News & Views

Opinion / Marketing and HR: Can We Be More Than Just Friends?

by Dan Southern

Melissa Andrada, founder of Qlue, a people, culture and learning consultancy, and Dan Southern, senior strategist at Contagious Insider, on how two important teams should be bringing out the best in each other in 2016 and beyond.

Imagine you’re the CEO of a tech start-up at the brink of major scale, quickly moving from 15 people to 100. Your two major challenges? Attracting great people and customers. You need to make your next strategic leadership hire. Who do you bring on? A CMO? A Head of HR?

What if you considered hiring a people-focused leader to drive both marketing and HR?

They may seem like an unlikely match. However, at their best marketing and HR should both connect to people through powerful creative communication and experiences. While there’s no shortage of calls for the two to draw on their shared skills and work together more closely, it’s not always clear what the upside might be or how to get started.

So let’s start by saying this: Growing your customers should start with growing your people.

Bringing the best out of each other

Businesses thrive when you start with people, what they need and are most passionate about. Businesses also thrive when when you build purpose-driven cultures that nurture people - both employees and customers - to live their full potential.

Marketing and HR should play fundamental strategic roles in shaping cultures that attract, retain and grow employees and customers. But it’s not always the case.

At its worst, marketing acts as an arbiter of noise, pushing things people don’t need: superficial, selfish, non-strategic. Likewise, HR act as gatekeepers of compliance, delivering the paperwork and processes that few want to do: dull, restrictive, unimaginative.

But at their most open and empowered HR and marketing help people grow; meaningfully and deeply. And when at their best they should find ways to work together.

Somethin’s in the way (but there is an answer)

We've heard it before, most businesses are siloed. And that includes HR and marketing. How can we break down the barriers? Business leaders have a huge opportunity to build new, more collaborative organisational structures that can create what the world actually needs, using these two disciplines as the driving force. You could opt to make the people-focused hire outlined above. Or you could also simply find new moments to bring the two teams closer.

Here's five ways we believe businesses can get started:

1. Live the big picture /

Organise a morning workshop to unpack the business strategy for marketing and HR facilitated by someone on your senior leadership team. Explore these questions together:

  • What are three shared priorities for this year?
  • What obstacles do we face to achieve these? How can we resolve them together?
  • What people, tools and resources can we share? How can we build on our processes?
  • How will we tangibly measure our success?  
  • How can we build our culture to grow our talent and customers?
  • How can we use what we learn from customers to fuel employee learning and development?
  • And how we can use what we hear from employees to build greater experiences for customers?

2. On the same team /

Create a new team that brings together marketing and HR. It could simply be called ‘People and Community’. A job description might look something like this:

“We’re looking for someone who cares deeply about people.

An empathetic strategic leader who can help us grow our employees and customers.

Someone who constantly asks, “What’s your biggest challenge? How can I help?”

A listener, a storyteller, a teacher, a maker who is comfortable moving across disciplines.

Creating inspiring and instantly useful content and experiences to drive growth."

3. Share stuff /

Create shared tools and rituals; weekly lunch-and-learns, an email listserv and a Slack group.

4. Get people - all people /

Set up a PRM (People Relationship Manager) that enables you to understand your employees and customers more deeply  - their journeys, their dreams, needs and paint points. Actively listen to them through every means possible -- over coffee, over email, through analytics.

5. Make useful things together /

Based on what you think customers and employees need, kickstart a project or initiative to collaborate on together. This could be an internal and external learning programme, like Curve from the creative consultancy Wolff Olins, with shared content. Or, a social initiative, like OpenIDEO, that attracts talent and reaches new customers.

Here’s why we know it works

We wanted to shared two case stories based on our own experiences of bringing disciplines together to grow people and customers.

Wolff Olins: Growing people inside and out / The best work comes through cross collaboration. Curve was born from a need to grow colleagues and clients at scale. As one of the kickstarters of this programme, Melissa worked across the strategy, marketing and design teams to transform over 50 years of existing thinking and tools into learning experiences, on things like workshopping and storytelling for action. It wasn't easy but here’s the key learnings from helping build this initiative from the ground up:

  • Get all the key stakeholders together in the room as quickly as possible
  • Schedule bi-monthly check in with senior leadership, with a primary sponsor who is more hands-on
  • Know that embedding new programmes takes time. Focus on making one product or one experience right at a time

Contagious Insider: Marketing Insights fuel internal development / Contagious Insider has shown a major CPG group how the forward thinking marketing processes and customer insights can fuel innovation across the business. Working with Mondelez International, we applied the principles and processes behind Project Fly to help the business work empower employees to redefine career experiences. Contagious Insider also helped the business understand how behavioural and technology insights known by the marketing team can be just as relevant and actionable when thinking about its own people.

Let’s kickstart 2016 by bringing HR and marketing closer together

Whether you’re in the C-suite or at reception - and even outside marketing and HR, everyone can play a part in breaking down walls, floors, siloes. We just need the courage to imagine and live a new way of working.