Recently I worked with two different national beverage brands. In one meeting, the brand management team was comprised of newly-minted MBA’s armed with spreadsheets and Nielsen data. The team from the other company was at least 15 years older and had been in their jobs for more than a decade.

The difference in “brand wisdom” and effectiveness was remarkable. The more experienced team had such deep, intimate knowledge of their customers — not just what was on the latest spreadsheets, but the history, the journey of the brand, and the changing tastes of their consumers. They didn’t need to interpret data. They KNEW their market and their customers.

This was a profound lesson for me in the value of keeping people in their jobs and rewarding them appropriately so they feel energized and motivated even after a long period of time with one product. The experienced team could easily navigate the changing product landscape because it was second-nature to them. The young team was trying to find wisdom in analyst reports … wisdom that probably never come to them through pie charts alone.

I am all for education (I have two graduate degrees and I’m an educator!) but there is no amount of classroom experience that could have competed with the deep and nuanced wisdom of the senior team. It would have been even more ideal to have blended teams, right?

In an era where the emphasis is on career and geographic mobility, how do you keep people in jobs long enough to capture this sort of competitive advantage? Is this even possible any more?

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC Michael Kreil

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