“How is it you seem to be the only one around here who ever gets anything done?”
It was the greatest compliment I ever received in the corporate world and it came from a colleague at IBM. This was a place where processes were Byzantine and opaque. Meetings were held to set the agenda for future meetings and no one was willing to make a decision by themselves. I used to describe it as the United Nations Security Council system – everyone had a vote, but anyone could veto an idea no matter how valid. It was amazing, yet somehow I found ways to get projects completed on time, within budget and without the roadblocks everyone else seemed to hit.
Side note: When I was there Lou Gerstner made his now famous comment about IBM: “We don’t launch products, they escape!”– to paraphrase.
How did I do this? In the conventional place that is IBM, I chose an unconventional route to make the system work, just not exactly the way it was designed to work. I talked to people outside of meetings, walked down the hall to their office to have a discussion – got to know their boss if necessary. Often I went out of my way to make their life easier, or made decisions (and took the heat for them) that they were otherwise hesitant to make. It was the old Tom Peters’ “Management by Walking Around,” which is frighteningly rare in most places I’ve worked but holy crap is it effective. Ten minutes of walking and talking plus another five to write a summary email after the F2F chat and I would often cut weeks off of a schedule or project. By the time the next group meeting rolled around, checking things off the project plan were a formality rather than a point for further discussion.
That was how I was the only one in our group at IBM who seemed to get anything done!
Being the person called on to “Get Shit Done” seems to be a theme throughout my career. Here are some of the challenges I have been asked to tackle. Ask me what I did to creatively address each of them.
Coca-Cola (pre Internet) – “We need a better way than sending film to get graphics files to our global offices. You know computers, help!”
Duff-Norton – “We just fired the agency that we outsourced all of our marketing communications to for the past 30 years. Come help us bring it back in-house ASAP!”
IBM – See example above
Home Director – “You got it done within IBM. Come make it happen here.”
SAS Institute – “We just spent a billion dollars to redesign our entire product line. We have a firm launch date that’s four months away, but no messaging, positioning, or other core marketing attributes. You’re new here. Make it happen!”
Nortel – “We’re in chapter 11 bankruptcy and just announced that we’re liquidating our assets, but we still need the Enterprise business to grow. The healthcare vertical has the greatest potential impact on the business, but has no marketing support materials or core messaging. Go!”
Siemens – “Ok, so we screwed up when we eliminated our Marcom group. Come help make it all better. Good luck!” (They failed to mention that there are corporate landmines everywhere. Oh, and sales and marketing had an unpredictable Love/Hate relationship.)
Is it crazy to say that I enjoyed almost every one of those situations? Maybe, but I have found them all to be intellectually stimulating and professionally rewarding. Have they made me a better marketer? Absolutely! Have they also given me a unique and varied perspective on getting shit done? You bet.
They have also given me a level of confidence in my ability to nurture complex marketing programs and campaigns despite the situations under which they are being developed and launched. If I can do it for all of these companies, I’m sure I can do it for almost any company.