Eating Our Own Dog Food

My team cringed a little when I mentioned I was blogging about Root eating our own dog food. But it seems so apropos; I just had to use it. In the product development world, that phrase implies the company is willing to test or use its own new products to make sure they work. In a professional services world, it’s obviously a bit different when it comes to “product” development because we’re not developing tangible products that people can easily take for a test drive.

Root isn’t your traditional consulting company, so we tend to do things differently anyway. But one thing that’s consistent between product companies and Root is that we use our own methods. In the process, we can test how new approaches work and use that insight to deliver even greater value to our clients. So whether it’s a new leadership alignment tool or enhancing a current solution to better motivate a team, we try it on ourselves first!

The reason I bring this up isn’t to try to sell Root’s capabilities, but to outline some interesting approaches I’ve used with the marketing team to inspire and motivate change within our group and define our priorities. I’ve never had these options before in any of my previous companies or roles, but having them now has made a difference in how we support the business and has allowed us to take greater initiative in guiding the business’ marketing activities. Ultimately, it helps us continue to elevate our performance as a team.

Motivating a Team by Envisioning the Future – Marketing Style

Every couple years, Root’s marketing team hosts our own alignment session – usually with some specific outcome in mind. We often use it to create our roadmap for the fiscal year, which includes developing the strategy and identifying the priorities we must focus on to ensure we’re supporting the overall company goals.

My first year at Root, the focus was on building a more structured, data-driven marketing function because we were pulling together a group of people who hadn’t worked as a cohesive marketing team. We wanted to define our future state and have a plan we would use to achieve our objectives. But most importantly, we wanted something the team whole-heartedly agreed with because we had created it together.

The process consisted of the team talking through things like:

  • Marketing’s impact on Root, what’s at stake for the business, and the priorities that would support that business
  • Capturing the current state of Root marketing – which we did using big sticky notes that reflected each person’s perspective

Using the output of the above discussion points, we then talked about the future state we wanted to achieve for the team and for the business, which led to the creation of a Strategic Roadmap. This wasn’t an easy process. We needed to limit it to the 3–5 priorities we believed would deliver the necessary outcomes for both marketing and the business, and we needed everyone on the team to agree with and understand where we wanted to go and how we were going to get there.

The last part of our alignment session included talking about gaps and barriers and how we were going to overcome them. It worked. We used the roadmap as a discussion point in all our team connects and the team was motivated to accomplish the goals they had helped create. As a result, we successfully moved the needle in the right direction and achieved our goals that year.

Taking Conversations out of the Bathrooms

I know every single one of you has done something like this at work: you went into the bathroom with a co-worker, looked under the stalls to see if anyone else was there, and then vented your frustrations. Or you walked out of a meeting and stood in the hallway or went to the break room and unloaded to a friend everything you really wanted to say in that meeting, but didn’t for whatever reason.

I think our marketing team is good about having honest and authentic conversations with each other, but I don’t know that we always get the true perspective of the rest of the business. No matter how great your company culture is – and Root’s is fantastic – it’s not always easy to say what you think should be said.

We recently asked one of the experts in the leadership alignment group to work with marketing to help us determine how we could do better. We wanted to take a step back and honestly assess what’s working well and where we should do more to elevate our marketing game. The leadership alignment expert began by interviewing everyone in marketing, as well as other business leaders. The interviews uncovered key points and trends, which were transformed into a Watercooler® visual sketch (created by one of our amazing illustrators) that included a metaphor and quotes in a fun, humorous way. These Watercooler® sketches take the focus off the individual or functional area and hone in on the meaning behind the message.

It raised a lot of interesting and somewhat different discussions, ones that we had never had as a team before, and the outcomes of those conversations continue to surface more than seven months later. This also offered one of our super-talented illustrators the opportunity to use a different style for the Watercooler® to see whether it’s a style we’d want to use with our clients. (Hey – feel free to share your opinion of the style too!)

What inspires me as the leader of this team is that every single person takes these efforts to heart and values the input from other team members and the business. It’s a shot in the arm and is very motivating for the group to focus on areas of improvement.

Testing 1, 2, 3. Testing.

Marketing isn’t the only group that uses Root’s disruptive methods, but we benefit from the experience, which is a bonus! A while ago, we began to integrate technology into our award-winning Root Learning Map® visuals. For those of you who haven’t seen or been through a Root Learning Map® rollout – which is [expletive] awesome, if I do say so myself – it’s generally in a big room with a lot of people having an incredible dialogue about their company’s strategy, processes, or customer experience. Incorporating technology in a way that wouldn’t undermine the powerful interactions that already come from the Learning Map® experiences was critical.
What better way to test a new capability than by using it on ourselves!

Once or twice a year, everyone at Root gets together for a day and talks through the company strategy, new initiatives, etc. At a recent offsite meeting, we decided that a key area we wanted every person at Root to be more knowledgeable about as a business is our financials – how we make our money, our biggest expense areas, and how incentive is generated, among other things. So the entire company went through the Root Financial Learning Map® module during our company meeting.

This was valuable for the marketing team because while some team members regularly interact with the business’ sales efforts, many others operate behind the scenes in web development, graphic design, and event management. Seeing the various ways the company makes money and understanding how marketing expenses compare to other functions is valuable and provides additional context, both for the conversations we have several times a year about the business’ overall performance and how marketing  contributes to our success.

As part of the financial Learning Map® experience, each group received a tablet loaded with short video clips from one of our business leaders to add context to the content on the visual. The Learning Map® development team also provided small audio speakers to make it easier for each group to hear the videos. This was the first time we had incorporated a technology component into a Root Learning Map® experience and it worked well, but it also gave the solution development team some ideas about how they can continue to improve that new capability.

These are just a few of the ways marketing is using Root’s capabilities to continue to grow the team. I hope an idea or two has inspired you to do something new to motivate a team at your organization, too.

I’d love to hear whether your marketing function does similar things or something completely different that works well for your organization. Drop me a note at

September 13, 2017


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