Walk into the MarketPro offices on any given morning and you’ll that see we are big fans of Starbucks. So, we found it interesting that in an internal letter sent to employees, CEO Kevin Johnson stated that Starbucks would be making major changes to its organizational structure.

In the letter, Johnson states, “we must increase the velocity of innovation that is relevant to our customers, inspires our partners, and is meaningful to our business. To accomplish this, we are going to make some significant changes to how we work as leaders in all areas of the company.”

Johnson’s willingness to make the tough decisions to ramp up the company’s growth and drive
innovation demonstrates one reason why Starbucks has been so successful for such an extended period of time.

How does this relate to marketing? We find too often, top marketing leaders are unwilling to make the difficult changes before it has become too late. It’s easy to become stagnant as a leader when the business is performing well and steadily growing. As a leading marketing executive search firm, we often see CMOs and other top marketing executives who become comfortable when times are good, so they try to not rock the boat.

Complacency from the top of the marketing department will quickly trickle down to everyone on the team. The team’s complacency is the first sign to those over the CMO that he or she is no longer doing a great job. When leadership is lacking, results and the team’s job satisfaction suffer.

Effective leadership focuses on creating a compelling vision, propelling action that moves the business forward and leading the entire team toward new initiatives. In today’s quickly changing marketing space, you may also need to change your org chart to match what is possible in today’s marketing world. Too often, leaders take the approach of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, when they should be focused on how to maximize ROI and growth. This will lead to more and better jobs long-term as opposed to trying to save jobs that are no longer relevant today.

Use Johnson’s courage as a leader to inspire you to do the right thing today to impact your organization and team positively for the long-term. His strategy to change the organizational structure of Starbucks will place the company in a better position five to ten years from now. It will create more growth and opportunities for the company and employees in the long run even though it may cause some short-term pain. Are you doing the same for your company and department?

A Marketing Executive Search Firm Shares 4 Tips for Avoiding Complacency

A few causes of complacency include wrong performance measurement criteria, a shortage of top talent, a lack of a modern org chart, no visibility of a real crisis, a loss in strategic focus, and a culture based on preservation. So, what’s the solution to combat the threat of complacency? Here are surefire ways to avoid the dangers of complacent leadership and have your marketing maintain its competitive edge.

Accurate Measure of Performance

marketing executive search marketing executive recruiters

First of all, you must properly measure performance metrics to assess the current state of your marketing. Understanding how your marketing is contributing to the bottom line and performing through KPIs is critical in determining room for growth.

Once you have your KPIs in line, you can evaluate the performance metrics that need to be changed to support goals. You should continuously adjust these goals to better support and improve bottom-line growth as circumstances in the business environment change.

Evaluate Your Marketing Organizational Structure

As marketing executive recruiters, we see that many leaders don’t want to handle the political and employee transitions associated with changing times. However, the more complacent you are as a CMO, the more unpredictable the environment becomes; impacting your ability to control it.

A key component of ensuring your marketing doesn’t become stagnant is making sure you have the right team and leaders in place. To do so, you must first determine if you have the right org chart with the necessary roles your business needs. Then, you can determine if you have the right people placed in those roles.

Ask yourself: if you had ten percent fewer people on your team, would your organization be severely impacted? If the answer is no, are you keeping them onboard just because “that’s how it’s always been”? Don’t be blinded by growth and success. You must be brutally transparent with your team members and must continuously evaluate everyone’s contribution to the bottom line even when things are going well.

Proactive Action

marketing executive search marketing executive recruiters

Complacency makes it more likely for leaders to miss potential opportunities from not thinking ahead or thinking clearly. It causes them to be reluctant to challenge the status quo because they’re comfortable with their current state of performance. They additionally become more reactive than proactive when identifying opportunities, and slower when it comes to making critical decisions.

If your organization wasn’t performing well, what actions would you need to take?

As a leader, you must be able to anticipate and predict the unexpected and take action in solving what lies ahead rather than waiting for setbacks to unfold. The most successful CMOs don’t wait for a disaster to happen to make changes or take initiative. They’re proactive in identifying new areas for growth and constantly look ahead to obstacles that can possibly emerge.

A Sense of Urgency for Innovation

Does your team embody a sense of urgency and the need for constant growth? Companies that continue to grow and thrive have a culture that seeks innovation and long-term success.

Today’s rapidly-evolving marketing landscape requires a sense of urgency from leaders – a contagious mindset that spreads throughout an entire organization. It’s important to encourage creative thinking and invite innovative ideas from all levels in your team.

A lack of innovation opens up the door for competitors to gain a competitive advantage and grab significant market share. CMOs who are truly ahead of the curve don’t wait until there’s a tremendous amount of pain in the organization due to a downfall in the economy or any other sort of crisis.

However, it’s important to not confuse a sense of urgency with panic. Without trust, accountability, transparency, and consistent communication, urgency will scare people and cause chaos – running your marketing down the drain.


Leaders who let long periods of complacency invade their business will learn a costly lesson. Complacency takes a hold of your organizational culture by dragging your company down with outdated ways and processes, while the world of marketing is changing around you.

As a CMO, you must communicate the vision for change, and empower team members to contribute to the changes. You must be willing to make difficult decisions for the business even if they’re not currently in demand.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis wrote a book titled “On Becoming a Leader”, providing many valuable lessons on leadership and how to avoid the dangers of becoming a complacent leader. His lessons explain that falling into complacency makes you more of a manager than a leader, as he states that “the manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon.”

What steps do you take to become an impactful marketing leader? What’s the solution to fighting off complacency? The answer starts with you, the leader, and the example you set through your own performance and actions.

Leadership is a journey and the best leaders have the agility, stamina, and courage to keep a strategic focus and stay ahead in a rapidly-moving world. Your leadership permeates throughout the entire organization and sets the foundation for long-term success.