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27 November 2014

Hierarchy disrupted - How to organize for growth?

It’s not about surviving in disruption; it’s about becoming the disruptor.” After a hectic taxi ride in the streets of Dublin and a high-tech cappuccino with extra chocolate very kindly offered at the Dropbox stand, it is this quote from Digiday’s president Brian Morrisey that truly woke me up on the morning of November 4. Chewing on breakfast popcorn, mildly flavored with Google caramel, I looked around the auditorium filled with 500+ marketers eagerly scribbling down Brian’s every word on their iPad or smartphone, taking a WebSummit selfie, and/or (well, some people seem to manage to do it all) typing a catchy Twitter feed. Which of them would lead their teams toward not only surviving in the age of disruption, but thriving and growing? Which of them would initiate change, not just be immersed in it? Which of them would not be disrupted, but be the disruptors?

After many more Dublin cappuccinos, a few hundred inspiring speeches, night-time chats in Dublin bars and hours of reflection, I found the answer. A key element that sets disruptors apart from disrupt-ees is that they are not alone. 

Disruptors are masters at surrounding themselves with the right network, the right organization, the right partners. “Successful leaders recruit people that are brilliant at what they suck at,” said David Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey. The pace of disruption is too fast and the complexity of the disruption is too high for one person to manage. Don’t attempt to capture; acquire. Easily said, easily understood, but how is it done? How do you find those people and convince them to join you and give the best of themselves? Besides the Dublin Guinness, my seven years at giant Procter & Gamble and a few months at the entrepreneurial The House of Marketing have led me to the answer: Culture.

Why spend calories on culture? Because culture is to people as product is to marketing – an amazing culture is what you need to attract stars. Dharmesh Shah, founder of Hubspot, agrees: “Perks are a lot less important than peers: It’s all about the people you work with – who then attract the best people.” Amazing people need a purpose beyond wage or company profit. It is as simple as that. What are commonalities in successful company cultures in the digitally disrupted age? Allow me to capture five:

  • Taking time for culture – they invest, chew and sweat on it. They challenge themselves to crystallize what is their very culture – the true, the honest, the essence of what their company stands for. They are not copying anyone, they are themselves – as that is the only culture that works. They grasped it and formulated it. And chewed and sweated on it a few more times.
  • Power to the talents – debates are won by the ones with the better arguments, not with the better job titles. “A CTO should be a Chief Talent Officer”, quoted Darren Huston of Only works in flat organizations you think? Not sure. Think of (quite hierarchical?) McKinsey’s ‘obligation to dissent’ – saying what you think is not optional, it is an obligation. Quite some power to the talents, no?
  • Transparency to all – successful disruptors don’t lock their organization out of the thinking on the company vision and strategy. They people involved – thus it becomes their vision and their strategy.
  • Recruit on culture not on style – a very small nuance, but a very important one. “Be together, not the same”, said Loraine Toolane – Google’s Global CMO. Be directive in your vision but not in the style of getting there. “Don’t write rules – just be fierce on what is absolutely wrong”, quotes Dharmesh Shah.
  • Re-organize only externally driven – be agile to re-organize your organization so as to be better adapted to the externally disrupted environment. It will be a true inspiration for your team to be more efficient and in sync with the external world. Limit re-organization driven by internal factors – they are energy draining and demotivating.