The relationship between the Chief Marketing Officer and the Chief Executive Officer has never been more important, especially as we enter the high-stakes year of 2021.
Why is this a high-stakes year?
With so many companies shuttered, or struggling alongside the road, there is opportunity in the air, especially for well-financed companies with a solid, strategic marketing plan. Such small businesses may be poised to disrupt entire industries with a new technology. Others may simply be eyeing significant new market share. Regardless, now is the time for small business owners and entrepreneurs to take advantage of future opportunities with the help of their marketing leader.
I believe the primary focus of that marketing effort in 2021 should be on creative strategies that leverage technology and the innate desire that customers have to help other customers, all while keeping a focus on the always-important customer acquisition cost. This might involve retooling your website to focus on lucrative niches or building engaging webinar campaigns.
As for that innate desire, what I have found in my years as a serial entrepreneur is that customers not only want incentives for themselves, but also their friends. In such scenarios, everybody wins.
Regarding costs, the plan needs to deliver a measurable ROI out of the gate, while leaving room to navigate changing consumer behavior and opportunity in the unpredictable 2021 climate.
But while the bottom line is important, this must be carefully weighed against the opportunities. What I have noticed in the short time we have been in a pandemic is that people become ultra conservative. There will also be a hangover effect with this, where it will take a while before small business owners and their marketing teams get into the passing lane again.
This fear is very natural. Many entrepreneurs and marketers are not sure how to cope with it. And that fear is compounded by the isolation and the fact that we are not able to collaborate as much in person as we used to.
Move through these challenges, however, and engage your CMO or marketing team. Your company will be richly rewarded. Now is not that time to pull back. It is time to grow!
I saw a drawing circulating the internet recently that showed a line of sled dogs. There was an arrow pointing to the person at the back of the pack with the word “leadership” next to it. It’s not exactly a new idea—that leaders steer their teams while letting them take the lead. And yet, every time I hear that idea, I take issue with it.
It’s not that it’s inherently wrong. Leaders do need to let their team members take the lead, but I disagree with the placement of the leader in these scenarios. Great leaders are not separated from the team, standing in the back on a sled. They run along with them.
When I picture leadership, I prefer to imagine a flock of geese. Geese fly in a V-formation with one bird at the front, taking on the most wind resistance and making the flight easier for all the birds behind it. When the lead goose gets tired, it falls back in the group and allows another to take its place.
This is exactly how I view leadership.
At the start of any new idea, I am the first on the team to take off, and I do everything I can to remove any resistance and obstacles in the way. Once that idea is ready, I’ll hand the lead over to someone else and fall back to a supportive role. Finding myself in a less strenuous position, I’m better able to scan the skies for new ideas and may break off with a few others to head in a new direction, allowing the first group to continue on without my direct involvement. And once the next new idea is up and running, I’ll do the same thing again.
It’s an idea that relies on continuously replacing myself. Rather than sitting atop a sled and steering a growing group, this way of viewing leadership puts the onus on the leader to be an active part of the team—to recognize the outsized effort they’ll need to exert in order to get new ideas started. I have found that most business owners have no problem with the added exertion. Where most of us struggle is in allowing someone else to take the lead and retreating to a secondary position. We don’t want to replace ourselves, in other words.
When this happens, two things are sacrificed: well-being and growth. When leaders insist on staying deeply involved in every area of the business, they run the risk of spreading themselves too thin. The reason geese fly in a V-formation and switch positions is to travel farther. If you stay in the lead, you won’t make it as far. Not allowing yourself the time or bandwidth to look for and implement new ideas stifles growth.
You may also miss out on allowing someone with more knowledge than you to take an idea and run with it, stifling your company’s growth in a different way.
Among technology startups, non-compete agreements are a staple.
Without them, sales professionals might more easily take their book of business to a rival for a better salary. The same goes for technologists, who are privy to a company’s intellectual property.
These are “grip and rip” scenarios, which point to the value of such agreements. Someone is trying to do harm to your business. You need protections.
This is different from someone who is simply trying to get paid what they are worth. Companies should never be able to imprison an employee so that they must stay with them.
Given my philosophy on this, recent research out of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at The University of Maryland recently caught my attention. There, four research papers are set to be published in top journals, co-authored by management professor Evan Starr, who addressed the debate over whether non-compete agreements help or hurt employees. Professor Star’s conclusion: Non-competes stifle workers.
In “Non-Compete Agreements in the U.S. Labor Force” in the Journal of Law and Economics, Starr presents the most sweeping work in what represents the first systematic investigation of non-competes in the United States. In it, he studies a nationally representative sample, looking at all sorts of workers.
One of the key findings: Non-competes are found even among low-wage workers.
“There have been anecdotes of that fact, but this is the first systematic evidence,” Starr says. “This is shocking, because when you think about non-competes, you think about tech workers and executives—you’re not thinking about doggie-daycare sitters or hairstylists or yoga instructors, but that’s the modal worker that’s bound by a non-compete. Our paper launches from that fact, and the key question for policymakers is whether this a good or a bad thing.”
Starr concludes they are bad, which I agree with, except in specific circumstances.
“The argument for why they are bad is pretty clear,” Starr says. “Take the case of the low-wage worker, earning $12 an hour, who gets a better offer at a competitor to make $15 an hour. A non-compete could prevent them from making those sorts of moves that are going to enhance their social and economic mobility.”
Collectively, Starr’s papers show that workers do better without non-compete agreements. The same can be said for companies.
Firms may be less profitable if they have to pay workers more, according to Starr. But there is definitely a benefit for them, too. Without so many non-competes, firms have better access to the labor pool and can hire the workers they want to hire, including those from a competitor.
Small businesses are built on trust. While in some cases, for some positions, non-competes may be necessary, we need to move away from the idea that they are standard practice.
“It’s not really a firm versus worker issue,” Starr says. “It could be a win for both workers and firms.”