Marketing Shoes

For the past 90 days I have been learning to tie the laces in my new shoes.

Just shy of two years ago I began doing freelance design work for our Church in my spare time. Until last fall, when I was hired on as a full-time designer (read: less pay per job, but more jobs). Then, last April, I was asked to take over and be the new Head Cheese of the Marketing Department.

For starters, I don’t like the name “Marketing Department”. It feels like an outdated name, still given to describe broken and uninventive design teams all across the country.

I think “Invitation Department” would be more fitting, but truth be told, I don’t very much like the word “department”. It sounds too corporate and hemmed in for the work and mission we have before us.

Perhaps we are the Marketing Department according to the Org Chart, but if you were to hang out in our office for a few days you would see we don’t operate like a department; rather, a team.

So Invitation Team? Um, no.

Creative Ingenuity and Design Division? Closer. But still no.

My mind is blank. Suggestions are welcome. Moving on now…

There are a lot of other issues I’ve had to stare at, beyond just who we are. As a designer I’m used to problem solving; that’s much of what design is: problem solving. But as head of design and marketing, I have a much different problem to solve.

Instead of figuring out how to take my client’s needs and turn them into graphical solutions built on scratch paper and Photoshop art-boards, I am figuring out how to take a national ministry’s needs and turn them into solutions built on workflow, teamwork, creativity, productivity and budgets.

Hold on, though…

…because even before that happens; before I can solve any solutions — before we can soar as a design and advertising team — I have to first fix the department.

Right now we are broken. We are an 8-ounce, garage-sale-find, coffee mug being asked to hold 5 gallons of Aquafina. We need to grow. We need to scale; and we cannot lose one ounce of our strength or surrender one drop of quality in the process.

Therefore I have been having near-daily conversations with my white board. I have been attempting to put my thoughts into colored scribbles, and from there trying to find (and give) clarity through motivational speeches (and more white board scribbling) at our staff meetings.

Currently our problem with growth isn’t so much man-power, as it is infrastructure, work-flow and focus in the office.

If the problem was man-power it would be a simple solution: hire more designers. But I already have the designers. The solution I need won’t be found through addition.

I believe the human sprit wants – and even needs – to be challenged and given hard-to-reach goals. I also believe that put in the wrong environment day after day, that same human spirit will forget about its ability to imagine and grow.

How then does an office draw the line between focusing on the task at hand, and friendship amongst co-workers? How do you weigh the balance of creativity and productivity while on the clock?

How do you uphold strong expectations and enhance the creative process without micro-managing?

Apple’s corporate environment has one key to the answer. During my interview with Daniel Jalkut a few months ago he said something that I have thought about near daily ever since:

…when I look at software, I look at it through this ambitious, striving for perfection type of lens that I picked up from Apple. And I hasten to add that I don’t think my products are by any means perfect. It’s the thing about perfection. It’s really hard, probably impossible. But what Apple does is strive for it anyway, even if it’s impossible. I came to respect that attitude very much, to the point that I can no longer relate to people who don’t share that view.

Apple has established a culture in their office of hard work and pursuit of excellence. How did they get there?

A culture like that doesn’t emerge from rules and motivational phrases printed out and posted in the bathroom. It comes about by example. It has to.

Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, outlines that the first building block for breakthrough and momentum in a company is what he calls “Level 5 Leadership”.

That doesn’t just mean the boss is really smart and organized. It means that sprinkled all throughout the company are “the right people”. Folks that are motivated, lead by example, and want to grow.

Having the right person doing the right job is contagious. The wrong people will either rise to excellence and become the right people or else they will quit.

The good news for me is that my office was already mostly full of the right people; they just didn’t know it. Which is why I have spent the last 90 days trying to empower and embolden my “right people”, so they and I can lead the rest of the team by example.

What is the best way to empower someone? With boundaries.

Tell them what their job is, hold them accountable to it, and don’t let emotion get in the way. After a few awkward bumps they will become a better employee and a happier person.

Happy people do amazing work. Empowered people own their job. Emboldened people take initiatives and find new answers. And with a team like that, problems stop being problems and they start being challenges waiting to be annihilated.

Marketing Shoes