Superchickens and Marketing Productivity?

Marketing managers, have you been asking yourselves why your team of superstar marketers hasn’t reached the level of marketing productivity as you know they could? They aren’t driving business growth and you can’t figure out what’s wrong? Internationally renowned businesswoman Margaret Heffernan’s unforgettable TED talk, Forget the Pecking Order at Work, might just give you the insight you need. In her speech she compares super-chickens to business superstars to illustrate a very interesting point about what makes teams more productive, and it may not be what you think. What Can Superchickens teach us about marketing productivity?

So, what are super-chickens?

As Heffernan explains, in an experiment to see whether super-chickens were more productive than ordinary hens, biologist William Muir set out to create a flock of them. In the experimental flock, he culled out the low producers and kept only the top producers. The control flock was left alone. In the end, he discovered that after 6 generations of selective breeding, the super-chicken group ended up brutally pecking each other until only 3 hens were left, while the flock of ordinary hens thrived. The results of Muir’s experiment showed that his super-chickens weren’t more productive due to great egg-laying DNA but due to their use of aggression. They were simply better at suppressing their fellow hens from laying eggs. Muir realized that what his super-chickens were producing was nothing more than aggression, dysfunction and waste.

And what does this have to do with marketing productivity?

As Margaret Heffernan reminds us, businesses, organizations and societies all over the world have been using the same super-chicken model for decades. A system that is based on the assumption that success is only possible if there are superstars in the lead. And a system that encourages competing against one another rather than connecting with fellow team members. But if those superstars are productive only because they are the most successful at suppressing marketing productivity in others, just as the super-chickens, then the system is a failure. Imagine how successful a business would be if everyone’s productivity flourished.

What are the characteristics of a successful, productive team?

Again, Heffernan uses a research study to provide insights. At MIT, volunteers were put into groups and given problems to solve. At the end of the study, the most successful groups showed three common characteristics:

  • all members exhibited high levels of empathy towards one another
  • all members gave each other equal speaking time, there wasn’t a dominant person and they all participated equally
  • successful groups had more female members

The key take away from this study is that successful, productive teams have a higher level of social connectedness to each other and it has little to do with intelligence, drive or competitive spirit.

But, why is empathy for each other so essential to marketing productivity?

Having empathy for another person means that you care about them and are able to relate to their emotions and thoughts and create stronger social connections. Empathetic people are good listeners, share openly and have a better understanding of other people. When team members understand one another, they have a stronger relationship and show better results in group problem solving.

How do you build productive teams?

In order to build successful, productive teams, marketing executives need to invest in social capital, a term that Heffernan uses in her TED talk. She says that “social capital is the reliance and interdependency that builds trust” and the element that makes companies strong as a result. Top marketing experts will agree that teams work better when there is social support and it’s imperative for companies to create a workplace that provides it in a variety of ways:

  • by promoting common, frequent coffee breaks in an area that encourages interaction
  • by organizing team building and bonding experiences both in the workplace and outside
  • by encouraging team members to ask for and give help to one another at all times
  • by discouraging a silo mentality and connecting all employees in all departments through the company’s goals and objectives
  • by creating a business-wide, common aim
  • by avoiding individual reward programs which tend to pit employees against one another
  • by rewarding teams as a whole so they understand that no one wins unless the entire team wins
  • by encouraging individual perspectives and listening to every voice

How can marketing recruiters find the best team players?

As a marketing recruiter, you want to find individuals who will make up a successful, productive team. Your goal is to find people who meet the following criteria:

  • those who will put team success above personal success
  • people who are willing to work well with all business employees as well as team members
  • people who can offer constructive feedback
  • those who can raise objections or questions without creating animosity

In the interview process, the questions you ask and the answers they give determine whether or not your candidate is the ideal team player you are looking for. Some top examples of questions are:

  • How would you describe a team player?
  • Are you a team player?
  • What makes a successful team?
  • How do you develop trusting relationships with your fellow team members?
  • What team attributes determine a team’s success?

You want to hear great answers that assure you the candidate considers himself or herself as a team member. What you are looking for in a great team player depends on your business goals and expectations but, in order to put together an optimized marketing team that will raise your company’s marketing productivity and drive growth, it is essential to find those that will work harmoniously in a team.

At the end of her TED talk, Margaret Heffernan says that social capital must take the place of rivalry in the workplace. Motivating people with monetary rewards is detrimental to the social connectedness that she deems as the most important component in team productivity. Instead, people should motivate each other and great leaders should no longer work alone.

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