Business Strategy

November 19, 2014

Why marketers must overcome the ‘Legacy effect’ to lead organisational change

By Richard No comments

There’s a damaging force affecting organisations today. All across the world, in businesses of all sizes, it lurks in corners, hovers around stationery cupboards and whispers around water machines. Employees go about their days, thinking up improvements and new, innovative ways of doing things, blissfully unaware until, just when they are least expecting it… bang! It pounces on them:

“we can’t do that – we’ve always done it this way” – the legacy effect.

If you’re lucky enough not to have experienced this or know what I’m talking about, this is how it goes: maybe you’ve just taken on a new role and want to make your mark in the organisation. Or perhaps you’ve just thought of a new way of doing something. You think about it, work it out, get it into a presentation to show what a great difference it’s going to make to your customers or your colleagues: a new process, product or technique that solves a problem. You start presenting it, getting buy-in and recruiting fellow believers to your cause until all of a sudden someone says this dreaded line to you.

The fact is we live and work in times where the pace of change is greater than it ever has been – and is only going to get faster. Anyone who has experienced change initiatives, such as Kotter’s eight step approach to change management, knows that desire to change is not always matched with the ability to change. Yet it is often a collective reluctance of individuals, based on the systems and processes of their roles, rather than an objective view of the business environment that prevents such change from occurring.

For marketers, dealing with change is not new news. But, turning an organization from an inward-focused, process-driven entity to an outward-focused, customer-delighting entity is becoming more and more important for marketing teams, as it has a direct impact on the effectiveness of their activity, by the performance of which they live or die in boardroom terms – it’s in their interest to effect this change, arguably more so than any other function. And this is difficult if the organisation’s internal culture is not agile enough to respond to evolving customer demands. As marketers become more aware of how connected their customers are, how fragmented and multi-dimensional those customers’ buying journeys are (see our take on the new lead funnel model which echoes customers’ increasingly fragmented buying journeys, the ‘Quantum Funnel’), and what is needed to adapt their organisations’ systems and processes to meet customer expectations, marketing’s role in creating customer-oriented cultures is crucial.

Most of us have experienced this first hand at some point. An organisation I once worked for was simply not capable of adapting its legacy systems to deal with changing customer expectations and demands. The result was that individuals who wanted change were unable to influence the will of those whose jobs relied on those legacy processes. In light of the enormous short term financial barriers and personal risks, management could not find a way to implement the change so badly needed. Cue low morale, frustration and poor financial performance.

Ultimately, change is inevitable. Customers today are using technology to completely control the buying process. Marketing teams understand this, so it’s essential that marketers keep championing the benefits of adapting systems, processes and cultures to create organisations that can deliver against customer expectations, to both surprise and delight them.