Marketers are exhausted after months of relentless change. And marketing leaders are struggling to create organizational resilience and energize their teams while delivering customer relevance and growth.

Here, Accenture Interactive’s Michele McGrath asks Margaret Jobling, Chief Marketing Officer at NatWest Group, how she’s motivating her team—and getting results—with prioritization, purpose and passion.

Over 70% of the marketing executives in our latest global CMO survey say that the past year completely exhausted their employees. What do you attribute this to?

I genuinely think we’ve been through a trauma. We went from business-as-usual to being catapulted to the house. Blurred boundaries between work and home and the loss of outside activities made the workday longer. People are knackered from both mental and physical fatigue. The workload hasn't gone away, but the boundaries around how we protect ourselves and physically and mentally create space for ourselves have.

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What were the big changes in ways of working for your organization after the shift to remote work?

The speed with which we were transacting was phenomenal, and there was a lot of good stuff in that. Bureaucracy went away. Process went away. The big PowerPoint decks disappeared. Efficiency was better and holding on to that will be a real skill as we bounce back.

But the quality of “think time” diminished massively. It's like those water features with three buckets of water flowing down. Unless you fill your own cup up from the top, all that's happening is the water is bouncing down—and there's nothing left. That’s burnout.

I so identify with everything you just said. In terms of your team, what signs of exhaustion have you seen in them? What actions are you taking to help them?

Twice a year we do a pulse check. We want to know if people have the tools to do their jobs well. But we also check in on their mental health. How are they coping? What is their stress level? How are their workloads? We get a lot of feedback on well-being at the quantitative level.

We also do weekly check-ins on well-being. We’ve put the right infrastructure in place—from an app that promotes mindfulness to easy-to-access resources. Yet what I see is that people don’t want a yoga lesson. They want help prioritizing their workloads. So the big theme in my world is prioritization. 

This idea of prioritization takes me back to the research. We found a small group of marketing organizations whose employees are energized because they are decluttering marketing by focusing on what really matters and discarding or rewiring the rest. Are you doing this?

Absolutely. We’ve looked at processes and accountabilities and sign-offs. However, as more people come back to the office, FOMO (fear of missing out) is kicking in. We're going to have to work hard because while everyone has the best intentions, you can already see that meeting culture and the need for more and more people to be involved in things is creeping back in.

Have you made any operational changes in marketing yet to stay ahead of this?

We completely restructured our organization. We have agile, cross-functional working teams. We took out a lot of the meeting governance. We cut our cadence and in terms of how often we meet and what we need to talk about. 

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And we try to push more empowerment into the teams to allow them more autonomy and decision-making power where it makes sense.

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Has your organization’s purpose changed through the period?

Absolutely not. It’s the North Star of helping our people focus on what is important. So ironically, we've come out stronger as a business during this time. Our perception amongst key stakeholders is better. And our brand performance is stronger because we've spent time asking, “What’s the right thing to do?” This helped us get rid of a lot of the guff in the business. It allowed me to make decisions fast. And it's driven some of the channel choices and the way we've gone to market.

That's great because I think purpose has become so much more relevant in businesses. What's been your biggest lesson learned as a CMO leading marketers during this time of change?

We’re all about people, Michele. People make our world go around. These are people in creativity and connectivity, which is a unique group. My job is to make sure that I can facilitate what they need to succeed—that people are not burned out and have the space and capacity to do their jobs.

If you look back over the past year, how has marketing evolved and what is the one thing that you're most proud of?

We've become more data-driven, faster and more creative in how we produce content. We've had to be creative in how we work, which is phenomenal, given that as an industry we’re all about connection and creativity. If someone had said to me in 2019 that in 2020 we would produce an ad and not all be in the same room throughout the production process–and that we’d be thrilled with the output—I would never have believed it. But we did it.

The thing of which I'm most proud is that we launched a new brand platform for NatWest during this time. We’re generating comms that are starting to shift the dial with changing consideration. A year ago, key stakeholders were saying that marketing is a service function. Now they’re saying we're a business partner bringing customers to the table. They see the brand platform working for the business.

What are your top priorities looking ahead?

As much as we’ve done during this time, I’m very attuned to my team’s energy. Getting return on energy is difficult when people are tired. That’s the reality right now. So we need to take stuff away from people. How can we do bigger and bolder things? How do we do less and make a greater impact? It’s about stopping what’s not adding value and getting better at doing and measuring what matters most.

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Margaret Jobling

Chief Marketing Officer – NatWest Group

Michele McGrath

Chief Client Officer – Song, UKI

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