Unbound Edition. Meaningful conversations about brand, from Davis Brand Capital.

From the C-Suite to the Trenches: A New Kind of Job Search

I’m thinking of Jobs – not the big Steve variety – but the kind being discussed everywhere from Davos to Washington to the Main Street or kitchen table nearest you. The economists can debate how best to create jobs – my thoughts center primarily around how they are changing and how organizations are reading those changes from top to bottom.

Traveling around for the last month speaking with clients, I’ve found myself talking a lot about jobs.  As the horizontal challenges of a digitally layered, consumer-focused world become glaringly clear, the C-Suite is rethinking structures and roles in an effort to respond.  Generally speaking, they want to distribute work more efficiently, recruit new skillsets as necessary (or advised) and create cleaner organizational and operational systems.  As a result, there is a surfeit of restructuring memos flying around the corporate interwebs.

Leave the corner offices, however, and you’ll find that those in the trenches have a keen sense of (and some really provocative ideas about) what’s actually needed.  They describe the jobs they would like to create for themselves to help move their organizations forward as paradigms shift around them.

If only someone would listen.

In fact, those in the trenches often speak eloquently about functions, roles and responsibilities the need for which leadership doesn’t yet recognize.  These are not the crazy job titles born of the boom – things like Chief Idea officer, Chief Cheerleader and the like; these are real jobs meeting real, competitive needs emerging from the digital dust up. But here’s the rub – when the going is tough, the C-Suite and the trenches rarely meet.  So we have, in effect, a working communication gap between Those With Influence and Those With Knowledge

Those With Knowledge are aware at a visceral level how the workplace is changing, recognize the gaps that are opening up and the skillsets now required.  They have the ability to work effectively in the new environment even if they aren’t always articulate about it or about the larger organization.  But these folks (not always Millennials, mind you) frequently lack the clout to drive high-level conversation (let alone consensus) and spur institutional change. 

Those With Influence are able to drive institutional change.  But these folks a) may not have the knowledge of how things are changing b) may be uneasy about or afraid of that knowledge, or c) may have a vested interest in the status quo. Especially when they sit atop a corporate ladder it took them years to climb.

So who can effectively bridge between the knowledgeable and influential?

Grant McCracken argues there’s an institutional need for a Chief Culture Officer.  I agree.  And not only at the highest level of billion dollar companies.  While the jobs materializing post-recession are largely operational in nature, they require buy-in and dialogue with the C-Suite to be effective.  (See Comcast’s Frank Eliason as a case study.) The current HBR has an interesting piece on Rethinking Marketing — and how companies must radically reorganize around building relationships vs. building brands. While that’s a false dichotomy, the fact remains that shuffling jobs and extending responsibilities won’t address the need. Today’s marketplace demands a new hybrid profession, equally fluent in the boardroom and breakroom.

Two such jobs came up in recent hallway conversations:

First, everyone agrees that data sets are proliferating at an incredible rate.  You don’t need a CCO to tell you that. Who then will become the first Brand Manager of Brand Data – responsible not for measuring the results of various campaigns, but collecting relevant data across the organization and seeing in it opportunity for creative and innovative brand communication, utility and product development?  

Second, in an age of increasingly layered physical spaces (from theme parks to retail), who will coordinate software layers and physical spaces so that everything works in concert for maximum brand experience? Who will be named the first GM of the Soft Layer?

In the meantime, while Grant and others make the case for the CCO, if you are considering how to realign your organization post recession, I suggest meeting not only with your executive team, but also with your staff.  In times of rapid change, knowledge is embedded in your system.  Insights from the ground up may change top down thinking and reveal the new roles your organization must fill to lead in today’s marketplace.


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