But We Did It This Way: Answers

Recap: CMO James Li and his entire team have reached their “we did it this way” limit in terms of Luther Crain’s suggestions—always based on the successes from his previous job. What could Li say to explain the situation without dampening Crain’s enthusiasm?

March Winner
Michael Smith, Marketing Designer, Tri-Win Direct
This is just a matter of telling Crain to phrase things differently.

Crain is good at his job—or he wouldn’t have been hired. Bringing experience [and] knowledge from his previous job is a good idea, but Crain just needs to explain the benefits of how he used to do things without saying, “This is how I did it before.” Instead of saying, “Birthday-triggered promotions are a good start, but at Jemson we did it this way…,” Crain should say something to the effect of, “Birthday-triggered promotions are a good start. Let’s add a personalized email and postcard to reach people through additional channels.” By simply changing his delivery, Crain gets to flaunt good ideas and experience, but no one will hear “we did it this way” ever again.

Other Responses
Jack LaRue, VP, Special Projects, Thomson Reuters
Li should schedule a meeting with Crain to review his first 90 days. He should get Crain’s assessment of how things are going: Does he recognize that he’s being isolated, and, if so, why? During this meeting, Li can reaffirm that he’s happy to have Crain on the Mercury team; however, he needs to remind Crain that he’s no longer working for Jemson. Li should let Crain know that his constant focus on the way Jemson did things is coming off as dismissive of his colleagues’ ideas. Li can reinforce that Crain can (and should) call upon his experience to make suggestions on how Mercury can improve its marketing efforts; but the fact that “we did it this way at Jemson” is irrelevant and is causing his colleagues to shut him out. Li should let Crain know that if he wants to ensure that his suggestions get the consideration they deserve, then he needs to show that he’s giving proper consideration to his peers’ suggestions. And when Crain makes a suggestion, he needs to stop referencing his prior employer and start explaining more of the rationale behind his suggestion and how it would specifically impact Mercury Flowers & Gifts.

Peter Mendelson, CMO, RaiseWorks
CMO James Li needs to immediately push back on Luther Crain. Status quo thinking is a cancer to any organization.

Instead, brainstorm new approaches with the caveat that no team member mentions anything they’ve done previously until the end of an ideation session. That way Crain stays motivated and the team feels empowered to think outside the box without negativity. This will build a culture of constant reinvention. Quickly, Crain should understand the process and be more forward-thinking—instead of being stuck looking in the rearview mirror.

Kevin McPherson, Industry Sector General Manager, Xerox
Li should explain to Crain that his experience is part of the reason that Li hired him; however, the way Crain communicates isn’t an effective way of getting the team onboard. Additionally, Li should let Crain know that he’s there to help him but that Crain needs to change his behavior because it’s alienating the team and isn’t delivering the results that Li requires.

James Zawicki, Marketing Communications Manager, Sartomer Americas
Li should thank Crain for his willingness to share with the Mercury team how Jemson approached certain marketing challenges. At the same time, Li should share with him that the team at Mercury takes pride in their own ideas and recommend that Crain keep that in mind prior to interjecting comparison marketing approach comments going forward. Some of Jemson’s past efforts could prove to be winners for Mercury, but that doesn’t mean that the past always needs to be referenced.

Lawrence A. Tillinger, Proprietor, SFLI
Li should say goodbye to Crain and wish him good luck in finding a new job as soon as possible.

Mark Pratter, Publisher, Bulletin Board
Li should tell Crain that he did great work at Jemson and that his experience is one of the reasons he hired Crain. But to continue his track record of excellence, Crain needs to look ahead rather than behind. Li should add that it’s important for everyone in the department to be onboard with Crain, so he needs to focus on the here, now, and future when speaking with them, rather than on the past.

Michael Johnson, Founder and Publisher, SalesDog.com
“Don’t tell people what to do, tell them who they are,” is the leadership rule Li should follow.

He should call Crain aside and begin the conversation with a recital of Crain’s strong points. Li should tell Crain that his professionalism and marketing knowledge were very important considerations in his hiring and that he’s certain that he will make an outstanding contribution to the team…. Li will now have Crain’s respect and, more important, his attention.

Then, Li should introduce the issue. He should speak as if sharing a confidence. However, this is not the time to sugarcoat. Tell it as it is, but without recrimination. Li should describe the situation dispassionately, as well as mention his own annoyance and the resentment of Crain’s coworkers. Mention that, as a creative person, he can certainly understand his coworkers’ resentments. Don’t tell him what to do.

Ideally, Crain will now have a new and heightened awareness of how others perceive him. He will make the desired changes, probably slowly, as he sees a gradual acceptance and respect from his coworkers.

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