As a marketing manager, you’ve enlisted yourself to transform your department by creating cross-functional marketing teams. Through your experiences working with other companies, you have seen how innovative brands are reorganizing their workplace operations to encourage collaboration while giving individual workers more experience working outside their primary discipline.
As you piece together these cross-functional teams, though, you come across a troubling realization: Your marketing cupboard is stocked with professionals who all have the same skill sets and ranges of experience. In an effort to seek out the best candidates for open roles, your marketing hiring strategy has actually undercut your ability to spur on creative innovation.
You love your current staff, but you worry that their skill sets are too similar, and too narrow in scope, to benefit the organization in a meaningful way. While it could be easy to blame the workers for failing to broaden their marketing experience, both the problem and the solution can be addressed by marketing management. Cross-functional teams are important, and you shouldn’t give up on this strategy just because your current workforce isn’t ideal.
Instead, managers should build a strategy to broaden the skill sets and experiences of creative teams. Better hiring strategies may have a place, but you’ll also need to examine the way you build teams, prioritize skills development, and cultivate new leaders.
Today’s creative workforce is aware of the need to bring multiple skill sets to the table. As AdWeek notes, this trend is even more obvious among millennial workers entering the workforce. Young professionals feel they can offer more value by broadening their work history and acquiring new skills to put on their resume. Content creators might feel pressure to expand beyond writing simple blog posts to build marketing skills in social media, video production, and other disciplines, making them more valuable to prospective employers.
On the one hand, this is a smart move that responds to changing workplace dynamics. The siloed approach to workflow management is disappearing, so it only makes sense that the workers behind this productivity would want experiences beyond their specific silo. The reality is more complicated. While broad experiences make you a more valuable worker, this multi-talented skill set shouldn’t come at the expense of developing one or more specialties.
Image attribution: Jordan McQueen
This isn’t only a problem being driven by workers. As organizations face more pressure to build hybrid creative teams that feature a range of disciplines, their marketing hiring practices sometimes gravitate toward a profile of the perfect worker that is rarely realistic. According to Margaret Magnarelli, managing editor of content for the hiring resource company Monster.com, organizations can’t overplay their hand in trying to find employees with that ideal background.
“Where I think companies sometimes go wrong is in looking for the unicorn who is both left- and right-brained, and an expert in both creative and channels,” Magnarelli says. “We all know how rare that person is even at the highest levels of an organization, and so finding someone at mid-management or below who can be the A to Z is not only a challenge—but it may also be unwise. You need the do-ers of your organization to be functional experts.”
Instead of trying to find the complete package in a single external hire, organizations would be better off prioritizing skill sets when making hiring decisions. Employees should be hired on the strength of one or a few select skill sets. Then, once they’ve been onboarded and integrated into the workplace, the company can encourage their development of other marketing skills through cross-functional teams and collaboration with others.
At the same time, those employees contribute to the growth of your existing workers by bringing their unique skill set to the table. If your marketing team is spearheading video marketing for the first time, it doesn’t make sense to have half a dozen team members with a nominal amount of video experience. You’re much better off bringing in someone who has specialized in video—and then that worker can train and educate the others over time.
“For a lower-level role, focus on the functional creative or analytic specialty in your hiring; any of the opposing skills should be added value,” Magnarelli says. “Then as you’re onboarding the person, make sure to pair him or her with someone from the complementary skill set so that they can learn from each other, and both develop the knowledge that will make them strong future leaders for your organization.”
Choosing leaders to run teams or departments is a little different. Effective leadership requires a more diverse array of skills, experiences, and comfort working across multiple disciplines. Again, these are skill sets developed over time, and added on to previous specialties in specific fields.
To a certain extent, the profile of an effective leader requires time to fully mature. Lower-level roles can lead certain initiatives and campaigns, but leaders must be fluent enough in various disciplines that they can oversee these campaigns and also manage them in the context of their role in a larger system.
Image attribution: Brooke Lark
“For a leadership role, your best bet is probably more of what’s been called the ‘T-shaped marketer’—someone who has a general top-line understanding of all the disciplines of marketing, though they may have deeper knowledge in one discipline,” Magnarelli says. “Make that clear in your job ad, and if there’s a particular skill that you think is most important for your org, say that too.”
Hybrid creative professionals are of particular value to digital marketers, since marketing now exists at the intersection of so many disciplines spanning the analytical and creative spectrums. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you need to find the total package in a single external hire. Instead, build your teams gradually through smart hires that add value to the collaborative teams they join.
Featured image attribution: Cam Adams