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5 steps to designing a successful change management program

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Andrew Knott explains his guiding principles while leading organisational change inside NAB’s marketing team.

Andrew Knott thinks he’s been through some form of corporate restructuring every two years over his long and successful marketing career, which has included stints at NAB, McDonald’s and Salesforce.

If you think a major organisational upheaval every two years sounds excessive, the former NAB CMO has some bad news. Change cycles within marketing departments are only going to accelerate, he says, as roles and responsibilities evolve rapidly.

Given the chance, marketers should shun any kind of change management process, Knott says. “If you have a structure that’s aligning with your strategy, and it’s delivering, don’t change,” he told delegates at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum 2018, just before NAB announced he would be leaving the bank in July.

“When you do effect change – even if it’s well intentioned, even if it’s well communicated – it’s incredibly disruptive. You [also] lose a lot of momentum through that process.”

But if your organisational structure is unworkable, as Knott found when he agreed to lead NAB’s marketing team in 2015, he followed five simple guiding principles that helped design the complex change management process.

1. Have ambition

Knott said NAB’s marketing team produced work that often delivers a business impact but doesn’t get the kudos it deserves. “We have the luxury of fairly sizeable budgets and big teams with very capable marketers,” he said. “As a top-five ASX company, we shouldn’t be doing good marketing – we should be doing exceptional marketing.

“When we went through the change process, we set ourselves a goal. We wanted to do work that is recognised as being world class. We wanted world-class partners working with us, and we wanted to measure the impact of what we do.”

2. Do it yourself

Knott’s strongest recommendation for a marketing leader embarking on change is to try to handle the process yourself. “I fundamentally believe the best way to build a well-performing marketing organisation is to get high-performing marketers to design and build it,” he said. “That’s what we did.”

Knott said that he embarked on a 10-week design exercise involving mid-level members of his marketing team. He sat down with them for three hours every Friday to go through proposed organisational design changes. Eventually, they came to a structure they thought made sense.

“This absolutely delivered something we could believe in,” Knott said. “It wasn’t something handed to us that we would enact. It was something we designed ourselves and therefore we were far more prepared to put our shoulders to the wheel to deliver the outcome.” This approach, he said, also provided greater team buy-in.

“I know this sounds simple because I have a large organisation and we have substantial budgets, but at the same time we [continued to] have huge pressures from our stakeholders and a real expectation that we [would] deliver. My fundamental belief is that irrespective of what organisation you operate in, set the benchmark high, get the right people in the room to design it, and then really focus on how you can deliver it.”

3. Win the war on talent

“I can’t think of anything more important than getting this one right,” Knott said. “When I went through my structure, my underlying imperative was to get marketing people in marketing roles. As I looked at my general manager layer, and the number moved from five to six, I wanted to make sure we got exceptional marketing talent into the team because I believe with great marketers you deliver great marketing outcomes.”

“It’s about getting the right people in the right roles, supporting them, stretching them, providing the air cover … and then getting out of their way.”

Knott said it was also crucial at this stage to define the company’s unique selling point – why would anyone want to join NAB? “The process of getting talent in is as much about selling them on the potential as it is on interviewing them and working out if they would fit and deliver value to your organisation.

“The best people aren’t just sitting around waiting for a job – they’re doing something already. You have to give them a reason to change.”

The flipside of this, Knott said, is that some excellent people will leave as roles and responsibilities change. “The majority of people in my organisation will not finish their careers at NAB,” Knott said. “If I can give them the stepping stone and build capability over time, so they can go on to build better careers both within NAB and externally, then we’ve done the right thing.”

4. Don’t compromise

Knott admitted there were times during the process when he wondered if he was doing the right thing. “I had four of my six general manager roles vacant … and I was carrying a huge amount of the load myself,” Knott said.

“The temptation to go for ‘OK’ or the ‘next best’ was certainly there, but I knew that wouldn’t pay off in the mid to long term. By holding the line, I got the best talent and real diversity throughout my team – diversity of gender, experience, behaviour, thinking – and it’s starting to deliver now.”

5. Execute excellently

Knott has a favourite saying he adapted from a McDonald’s management mantra: “80 per cent right and moving is a hell of a lot better than 100 per cent right and thinking about it”. He knew NAB would never start with the perfect structure, but the goal was to get going and iterate where necessary.

“We will never have the optimum structure fully populated with the best people, but if were still thinking about it we wouldn’t be winning,” he said. “I’d rather get out there and start doing. We’ll make mistakes – and we have – but it’s how we’ve learnt.”

Once Knott and his design team were satisfied they had followed these simple guidelines, it was up to senior managers to “lead and land” the necessary changes. But there is one crucial element, Knott said, that enables successful change to take root over the longer term. “It’s about getting the right people in the right roles, supporting them, stretching them, providing the air cover … and then getting out of their way.”

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Further reading: Power to our people – Andrew Knott profile

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