Taking A Stance On Social Issues – Part 2 With Maxar's Nancy Coleman
Taking A Stance On Social Issues – Part 2 With Maxar's Nancy Coleman
Not every CMO has the opportunity to work on both high-impact business issues and social issues, but Nancy Coleman is in a unique position. Nancy and her team at Maxar (a space technology company) have partnered with tier-one media outlets to break powerful new stories with indisputable satellite imagery. But even 2020 threw Nancy a curveball. In this episode, Nancy shares her best advice for taking a stance on social issues – start by examining your brand’s values, listening (really listening) to your team, and avoiding platitudes at all costs.
Plus, hear Nancy’s take on key leadership topics for CMOs going into 2021, like transparency, trust, and internal communications.
Nancy ColemanChief Marketing and Communications Officer at Maxar Technologies
Molly: Hey, everyone. Molly here from Drifts podcast team, we're back with another episode of CMO conversations, bringing you part two of Tricia's conversation with Maxar CMO, Nancy Coleman. Today Nancy shares her advice for marketing leaders who want to take a stance on social issues. Tricia and Nancy also discuss the importance of transparency, trust and internal communications. Let's get into it.
Tricia Gellman: Not every CMO has opportunity to work on both heavy impact business issues and social issues. Even like we've seen this year with Black Lives Matter. It was very difficult for a lot of CMOs to pivot and to figure out how to incorporate these messages. So do you have any advice for people who are looking to take a stronger stance on a social issue or they're being asked to take a stance as the CMO with their company on how they might overcome some resistance internally or with their own team even?
Nancy S. Coleman: Yeah, that's great question. We had a lot of internal dialogue, as a lot of other businesses do. And especially going back to the Edelman trust barometer, it feels like there's a big responsibility on businesses to carry the water in some regards, in terms of what employees are seeking. But we also didn't want to take on more than was authentic for us, for our brand, for our customers. And so the first thing I would say, and the first thing that we did is we said, let's start with our values. Let's look at the values that we had inside the business, prior to 2020, that are woven into the culture and let our existing values be our guide for how we're going to communicate internally and externally. And so, in our case a good example is we pointed the satellite at the mural of Black Lives Matter, on the street of DC, right after it was painted and we released that both as an expression of what our technology enabled, but also to be part of the national dialogue of exposing that this thing is happening. And it is a fact, it is true, without editorializing who painted it or why we painted it, but we contributed it as visual evidence of a change on the surface of the earth. So that was consistent with our values. The other thing we did is we had to start listening differently. And so instead of telling our employees, or telling the world, with platitudes, things that we were going to do. We really thought it was more important to start listening. And frankly, the listening that we've been doing, what we're continuing to do, and we're teaching each other how to have those more constructive conversations. And then finally I hinted at it, is to avoid platitudes. And don't say things that you can't either necessarily live up to, or you don't know how you're going to get there. So we were cautious about platitudes. So those would be my key advice.
Tricia Gellman: I liked that because we're getting to the end of calendar quarter Q3 and heading into Q4, and whether it was in the beginning of the year or the middle of the year, the companies who have made bold statements about what they're going to do or what they stand for, the time is running out. And so one of the things we've been talking about is how, as CMOs, people should take that check of what you signed up to do or what your company signed up to do more visually and really see how authentic have you been and how much have you followed through, or maybe not as any fault of your own, because you felt pulled along in this wave. What have you signed up for that maybe you should make sure, before the next three months unfold, that you can follow up and try and make some effort to deliver upon.
Nancy S. Coleman: Yeah. Good point. And, the one I forgot to mention, is just be open about where you are in your journey. Nobody's doing it perfectly. And we really said," okay, it's time for us to be more transparent, internally, around the data that we have. Even though we knew our data wasn't perfect. And certainly wasn't where we would necessarily aspire for it to be. But we knew... I meant the quality of the data because it's all voluntary in terms of inclusion and diversity, but just be transparent about where you are and start there and then start listening. And the other thing that I enjoyed, I guess, about the process is that it became evident. You mentioned social media and how fractured it is and how people's information sources. We really think we have an opportunity, internally, we're a culture with values. And so how do we be a microcosm? How do we model the things that we'd like to see in the outside world, but do it safely inside an environment where people already have mutual respect. So that's been interesting and good to see how can we learn internally and safely and then bring that outward to the world?
Tricia Gellman: I love that. I think as a role of a CMO its been evolving, initially back in the day, when you couldn't measure things, it was really much more like brand and billboards and advertisement. And then now it's kind of become more a central hub for the company and the strategy and the brand and the brand is not just a billboard, but it's the way your product works and reacts. It's the way you interact. It's the way you behave. It's so many different things. And it's really, I think, started to incorporate for a lot of us, this idea of the internal communication. And I'm wondering, beyond just the listening that you started doing, are there other things that you've done that have grown your role as internal communications during this time?
Nancy S. Coleman: I think the work from home has accelerated the adoption of some of our internal communications tools that were nascent. Slack is a big one and we have flattened our internal communications because of tools that a lot of people use, but it wasn't as widely adopted as it might have been in other places. And that in and of itself, just Slack as one example, creates channels and openings for people to talk to each other that they wouldn't have otherwise. The other thing it did from a time zone point of view, because we're global, is there was always the people that were sitting in the conference room together and having a laugh and the audio was maybe drowning out people that were on the phone. It really flattened out the experience for people that were... Because we're all dialed in. And we're all much more aware of being respectful of giving people space and time in a meeting to voice their concerns. So that's been another interesting change on internal communications. And then I think the volume of internal communications is really high right now. And we've been surveying our employees just to say, not only how are you doing? How are you coping? What do you need? But how's our volume of communications? Do you want more? Do you want less? And so we've been getting more regular feedback about the quality and the volume of our communications than ever before. So it's definitely more channels, making access to channels easier, higher volume of communication, and more responsive. So I think we've upped our game significantly. And I think, going back to the brand and marketing, is that people appreciate it and they feel a positive connection to the business. Because at the end of the day they feel like we really care.
Tricia Gellman: Now what if we're more than six months into dealing with remote work from home and I think, it's just like everything else, you think you've mastered something and then you realize," Oh my God, I've just scratched the surface." So if I'm in this boat of feeling like I've just scratched the surface on communication with my employees and being a great CMO who helped to lead that. What are some of the things you might recommend people watch out for that would be indicators that maybe they need more communication or less communication?
Nancy S. Coleman: Watch out for internal that people might be struggling a little bit.
Tricia Gellman: Like you said you've raised the bar in terms of the volume and the channels and that you listen a lot in terms of what your employees need, but not everybody is... This sounds pretty advanced to me, actually, you probably think it's normal. But it sounds pretty advanced to be that in touch and also to be a CMO that's helping your employees that much. So is there something you could advise other CMOs to consider if they themselves aren't doing as robust internal communication during this time?
Nancy S. Coleman: This is very rudimentary, but it's probably the most important and we're not all doing it equally. But one of the things we recognized early is that we were so focused on the essential employees. Our population was pretty much 75% work from home, and 25% essential. And those essential people were actually going into satellite manufacturing facilities so to continue delivering to our customers, but then also going to a satellite operation center, just like you would see one of those NASA control rooms, we do that. We operate our own spacecraft for the government, so we were so focused on those essential people that we forgot about isolation for people that were used to being in social environments and then going home and being alone and thinking about wow, who maybe doesn't have a support system at home and who might really be really, truly isolated? So rudimentary idea was that, for some managers and certain teams, is that we came up with a buddy system so that people actually had someone that they were responsible for. If someone wasn't showing up for meetings on time, or they just seemed like they were disengaged, that we really asked people to own, to be their brother's keeper and their sister's keeper. And so that was one of the more interesting, and powerful ways of thinking about how we're all connected and looking out for each other that really wasn't a communications mandate, as much as it was, hey, here's something for managers to consider and how can we really, really look out for each other?
Tricia Gellman: I love that. That's a great idea. Every time I talk to somebody about how they're dealing with COVID and different ways to engage their team, I learn another idea that is pretty simple to put into place, but that is just something that a different way that people have approached it. So I love it. This has been a great conversation and I can't wait to also get the links to some of the imagery that you've used in the news bureau and the stories that you've helped to break with the inaudible and others. But you've had a pretty great career and I'm sure along the way you've learned some lessons. We didn't mention this, but we both went to the same university the same time. So I'm not going to ask you for some back in the day story, but I would love to share with the listeners about a lesson that you think that you've taken away, that you learned throughout your career.
Nancy S. Coleman: I think probably for me, is to recognize for myself as a leader, but also for the business, is to play to your strengths. And the opposite of that is don't try to be something that you're not. I've realized that in marketing things are moving really fast and they're changing faster than I have the capacity to keep up. And I've realized more recently that, and we talked about marketing tech stack a little while ago, is it's been much easier for me to focus on my strengths in terms of storytelling. And I find the people that really bring that specialized tech expertise to the table because, I will reveal the year that I graduated, oh, I guess you could look it up, but you know I'm a little older. And so I feel like the marketing technology stack can be very intimidating. And so I guess my lesson is, surround yourself with people that are the experts, that know how to use it and keep you current, and allow yourself to keep your head up, stay strategic and play to your own strengths instead of trying to be the expert at everything.
Tricia Gellman: II love that because early in my career, I think I was told that I had certain weaknesses and I spent a bunch of time trying to just focus on changing and adapting around those weaknesses to try and get ahead. And I think I've talked to other coaches now later in my career and they don't advise that at all. I mean, you should have awareness of your weaknesses. And like you said, you can hire around them, you can surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, which I think is a sign of a good leader. Someone who's willing to bring someone in that knows something they don't know. And I think that that's great advice to focus on your strengths. And I also, back at you on the graduation year, because we were in university at the same time, it's all a mental state. Well, thank you for joining us. Is there anything else you want to share about your career or Maxar, before we close the podcast?
Nancy S. Coleman: I just think that it's great that you're giving a platform for our population. If you think of other C- suite roles, it is one of the ones that's changing really fast. I think you're right. Especially at a time when it feels like it's a lot of different crises that you're managing through, it's important that in the marketing and communications role, that there is a seat at the table with leadership so that you can help navigate those really challenging times but still stay core to who you're trying to be. So I just think it's great that you're creating the platform for other CMOs to learn and listen from each other and grow.
Tricia Gellman: Thanks. I think every time that we have a guest we bring a different perspective in terms of what does it mean to be a CMO? What are the changes that are being observed? How are we overcoming those changes? And I think today's topic on transparency and trust. They're huge. As a leader, if you don't build trust with your teams, if you don't have that transparency, it's not going to work. With your customers when you're delivering that story, if it doesn't stand up. And then with your solution at Maxar, it really is the pillar that you guys all survive on. So really interesting to bring all of that internal and external trust together. So thank you so much. Is it possible for people, if they wanted to ask you more questions, to maybe just follow you on LinkedIn or what do you recommend?
Nancy S. Coleman: Yeah, LinkedIn would be great. It's Nancy S. Coleman. My maiden name is Schlegel, so that's the S, otherwise it would be a terribly common name. I'm on LinkedIn I would love that.
Tricia Gellman: Okay, great. Well, thank you. And for those of you listening, hopefully this isn't your first episode, but if it is, I hope you go back and listen to the earlier episodes. I hope you continue to listen, rank up in five and six stars, the CMO Conversations podcast series, and share it with your friends. Thank you so much, Nancy. And thank you, listeners, for joining us today.