and a person responsible for each action item.
  • Create a separate to-do list for each extradepartmental resource that you need to manage. Attach a specific deadline to each item, and keep following up with each individual on a weekly (or if necessary, daily) basis.

It’ll take a little extra work to make these steps a part of your routine, but they’re well worth the effort. The next time someone tries to claim that he didn’t know about a project, you’ll be able to pull out that email you sent describing the project and outlining his specific deadlines. The next time someone tries to get out of helping you, you’ll be able to say, “I understand that you’re busy, but just take this prioritized list of tasks, and work on them whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

I’ve found these techniques to be remarkably effective — especially in times of flux and chaos, when colleagues actually welcome the structure of specific tasks and timetables. It may not be as fun as barking out orders, but it will get the job done.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.