Our daughter recently turned 16. She is smart, energetic, kind, and hilariously snarky — especially when responding to things I say, it seems. She is also blindly optimistic. Allow me to explain.

Along with everything else, a 16th birthday brings two words that can strike terror into the hearts of many parents: “driver’s permit.” Around the dinner table, the birthday girl was telling us how she was looking forward to getting her driver’s license so that, rather than having to rely on us to drive her into New York to see the latest show or concert, she and her friends would simply drive themselves. This is a young lady who is yet to sit behind the steering wheel of a car — you’ve got to love her confidence!

After politely pointing out that the rail service down the street was the preferred way for people (especially teenagers, once they are permitted) to go to New York City, we got into an insightful conversation about driving. We spoke (OK, I spoke while she rolled her eyes) about how driving is an exercise in safely integrating those things under your control (the car, hopefully) with those going on around you that are very much not under your control. In the case of driving in New York City, that is pretty much everything: lane-changing drivers, dawdling tourists, unstoppable cyclists, and bottomless potholes, among numerous other hazards. Even the most experienced drivers need to watch out for unexpected obstacles and be ready to adjust course or take mitigating actions.

The same principle applies for marketing leaders as they look to transform their organization’s operating model.

A client leader whom we are supporting as she leads a large-scale marketing transformation spoke of “speed bumps and brick walls” in the sense that, even with careful planning and the best of intentions, environmental factors can hinder even the most talented of teams from going as fast or as far as they might have hoped. There will always be elements of a transformational journey that depend on the cooperation and support of teams or individuals outside our immediate sphere of control. Forrester’s recent research report, Mitigating Risk When Transforming Your Marketing Operating Model, explains some of the challenges that marketing leaders may encounter and how to successfully navigate them.

While speed bumps and brick walls may differ in their impact, scope and complexity, they both tend to stem from a combination of issues related to accountability, governance, culture, or infrastructure in a marketing organization. Any of these factors will impact your stakeholders’ ability or willingness to adopt and support the new ways of working being introduced.

In general, unless driven by major technology or competency gaps, a stakeholder’s inability to support a new operating model can be overcome with relative ease — like a speed bump. It may slow you down, but once workflows have been clarified, operational gaps plugged, or enablement programs mobilized, you can get back underway.

By comparison, addressing a stakeholder’s unwillingness to support new ways of working can feel more like a brick wall. Entrenched resistance to change can reflect an underlying misalignment in objectives and motivations or cultural divisions between departments. Overcoming these kinds of challenges will be more complex and require more time or even a change of route. Rather than mere operational improvements within the control of the core transformation team, it will likely require a deeper level of alignment with your stakeholders on the reason for the journey and the path to be taken.

Having accompanied numerous B2B organizations on their transformational journeys, I have observed several common themes:

  1. Transformation teams spend most of their time and effort focused on their own driving — building and activating the right processes, approaches, and structures.
  2. They pay far less attention to how the other road users (their stakeholders) are going to behave — and consequently do not spend enough time anticipating and proactively mitigating implementation risks that might lead to a traffic jam or even a collision.
  3. Shortcuts are few and far between. Teams and, crucially, executives need to keep their eyes on the road and stay engaged for the entire journey — even if the journey takes longer than expected.
  4. Reaching the intended destination is the product of many small, interrelated inputs, each of which is required to get the best out of our own vehicle and safely navigate whatever obstacles we might encounter along the way.

Much like safe driving requires the coordinated actions of hands, feet, eyes, and ears, successful implementation of a new marketing operating model will call for an appropriate blend of:

  • Strategic goal-setting and ongoing measurement.
  • Process definition and governance.
  • Stakeholder enablement.
  • Leadership and communication.

Our report, Mitigating Risk When Transforming Your Marketing Operating Model, explores in more detail the factors that determine success and the impact they have on performance. It also offers prescriptive advice on how to structure, prioritize, and apply different approaches to help you navigate those transformational speed bumps and avoid the brick walls. As with those New York taxis, new obstacles can cut across your path at any time. By taking the right steps at the right time, you can prepare yourself to not only see them coming but to take the right actions to keep moving and stay on course.

Not yet a Forrester client? Explore our marketing organizational design resources, and for more on how we can help you work through your specific challenges, reach out to us.