Recently, I’ve been watching a new American political drama called Scandal. The show is about a team of professional “fixers” – Pope & Associates – who eat, sleep, live and breathe crisis. It’s fascinating to follow each of the intriguing situations the team has to solve.
Even more interesting for me has been the dynamics of the team – all bringing a specific functional skill to the table, resulting in a very effective group of people who manage reputations and solve problems. Some of the team members of Pope & Associates have law background; others are investigators and media experts (they even have their own hacker with a CIA past).
Beyond enjoying the twists and turns of the plot, the show has also made me think about integration.
Integration has been a buzz word in the communications field for some time. Everyone has been talking (rightly) about the importance of integrating communication disciplines like marketing, PR, public affairs and digital to successfully manage the challenges of today’s fast-paced world. In the corporate environment, integration has been discussed alongside innovation in a CEO’s quest for business growth.
But in this blog, I want to go beyond the communications field and operational integration of units, functions and sites of large organisations.
I’d like to talk about ad hoc integration of flexible teams that come together from different business departments or markets with the sole purpose of solving a business, operational or reputational problem – a.k.a. Pope & Associates style.
The field Sermelo is in – reputation management – is an area where integration, such as this, already takes place, and is greatly beneficial. When a crisis occurs, a well-prepared organisation will bring together a team of previously assigned representatives from legal, communications, government affairs, operations and management departments to make sure its reputation is protected.
But how about creating a cross functional, flexible culture where teams work like that all the time to solve ongoing issues and challenges? For example, have a team from research, marketing and operations, working together to use available data to customise supply chain to customer demand? Or a team from research, government affairs, legal, management and communications to outline upcoming issues and build targeted stakeholder engagement outreach to manage them (a practice that is done by certain companies, but is definitely not common place in businesses).
Forward-looking companies that realise we live in a world of constant change and want to stay ahead of the times are probably already implementing this type of culture and approach to doing business. And it must be a hard, challenging thing to do. It requires a lot of perseverance, dedication and most of all consistent leadership from the management team and employees alike.
Every effort, no matter how big, however, always has a beginning and below are my thoughts on three easy steps organisations can take to move into the world of flexible, purpose-lead integration.
Make it manageable
If you are a company like Google or Hewlett-Packard, you are probably already leading the way when it comes to IT integration, and providing the tools and structures for collaborative innovation across departments and markets. If you are not, this step is still relevant (although at some point you will need to still think about building an integrated platform of processes and systems to help employees share experience, and expertise, regardless of their function or market affiliation).
The first step is to start small. In marketing, for example, conducting experiments often helps to quickly and cheaply look into a particular issue or question. Take the same approach – identify a big business issue that you want solved; assign a team of people across departments and markets to work on it; and leave them to it, per an agreed timeline and deliverables.
Make KPIs and professional development flexible
Of course, the team that you’ve put together will need to be shown that what they are doing is important and beneficial for them, as well as the company. One way to build motivation around taking part in this team is to align KPIs to this flexible integration approach, as well as ensure that the right people are matched to the right projects, focusing on their strengths and professional development goals.
Make it visible
Celebrate achievements and make sure that everyone in the organisation is aware of the team’s successes and the value they provide to the company. Beyond communications, make this initiative more about their individual development, rather than just about adding one more thing to their ‘to-do’ list. Provide customised training, specific to the issue at hand, to build confidence in the team and ensure their success. Support them with the right technologies, tools and space to make collaboration easy and fun. Learn from their experience working together, and make them ambassadors for the flexible integration approach. Show them the results of their efforts in as visible way as possible. They need to know the level of impact that their hard work and collaboration have on the business and their co-workers.
Creating flexible, purpose-led integration across a global organisation is definitely a challenging prospect. But the benefits that companies can reap from it, in today’s environment, can be enormous. Building a “Pope & Associates”- culture and approach does not only need to be confined to fiction or stay within the realm of specialty agencies. With small steps, leadership and perseverance, it can become a reality for any forward-looking business that wants to stay ahead of change.