Sweets and Tweets brings together social marketing, marketing strategy, and internet marketing leaders from the DC Metro area with leaders in marketing and business. Prior guest have included Tom Peters, of In Search of Excellence, and Anil Dash, of Expert Labs.
Last night’s discussion began with the introduction of Seth Godin — well sort of. Seth Godin is in DC hosting a day long workshop. Since Seth was too busy preparing for the workshop, we channeled him through a look-alike to discuss his new book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?The discussion featured local social media leaders, bloggers, and marketing folks who discussed how they are Linchpins in their organizations.
According to Seth Godin’s book, linchpins are folks who become indispensable to their organizations because they take ownership of problems and find solutions — even if the problem is outside their area. In contrast are “lizard brains” who Seth Godin equates with low creativity and other characteristics that make them dispensable to the organization.
From a marketing standpoint, speakers made several key points to bear in mind when developing marketing strategy. The first — the topic of succession — was explicitly mentioned by one of the speakers. The other — competency — emerged across speakers.
Succession has been a topic largely confined to discussions of entrepreneurial strategy. The very things that make linchpins such an integral element for the marketing strategy – things that make them indispensable for the marketing of the firm — also leave a big hole in that marketing strategy when they leave the firm. Firms need to think about the issue of succession long before key individuals leave the company to ensure new linchpins can be hired and trained to replace them.
The issue of competency is a much more complex and less visible problem facing firms. Linchpins are valuable because they jump right in and handle whatever problem they see. Unfortunately, this often means they are jumping into areas where they don’t really have the expertise to do the job effectively. For instance, I once worked for a small non-profit in a marketing role. They needed someone to maintain their database, so I stepped in since I had a minor in computer science as an undergraduate. Being a “linchpin” by personality, I took on the role willingly.
Did I do a good job? I did the best I could, but the work was really way beyond my ability. I was better than nothing, but I wasted a lot of time that would have been more efficiently spent in doing my marketing job and the firm would have gotten more out of their database if they had someone more knowledgeable running the system. Of course, when I left, the whole system fell apart because, even though I didn’t do a great job, I was better than anything else they had.
So, having a linchpin fill in, even when they aren’t truly competent, is better than nothing. However, too often firms begin to accept the competency of the linchpin, ignoring the reality that they would be better served by hiring someone with a true competency in a critical role rather than continuing to rely on the linchpin. I’ve seen this happen too often. I once worked as a consultant for the Fortune 50 company and was asked by their VP Marketing how to write a marketing plan. The guy was a linchpin. He was willing to step into the role and that role was formalized. Yet, he lacked even the most basic skills to perform the job.
In some jobs, its more obvious that the linchpin can’t cut it anymore. The more technical the job — the more quickly the limitations of the linchpin come to light. In marketing, too often these limitations don’t emerge. Its easy to see that I lacked skills in computers when I was unable to debug a problem arising with our database, as an engineer, its easy to see that the bridge doesn’t support itself. In marketing, journalists, english majors, communication majors — pretty much anyone with sound liberal arts training can put words together to formulate press releases, write brochures, even write a marketing plan. However, they may know little or nothing about target marketing, consumer behavior models, how to conduct market research that is insightful and unbiased, or writing copy that gets desired action from consumers.
Having linchpins, is a great thing for a business and sound business strategy suggests firms should do everything they can to attract, motivate, and retain linchpins. They do; however, need to recognize these potential drawbacks associated with linchpins.