Close your eyes and picture this: The sales department has requested your marketing team design and draft a one-page sales sheet to use when interacting with prospects at trade shows and conferences.

You agree to take on the project. Now imagine this: What does the process of creating that sales sheet look like?

Are there tons of emails back and forth, missing pieces, ignored requests, and missed deadlines?

Yes? Well, unclench your fists for a moment, because things don’t need to work that way.

It’s totally possible to foster an environment where roles and responsibilities are clear, goals are agreed upon, deadlines are met, and your whole team is able to produce top-notch work like a well-oiled machine.

So, what’s the magic answer to achieve this flawless execution? Create a culture of excellence.

Wait… What Exactly is a Culture of Excellence?

Companies and teams with a culture of excellence have achieved Operational Excellence, which is the ability to plan, complete, and manage projects at the absolute highest level.

It means execution is flawless across the team and the entire organization, from scoping and ideation to collaboration and final delivery.

Here at Wrike, we’ve worked with over 15,000 operationally excellent companies, and we’ve managed to boil this principle down to four key disciplines:

  1. Planning: Team members follow a shared strategy for getting work accomplished
  2. Process: Work flows through departments and team members in a predictable and streamlined way
  3. Collaboration: Team members and departments work together seamlessly
  4. Visibility: Team members and departments have full transparency into what everyone is working on, and how it impacts the whole

That all sounds great, right?

Now you probably have a bigger question rattling around in your brain: How do you create this culture of excellence on your own marketing team?

Advice From CMOs: Creating a Culture of Excellence on Your Marketing Team

We connected with a few leading CMOs to pick their brains about actionable strategies they use to cultivate and foster a culture of excellence on their teams.

1. Set “Nested” Goals

Are you familiar with those classic Russian nesting dolls? The goals you set within your organization and your marketing team should mimic the same structure.

To start, you have the large, overarching company goal. Inside you find a goal for the department. Inside of that? A goal for each sub team—such as your content team or your demand generation team. Finally, when you open up the last doll you find the goals for individual team members.

“I call it a goal ladder,” says Frazier Miller, CMO here at Wrike, “You end up with this nested hierarchy where the company goal is to achieve a certain revenue, the marketing goal is to launch a specific product within the quarter, and so on and so forth.”

Having this nested structure empowers every employee and every team to look at their work and see how it impacts the larger picture. They can easily trace their finger up the chain and connect their own individual projects to a team goal, a department goal, and even a company-wide objective.

This increased transparency fosters collaboration and visibility and goes a long way in creating Operational Excellence.

2. Foster a Growth Mindset

Operational Excellence is impossible to achieve without the right people in place, so it’s something to keep in mind when adding to your team.

It starts with hiring and trying to find people with a growth mindset,” explains Rich Campagna, CMO at Bitglass. “There’s a certain type of person who’s constantly driven to improve, learn, and grow. Every day they come in and are trying to do better than the day before. That person makes my job easy in terms of creating a culture of excellence. When they show up, the job is done.”

It’s important not to squelch this drive and enthusiasm once these people are on your team. Here are some ways to further encourage a growth mindset:

  • Don’t be too prescriptive about goals. Set aggressive ones, but give team members the breathing room to figure out the best ways to achieve them.
  • Avoid dishing out reprimands when things don’t go according to plan. Remember, life happens. Sit down with your team and figure out what you can learn from those mistakes. This approach plants the seed for a growth mindset in every single team member.
  • Make it safe to fail. The more your team members feel supported in innovating, the more committed they’ll be to the work.

“I’m a big believer in the foundation of psychological safety within a team. It’s creating a safe space for them to be able to say what’s on their mind,” says Miller. “Ultimately what you’re doing is creating more of an owner mindset where every individual feels like they’re an owner of the team and the shared collective destiny.”

3. Stay Far Ahead of Your Deadlines

Does this scenario sound familiar? You have your team’s workload planned out for the week—or maybe even the month.

Without warning, another department swoops in with a last-minute project they need you to jump on immediately. Now your team must scramble to not only deal with this emergency, but also juggle the rest of the work they were originally supposed to accomplish during that time.

There’s no way to prevent these last-minute requests entirely. They’re bound to crop up every now and then. However, they’re less of an issue if your team consistently stays on top of—and even far ahead of—your planned work.

“I think that procrastination becomes too tempting for people, and everything leads to last-minute scrambles on things we’ve known about for months. When you’re already scrambling to get planned work done, that leads to even more difficulty handling those last-minute things,” says Campagna.

For the work your team does know about ahead of time, set milestones and assign clear owners (here are those planning and process pieces of the Operational Excellence puzzle!). Make sure you have a clear plan in place and leave yourself some much-needed wiggle room for any unplanned requests that land on your team’s plate.

This way you’ll effectively be able to prioritize when last-minute fires do crop up—because not everything currently on your plate needs to be handled immediately.

4. Make the Most of Your Meetings

Let’s talk about meetings. Are you groaning? We get it—they’re often a dreaded part of the work day, for both you and your team members. However, that’s probably a sign that you aren’t making the most of those sit-downs.

Take one-on-ones with your individual employees, for example. Are those constructive conversations? Or do you forget everything you wanted to discuss and instead fill the time with an informal catch-up session?

“You get so busy that you don’t remember what to talk about and then suddenly it’s not a focused conversation,” says Molly Glover Gallatin, VP of Marketing at Jelli.

She suggests maintaining a running list that is shared with your direct report (by the way, Wrike is a great way to keep track of stuff like this!). Jot down anything you’d like to chat about in your one-on-one—and your employee can do the same. When the meeting rolls around, you’ll have a productive discussion about things that actually need to be touched on.

You should also turn a discerning eye to any regularly scheduled marketing meetings. Are they used effectively—or have they turned into glorified status updates and FYI sessions?

“I think the best marketing teams are using that time to problem solve and collaborate on the myriad of things that come up,” says Miller.

5. Encourage Your Team Members to Have the Tough Conversations

Your team members have communication and collaboration muscles, and those are only going to get stronger if you give them opportunities to exercise them.

“I always try not to directly shield my team. A number of marketers have evolved to where they’re really sharp in their skill set and good at communicating with other marketers,” says Campagna. “But, they haven’t been exposed to languages other stakeholders speak, so it’s hard for them to collaborate and they shy away from it.”

While you might think it’s easier and more efficient to directly approach the CFO and have a conversation on behalf of your team members, it’s better to provide encouragement for your employees to tackle these conversations themselves.

Doing so forces them to get outside their comfort zone and improve their ability to work with colleagues who might communicate differently or have dissimilar perspectives.

“The biggest challenge that I’ve found with marketers across the team is being able to empathize with other folks, understand their drivers, and speak their language,” Campagna adds.

So, give them the push they need to address those weaknesses by having the tough conversations. Remember, practice makes perfect—or, at the very least, progress.

6. Play to Weaknesses

This strategy seems incredibly counterintuitive, since most management advice focuses on playing to team members’ strengths.

However, if your goal is to foster a growth mindset and achieve Operational Excellence, then you need to help team members actively learn and improve—and not just rest on their laurels.

“If somebody is weak in a certain area, rather than just not assigning them those tasks, it’s about making sure that they get that necessary skill set,” says Glover Gallatin, “This is important, because marketing has so many variables.”

Let’s say you have a team member whose writing skills could use some refining. Don’t just give them design work. Put them in a writing course, arm them with resources, or even pair them with your team’s strongest writer for a project. Encourage them to actively hone that skill.

A growth mindset doesn’t mean team members should improve only in areas where they’re already strong. While workers have different talents and areas of expertise, Operational Excellence requires a well-rounded marketing team.

7. Avoid Micromanaging

If there’s only one thing you take away from our advice, make it this: A culture of excellence isn’t something you can simply dictate and then step back and watch fall into place.

You can’t come to the office Monday morning and demand your team be operationally excellent. Instead, you must commit to nurturing this way of thinking and foster it over time.

Think the best way to do that is to monitor their every move? Think again. Micromanagement is a surefire way to throw a wet blanket on innovation and enthusiasm.

Instead, you must encourage team members to feel a strong sense of ownership in the work they produce—and this only happens if they’re involved in decisions.

Start by involving your team when setting goals and planning projects. “The best planning that really drives the highest performing team—and where you have the real buy-in from marketers—is when they feel like they’re owners,” says Miller. “Give breathing room for individuals to help in the planning process.”

Make sure your team members have a voice in these early stages to address the process and planning aspects of Operational Excellence. This gives team members increased visibility to boot.

Moving Forward With a Culture of Excellence

Fostering a culture where things run smoothly and projects are executed flawlessly might seem like nothing more than a pipe dream.

But, make no mistake: It’s possible. It’s up to you as the leader to lean on key strategies that help you create a culture of excellence, such as:

  • Setting “nested” goals
  • Fostering a growth mindset
  • Staying far ahead of deadlines for your planned work
  • Making the most of your team meetings
  • Encouraging your team members to have the tough conversations
  • Playing to weaknesses, rather than always focusing on strengths
  • Avoiding micromanaging

Implement these strategies from leading CMOs on your own marketing team, and you’re sure to notice a significant improvement in how your own team operates—with far less headaches and hassles for everyone.

Want more actionable tips from other industry leaders? Download our free eBook below, The Route to Excellence: The Wrike Way.