Well it’s not quite like being a repeat host of Saturday Night Live BUT I’m delighted to have Sheryl Adkins-Green, CMO at Mary Kay back on TheDrewBlog. Our popular interview last year covered the gamut of Sheryl’s activities on behalf of Mary Kay including overall strategy, various campaigns and specific marketing tactics. This time Sheryl and I focused on “leading a culture of change” as it was also our topic for what turned out to be a vibrant panel at the recent CMO Club Summit in New York City.
As someone who has to marshal an independent army of 3.5 million beauty consultants around the world, Sheryl is well versed on the importance of a strong company culture noting “At Mary Kay, we like to say that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Recognizing at the same time that change is also an imperative for just about any growth company, Sheryl advises an “evolutionary vs. revolutionary” approach while never losing sight of the need to satisfy your customers. In Sheryl’s case, that meant finding an aspect of the culture that could be built upon in a nuanced fashion, making it at once recognizable yet fresh. This deft approach to driving organizational change is harder than it sounds and well worth a closer look.
Drew: A classic example of a cultural impasse is when marketing proposes a new positioning (like solution-centric versus feature-centric) and the sales team resists. As you’ve led an agenda that requires fresh thinking across the organization and maybe even fresh skill sets, how have you overcome the naysayers or those resistant to change?
People often resist change because they are not confident that they will be successful doing things “differently”. I believe that a successful change management strategy must provide the support and the tools that teams needs to feel confident and capable taking on new challenges.
Drew: Assuming you’ve identified a change in culture to be necessary for you to achieve your overall objectives AND that you’ve embarked on an internal program to get there, is culture change something that is measurable and if so, what are the key metrics for you and your organization?
At Mary Kay, we monitor and measure the key aspects of our culture via an annual employee engagement survey. Key opportunities are then assigned to cross functional action teams. Our culture is reinforced by a comprehensive, 3 day, New Employee Orientation program, led by the Executive team, that EVERYONE must attend. We also have a Culture Committee that promotes and “protects” the Mary Kay culture.
Drew: One could argue that your brand is in the hands of your independent beauty consultants–does this have an impact on your approach to driving change?
The Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultants actually ARE the Mary Kay brand. So yes, the Mary Kay brand is most definitely in their hands! In regards to change, that means first, changes must be evolutionary vs. revolutionary. Secondly, there must be clear and compelling reasons for change. Finally, key elements of the Mary Kay culture and values cannot change – these are the elements are fundamental to the relationship between the Mary Kay company and the Independent Sales Force.
Drew: “Culture trump strategy” is said a lot in the marketing world but do you really believe this is the case?
YES! At Mary Kay, we like to say that culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Culture connects employees to a company and its mission. This connection can make or break a strategic plan.
Drew: For CMOs new to their jobs, when should culture change become a priority? Is this something to tackle in the first 100 days?
The first 100 days in a new role should be devoted to understanding the current culture, the language of that culture, how things get done ( or not!) etc. As Stephen Covey advices in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.”
Drew: Can you provide 3 key things for CMOs to think about when approaching change, two that they must do and one that they should avoid?
- CMO’s need to keep the customer in the center of their agenda, not their career.
- Develop alliances with one or two C-suite team members, and make sure that they understand and support the change agenda
- Avoid pursuing any big initiative that does not clearly map back to the company’s stated priorities