Growing from Within

November 16, 2018

By Chuck Kapelke

Training and development are essential to building a modern marketing organization

As the list of demands placed on marketers keeps growing, marketing leaders have to make sure their teams are up to speed in all aspects of their business. That was one of the key insights that emerged from ANA magazine's recent article on the "CMO of the Future," for which the ANA interviewed marketing leaders from different industries.

Consider the example of Mastercard's "Project Sunrise," which centered largely on building marketers' capacities in areas like finance and data science. "We took a look at all our internal employees and we said, 'Do these people have the skills that we say are necessary for the future?'" explains Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard and president of its health care business.

"We decided that we would institute an extraordinary level of training for our people," he continues. "We created 23 digital marketing modules where people can study at their own pace and go through their own certification process. We introduced Finance 101 and Payments 101. We sent people to Yale to study behavioral economics. We also put in place job rotations so people go through multiple areas so they become well-rounded, not only in marketing and communications but also in other aspects of running a company. We have started to get external speakers to come talk to our people, whether they are cutting-edge CMOs from other companies, or from industry or academia."

As important as professional development is, experts warn that companies often make the mistake of underinvesting in the planning and monitoring necessary for training to succeed. "Most training goes down the toilet," says Harold Stolovitch, co-author of Telling Ain't Training and emeritus professor of workplace learning and performance at the Université de Montréal. "If you look at the research, the application back on the job is very limited. I've seen many organizations that spend millions of dollars on 'upgrading' their key people, but they do virtually nothing to see what other things are required, like asking whether the expectations are clearly defined. What are we missing? What are the opportunities that lie ahead that we're not positioned to seize, and what are the things we need to fill the gaps?"

Whether thinking about basic online learning or a full-blown job rotation program, here are a few tips to help marketing leaders get the most out of their training and professional development programs.


Have the End Goal in Mind

Companies often make the mistake of launching into training without thinking enough about what they want to accomplish, experts say. "People fall into this trap of delivering training for the sake of training, without really having a clear northern light to focus on," says Jeff Miller, AVP of learning and organizational effectiveness at Cornerstone, a learning management software platform. "If you're developing training for people in marketing, be really clear in asking, 'What are the key skills and knowledge points that my team really has to know so we will be able to guide the business in the future?'"

Also, be sure to get the right people at the table early on and gain consensus on the goals of training. "If your intent is to build the knowledge base in understanding current trends in the Asia Pacific market, that's very different from wanting to level-set everybody with a fundamental understanding of public relations so that there's a common language," Miller says. "It's easy to go down rabbit holes. I encourage people to look as far out as they can — whether it's one year or 10 years — and start to identify what success would look like at a certain point in time down the road. Then reverse-engineer to develop the training and experiences to meet that goal."


Make It Personal and Relevant

Just as marketers segment customers based on their personal characteristics and preferences, managers who lead a training initiative should custom-tailor end users' experience as much as possible — whether by job role, learning style, or other factors. "You need to narrow the offerings to make them relevant for the role," Stolovich says. "You need to modularize it and tailor it to groups and sub-groups and individuals. It requires very careful and thoughtful planning and organization."

Training can be delivered in a variety of formats, including in-person, online, or through more experiential and relationship-based opportunities, like job sharing and mentorships. The trick is to find out what works best for delivering the outcomes you are hoping to achieve. Bear in mind, however, that dull, lecture-based training is usually not as effective as training designed to engage people as active participants. "There is no point in telling people stuff," Stolovitch says. "You've got to get them actively involved and engaged."

Job shadowing, job rotations, and mentorship programs are a good way to introduce people to different aspects of the business, but before launching one of these programs, be sure to get buy-in from senior executives and make sure the participants (both mentor and mentee) receive ample preparation, Stolovitch says. "To make a job rotation effective, people have got to be well briefed beforehand. They've got to be given time to get up to survival speed," he adds. "Once they're on the job, they need coaching and mentoring, and they need support systems and feedback."

If your company is not quite ready for something as extensive as job rotations, consider organizing casual lunch-and-learns (or "brown bag" trainings) where people from different job units come in and talk to the marketing team about their work over lunch. Online platforms, too, can provide opportunities for people to share: the Cornerstone learning management system, for example, includes a "playlist" feature that allows people to follow each other's online training journeys.

Experiential training can also have a greater impact if people are encouraged to share their experiences. "If you're going to have marketing people go off and do job rotations or work with finance and sales, that becomes a unique opportunity to use that experience not just for the marketing team, but to do something useful that can benefit the company as a whole," Miller says.


Start Small, but Think Big

Just as marketers might pilot a marketing campaign, consider developing a small-scale version of the company's training platform to test what works and what doesn't. "Always smart small, and don't be afraid of making a lot of mistakes early before you roll the program out to a larger audience," Miller says.

It's also crucial to set up systems for tracking progress. Most online training systems have built-in management tools for tracking participation, but it's also possible to track "softer" learning. "If you have monthly check-ins, you can say, 'Are we moving the needle in the right direction? Should we continue this or not?'" Miller says. "The best way you're going to get learning adopted is to demonstrate it from the top that learning is important. If you can build that learning culture, then that's going to permeate."

Indeed, the most effective training organizations have "cultures of learning," where people are not only empowered to learn themselves but given tools to share what they learn with each other. With digital technologies, people today can share their insights and knowledge with coworkers around the world. Such initiatives can also provide great fodder for marketing.

Miller points to the example of Chico, a California-based brewing company, which created a competition through which employees put together short video pitches for a new beer. The videos, which showcased people's knowledge of how beer is made, were shared widely throughout the company and became a valuable training tool for beer education.


Freelance writer Chuck Kapelke is a regular contributor to ANA Newsstand.

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