The first installment of a three-part series on hiring agile marketing leaders

CEOs may have taken note of agile marketing, but few know what to look for in an agile-capable chief marketing officer. As an agile marketer who has gone through the experience of building agile marketing teams, I’ve pulled together a short primer on how to recruit agile marketing leadership.

Recognize that your recruitment team isn’t ready 

Agile marketing is still relatively nascent, so there are very few seasoned agile marketing leaders out there. And unless your recruitment team already supports an engineering or product management organization, it’s highly unlikely that they have much, if any, experience hiring agile leaders. Also, the agile marketing certification program (whose curriculum I contributed to) was only launched last year. Eventually, the program will help build a pipeline of talent that will come online in the next five years. For now, though, most of the people getting certified are early or mid-career professionals. 

That leaves you with three options for hiring talent. You can either elevate agile managers into leadership roles, train your current leaders, or bring in agile leaders who lack marketing experience. Of the three, I’m most bullish on the first option. I have nothing against incumbents, but agile leadership requires a very different mindset, one that existing leaders often struggle to adopt without significant intervention (cue the management consultants). Basically, this surfaces the classic innovator’s dilemma: the very mindset that propelled existing leaders to success is often in conflict with agile values and practices. 

Identifying Up-and-Coming Agile Talent

Broadly speaking, I’ve found two criteria that are helpful for identifying potential agile leadership candidates. Of course, these are in addition to all the normal qualifications that should be present in leaders: 

  • Operational Experience: The best candidates will have had success implementing agile within their teams or functions. Having gone through rounds of retrospectives, they have a strong handle on what it takes to adapt an agile method to their team and initiative. Most critically, they’ll have operationalized the practice with agile tools such as Asana or Jira. Ideally, this will connect team backlogs to a strategic planning process such as the objectives and key results framework (OKR). 
  • Mindset Modeling: Operational experience with the agile method is not enough; agile leaders must also model the mindset for their teams and peers. Agile marketing leaders must be able to not only educate their teams about agile, but they must also reset expectations about how agile works with peers. For example, projects will be released incrementally rather than at a pre-set deadline. Finally, this also means knowing where to apply and not apply the agile approach (agile is not for everything). 

Investing in Success

Finally, agile marketing leaders, especially those that you are grooming, are going to need more support than other leaders because they’re likely going to be doing a lot of on-the-job learning. Plan on investing in their success with training and coaching. And, if they are building a team this will mean extra recruiting support because mid-level agile marketers are also hard to find! 

Next in this series: Finding the Right Agile Management Style for Your Organization.

To learn more about agile marketing, listen to my book The Agile Marketer: Turning Customer Experience into Your Competitive Advantage. 

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