Oracle CMO Ariel Kelman on driving transformational change in large marketing organisations

Kelman has experience in changing marketing culture at Salesforce, Amazon Web Services and now Oracle, where he has been asked to “reinvent the function of marketing at a 43 year old, $40bn+ a year, technology company” and to “transition from product to solution selling in marketing.”

He breaks down the process of driving transformation change into three parts – ‘setting yourself up for success’, ‘making change happen’ and ‘getting change to stick’.

1. Setting yourself up for success

There were four main points shared by Kelman on setting yourself up for success, the first of which he said “may sound like an obvious one”:

Executive sponsorship

“What I found,” says Kelman, “is you really need to have an explicit… conversation with executive sponsors.”

The Oracle CMO advocates making sponsors aware of the details, saying it’s important to have a difficult conversation up front to make them aware of complaints they may hear and ask whether they want to go ahead. Kelman colourfully described this approach as “induced vomiting up front”, adding it is, “way better than to have that happen later and undermine your project”. Transparency with sponsors is key, he argues.

Uncompromising attitude

Be “absolutely uncompromising on end vision of where you want to get to, and the big picture of what changes.” But, Kelman adds, “be flexible on the details of how you get there… Every company’s culture is a little bit different, and how you drive change will be different.”

Clarity of purpose

“Define for yourself clear success or clear failure as the only two options,” says Kelman, who is very bullish on this point. He adds, “I can’t think of anything worse to be involved with than to be asked to drive a big change project in an organisation and then to have an end result of ‘yeah kinda changed, kinda different’…”

Being passionate about the purpose and the benefits of change are critical. The alternative to clear success? Kelman suggests “maybe that’s not the right place for you to work any more”.

Recruit the best from your network

“You’re going to need a village of people to help you go drive this,” says Kelman, and goes as far as to outline recruitment from your external network as a test for whether this project is the right one for you.

“You need to be so positive and optimistic and excited about this change initiative that your would feel comfortable recruiting the best people from your network outside the company to join you. if you’re not passionate enough to do that, that’s probably a test to tell you there’s something not right about the project or maybe you’re not right as the person to drive it.”

2. Making change happen
Clearly define the future state

“Here’s what we’re going to do different, here’s why it’s worth it…”. Kelman says marketing leaders need to “evangelise the outcome” when leading change.

“Explain the outcome,” he says, “walk through the details, what’s going to work and not.”

Brutally prioritising

Kelman admits can change agents “can get sucked into details that are materially not consequential for the change.” “It’s okay to let those go,” he says.

Establish cultural values

Telling people how you are going to work is important and Kelman outlines three cultural values of import. Firstly, attention to detail. “Leaders need to be intimate with the details of what their team is doing,” says Kelman.

Next, no tolerance of ‘yes men’. “Everyone needs to speak up and push back on executives.” And lastly, to that end, Kelman advises marketers to “embrace escalation”. He warns about infighting and says, “the minute you’re at an impasse, immediately bring in the execs above you to go and resolve that problem quickly,” opining that this kind of issue is the “quickest way to lose speed”.

Putting the right people in the right roles

Here Kelman states that if there’s “something important and difficult that needs to be done – that needs to be a full time job.”

Clearly define ownership and accountability

“Try to avoid overlapping responsibility.”

3. Getting change to stick

This part of the process was summed up in just two key words by Kelman – transparency and mechanisms.

“If you don’t have a mechanism to track what is happening, you don’t know.” Here Kelman uses his example of moving from product selling to solution selling, saying that within a Salesforce automation, solutions need to be added to each opportunity, to “build that view into the pipeline tracking mechanism.”

Effective Leadership in the Digital Age

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