Dear CMO:

You invest thousands of dollars in training for your team and their habits don’t change. You read countless books on business, marketing, influence, psychology, ethnography, neuro-marketing, etc., ad nauseum, and for some reason, things never seem to change. “But these are great insights!” you’ll tell me. “I think this is something I can use!” Of course you can use these brilliant insights. But you can only use them if you consciously bring them to the surface when you need them the most – and that isn’t while you and I are talking.

Here’s an interesting exchange from my last post on “Strategic Shifting” that illustrates this point:

Comment: It would be curious to see just what percentage of CMO’s (either globally or in North America) is actually closely aware of the ‘writings on the wall’ when it comes to making a strategic shift as you so described. Good read.

Reply: If you asked them that question directly, you’d get an emphatic 100% response in the affirmative. If you ask their CEO’s or direct reports, you’d get an emphatic response 180 degrees in the other direction. We think we’re “keeping to the plan,” or “being persistent,” when in fact we’re waiting for something to happen that won’t.

This is why reminding yourself as a decision maker – or being reminded by ‘other eyes’ from the outside – is so critical to this problem. It isn’t the complexity of the task, even though this is plenty complex; it’s the need to consciously do it – to bring the idea of strategic shifting back up even after you’ve slapped the blinders back on.

Much of influence training follows this same path. Hearing that it’s smarter to give before you ask to receive is common sense. And yet, it’s so seldom done. Our sales incentives rely on a rewards system – do this and I’ll give you that – which is backwards. Our channel incentives rely on bribes, in so many words – I’ll do this but only because it commits you to doing that. Again, backwards. We need to constantly surface such ideas like touchstones and keep them visible so we catch ourselves when we fall back into our bad habits. We must also bring others into our confidence and teach this sort of common vocabulary so we can all “Be the Fool” for each other, reminding ourselves to do the right thing as opposed to the “satisficing” option at hand.

Have you ever taken a negotiation course? You’re taught to manage objections, listen and then respond in a generative way. This all works great until you leave the room and fall back into your old habits. Role playing can begin to address a substantial change in behavior, but there’s real mental terraforming to be done in order to get you to think differently over the long term.

This is why it is so important to teach such skills broadly – have your whole team read Dr. Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: Science & Practice” or Dr. Steven Feinberg’s “Advantage Makers,” and then talk about what you learned. Extract the learnings from examples like these and bring them up in conversations and staff meetings so that you can work with team members on “how could we use reciprocity here?” instead of the standard, “do you think you could sign off on this today?”

Building a common language is the first step to building a common culture.