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Do We Really Need all These People? When Less is More.

By Richard Fouts | July 02, 2015 | 2 Comments


Years ago, when I conducted a community chorus I asked (during a budget meeting), “Do we really need all these musicians?”  One of the things this role taught me was how to manage on a shoestring. I actually found it both challenging and inspiring to manage within constraints. How could we produce great music using fewer musicians?  Would it compromise our sound?  Then I thought … what if we actually improved our sound with fewer musicians?  Is the less-is-more principle more than just a cliché?

Where does less is more come from?

Less-is-more is often attributed to designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the founders of modern architecture. Van Der Rohe got a thrill out of combining functions to advance simplicity of style.  For example, in one of his designs a huge fireplace doubles as a bathroom; a floor as a radiator.

Steve Jobs found inspiration in less-is-more by asking his product designers to combine features into a single intuitive function (for example, if you plug your camera into your computer, you’re likely wanting to upload them; hence with a push of one button you’re done). Jobs talent was finding that precise knee in the curve where just the right amount of product features combined with simplicity would generate heaps of digital dopamine (a phenomena beautifully described in this piece from Razorfish).

How leading marketers adopt less-is-more to staffing

Many marketing executives are implementing less-is-more principles by building foundational roles which serve as homes for new and emerging technologies and techniques. As a CMO, think hard about the direct reports you’ll need to build your own foundation (try not to exceed eight, for reasons that are described in How to Approach Customer Focused Digital Transformation). While every organization is different, make sure your roles are designed to focus on customers (use our customer-oriented role descriptions to help you, which you can find here).  The figure below provides an example of a foundation set of roles we at Gartner have watched evolve during the evolution of digital marketing.

less is more As you Grow, Contain Complexity with the Less-is-More Movement

Consider the CMO that decided to abandon her plan for a full time video marketer, opting to create the role from a cross-discipline team (one team member handles curation and production, another handles rights and permissions, another handles video’s integration into the multichannel marketing plan).

Such an approach moved the organization up the video marketing maturity curve far faster and at less expense than the time and pain of hiring yet another full time role. This option also enriched the professional development of the team; and inspired a way to keep talent. Moreover, text-based content marketing was replaced with more innovative, and far more effective video marketing programs.

Another marketing executive we interviewed opted not to hire a head of advocacy marketing; rather tested the value and viability of such a role by letting the existing head of loyalty marketing run a pilot. After the pilot delivered impressive results, the existing role evolved to head of loyalty & advocacy. This not only avoided the hiring of an additional role, it delivered new innovation to the firm’s loyalty program (to see how, consult How Retailers are Innovating Their Loyalty Programs).

Adding more responsibility to an existing role can create bandwidth issues, but in this case advocacy replaced loyalty techniques that were no longer working. If you add scope to a role, what can you remove?

How can you embrace less-is-more?

Marketing executives often struggle with implementing the concept of ‘less is more’ because it feels counterintuitive. But adopting less-is-more can streamline the organization and fuel higher performance. Several options are available, for example:

>> Test the role before you fulfill.  Fold temporary responsibilities (that accommodate an emerging technology or technique) into an existing role to test its value and viability. If the test delivers results, you have a business case for investing in a new role.

>> Consider alternatives (e.g., the cross discipline team).  If the above option creates a bandwidth issue, try spreading the intent of the role across a team of people, even one that is cross discipline. If you opt for this path, provide relief to the team members you assign (or that volunteer) since you’ll still need them to “deliver on their day job.”  This option also offers your people an attractive professional development opportunity.

>> Go outside.  Use strategic sourcing, for example an external provider, to accommodate the intent of the role. Partners and alliances provide an option for quickly outmaneuvering the competition when time is of the essence. If the maneuver works, and you can construct a business case, you can always bring the talent in house, or sustain the outsourcing investment.


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  • James says:

    We’ve tried some of these techniques and they work really well

  • Rich Gee says:

    Richard – So true. So many organizations jump the gun and hire indiscrimantely for ‘new initiatives’ and then if they don’t work out or management loses interest in their shiny object, qualified people are tossed aside. You are spot on with your three solutions — add initiatives to one person, a group, or a consultant. Perfect — once it works, you can then ramp up. If not, you can easily move on. In addition, you expose your team to new ideas, strategies, and technologies that will not only keep them engaged, they might even excel with the new responsibilities. Great piece – Rich