Processes make you more creative


[READ TIME: 5 mins] A great article by  Wade Foster from Zavier on the Hubspot blog called Why the Best Marketing Teams Embrace Process talked about the importance of process to marketing. The heart of the discussion is that marketing is more science than art. But the best marketing organisations combine both. The worst teams hope that their art will pull them through.

But process sounds boring, is limiting, adds inertia, kills creativity and is just not sexy. Marketing teams are agile, responsive, imaginative, visionary. They makes things happen. Process stops things happening. Which is why most marketing shuns process.

Whilst I will admit that overly restrictive processes can stifle an organization, having no process at all leads to chaotic inefficiency. There is a happy balance. In the last 16 years of running Nimbus, I have countless examples that show process in a new light. Even in highly compliant industries such as food and pharma, global companies have found processes actually made staff more responsive and creative.

Sounds counter intuitive? But process frees you having to worry about the boring, mundane standards, procedures and approach so you can focus on creativity. You really don’t want junior event staff going and recreating the approach for registering new delegates or the contracting for sponsors. You do want them to spend their time thinking about innovative ways to recruit new delegates or sponsors. Or ways to make the event more valuable for delegates, sponsors and exhibitors.

Huge ROI

But well defined processes also enable huge improvements in costs and efficiency and a reduction in risk. If a process is clearly documented then you can safely delegate to a more junior member of staff, reducing overall costs. You have a baseline, so you can get feedback during or after an event and identify process improvements which in turn reduces costs. And clearly defined processes reduces variance making events less risky.

How mature are you?

So there are a several levels of process maturity.  Actually the CMMI formally has 5 levels – see diagram below

  • Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 21.55.35Sadly most marketing teams are at Level 1; no processes formally defined.
  • Level 2 is that processes are formally agreed. This means that they need to be written down in enough detail that they can be followed by staff i.e. not the person who created it.
  • Level 3 is that the documented processes are read and used by staff to deliver an event.

However, I would like to make a distinction. Level 2 is relatively easy.You get the right people in a room with a facilitator, some decent process mapping software (hint: Visio does not qualify) and a credible approach. Within a few days you will have a well documented set of processes for running events; everything from capturing ideas through to post-event feedback.

Having a process defined, and having EVERYONE follow it are very different. Half the battle is getting an agreed process. Few if any marketing departments achieve that. That is Level 2. But an even greater challenge is getting all staff to follow it consistently; Level 3.  Achieving Level 3 depends on processes being documented in a way that mere mortals can read, understand and follow them. It also requires senior executive commitment to force staff to take processes seriously.

Finally having metrics tied to processes reinforces their importance (Level 4). In fact, processes will help you identify the correct process metrics. But this is a topic for another day. Most organizations measure what is easily measured, which is not necessarily the correct metric. Choose the wrong metric and you reward and reinforce the wrong behavior.

So easy to achieve

Deliver Qualified Lead is a self contained process. It has clearly defined boundaries. It has very clear process owners. It is SO EASY TO DOCUMENT. To document the lead gen process is probably NO MORE THAN 2 DAYS WORK.  Are you starting to sense my frustration yet. So why does no one do it? You can easily save those 2 days of work over the course of the next 3 months in saved mis-communication and misunderstanding between your team members and the 3rd parties you use.

Perhaps we need to create a “straw man” process that gets people started. However, there are risks with this approach. The best way to get people to use and internalize the processes, make them their own, and therefore follow them, is to make sure that they were involved in creating them.  If you simply give your staff some generic off the shelf processes then they are “some else’s” and “not mine”. The act of creating the processes, collectively in a workshop, is where the power lies.

What next?

You’re the marketing professionals. You tell me.  What do we need to do to start embedding process into your teams?