Simplifiers Interview: Diana O’Brien, CMO at Deloitte

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Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. Here I interview leaders, often CMOs or CEOs, that we deem simplifiers. In this Simplifiers interview I speak with Diana O’Brien, CMO at Deloitte

MM: What does Deloitte stand for and how does it deliver on that promise every day? 

DO: At Deloitte, we challenge ourselves and each other to make an impact that matters for our clients, our people, and for society. For each of our professionals, that means doing what matters most that day, that moment, and for the clients, people or community you serve.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise? 

DO: Our Global CEO, Punit Renjen has narrowed down to one page what defines us as a global organization—who we are, the value we deliver, and the principles that guide all Deloitte colleagues in the decisions they make. We are a highly matrixed organization with hundreds of service offerings and many offices around the world. Yes, our work is complex, but our purpose—to make an impact that matters—is quite simple. And its simplicity allows our people to understand it, embrace it, and see themselves as fundamental to our collective success as a global organization.

MM: How does your organization strive to create simple experiences? 

DO: Organizational complexity often breeds bureaucracy. At Deloitte, we certainly have our share of bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. But in reimagining those hurdles as opportunities to evolve culturally, we created “bureaucracy busters,” a method by which we encourage our people to call out ineffective processes—processes that slow them down and keep them from being as agile as they want to be in meeting clients’ needs. For example, historically, our consultants had to get approval before booking certain types of travel. Now, instead of asking our consultants to secure approval before booking, we empower them to use good judgment and make the right decision. The process is simpler, faster, and frees our people to spend more time on high-value work.

Another simplifying concept at Deloitte is something we call “the minus key,” and it works like this: If you want to add something—a step in a process or a line item in a budget—you must first subtract something else to make space. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. People have a hard time letting go of the belief that everything is equally important. This is a great metaphor for how we need to show up in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. We must continue to evolve and be creative in how we deliver service, and that often means that we have to embrace change, add something new, let go of the things that no longer serve—and simplify. Just because something worked last year or three years ago doesn’t mean that it’s worth holding on to—especially if something else will work better today.

MM: What benefits have you experienced from simplifying? 

DO: Our people are happier—they feel empowered and able to be more agile in meeting clients’ needs.

MM: How do you strive to keep things simple for your marketing team? 

DO: When we started our Deloitte-wide marketing transformation, we very quickly discovered a lot of duplication and ineffieciency across the organization. Marketing was executing projects from our lines of business that weren’t delivering value, so we “rebooted”. We established clear guidance around how and what to measure for success and we eliminated initiatives that weren’t delivering value. Today, we have fewer campaigns that deliver more impact and better results and our conversion rate has increased.

Simplification wasn’t the goal, it was the natural outcome of our desire to be best in class.

MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?

DO: For the most part, I don’t encourage people to present with slides. If they must, it should be one page of mostly visuals. I tell the people I manage that when they’re editing a piece, they’re not allowed to add words, but they can always take out words in an effort to reach the essence of an idea. Most people like to talk, but I inspire those I manage to listen.

MM: What’s the most recent simple customer experience that inspired you?

DO: The whole experience of Deloitte University—from planning your visit to the moment you leave—is world-class. Consider the check-in process: When you arrive, someone greets you, they know who you are, they have your name and agenda at the ready, and they know where you’re going. Everything is taken care of—there’s no exchanging of credit card information or waiting in line. They anticipate your needs and provide you with what you need and want, which is the essence of simplicity.

MM: What’s the biggest mistake brands make when trying to simplify? 

DO: Designing a customer experience is a complex process. Many brands don’t spend enough time incorporating customer insights into the upfront customer experience. Always remember that simple and easy is defined by the customer. You need to engineer the experience around what the customer finds valuable.

MM: What are the key indicators that simplicity is driving your business? 

DO: By consolidating campaigns and deprioritizing ineffective initiatives, we’ve seen significant cost savings. This has freed up cash to be reappointed to other initiatives with much greater potential for impact.

MM: What does simplicity mean to you?

DO: Simplicity is present when I have clarity on what I need to do, where I need to go and how I can connect. The world is complex. Simplicity is not about changing that reality, it’s about having a lens that allows you to assess and move quickly through that reality so you can focus on what matters.

MM: What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to other brands that want to simplify?

DO: I grew up in a world where perfection was the thing to strive for. In today’s reality, you never get to perfect, but if you can keep moving forward, your results will be significant. The strategic plans of yesterday lived in perfectly crafted binders full of recommendations. These plans might have had great insights and recommendations, but if nobody reads your binder, it has no value. Keep moving. Move forward. Don’t stall for the sake of perfection.

MM: Can you give an example of a time your organization made a hard decision for the sake of simplicity?

DO: “Bureaucracy busters” is a great example. If you give your people the opportunity to say whether a system is bureaucratic and how it should change, then you must be prepared to change! Honoring that commitment takes courage, flexibility, and a healthy relationship with risk—all things we’re embracing as we continue to cultivate a simpler, more agile way of operating across our organization.

This is an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with CMO at Georgia-Pacific, Douwe Bergsma; CMO at Lenovo, David Roman; EVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Henry Gomez; CMO at Twitter, Leslie Berland; CMO at Blue Apron, Jared Cluff; SVP, Global Brand Management at American Express, Clayton Ruebensaal; EVP and Group President at Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Cofra Holding Ltd, former CEO of C&A China, Lawrence Brenninkmeyer; CMO at The Recording Academy, Evan Greene; CMO at Mary Kay, Sheryl Adkins-Green; Head of Marketing at Home Centre, Rohit Singh Bhatia; SVP, CMO of Aflac, Gail Galuppo; SVP and CMO at Cambia Health Solutions, Carol Kruse, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, Geof Rochester, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Motorola Solutions, Eduardo Conrado, EVP; SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott, Elaine Leavenworth, GE CMO, Linda Boff; McLaren Automotive Head of Brand Marketing, Stephen Lambert; Ascension Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Nick Ragone; Hertz CMO, Matt Jauchius; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl; Jet.com President, Liza Landsman and VP Marketing, Sumaiya Balbale; Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally Financial CMO, Andrea Riley; Gannett CMO, Andy Yost; CVS Health CMO, Norman De Greve; Dunkin’ Brands CMO, John Costello; Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh; Southwest Airlines CMO, Kevin Krone; and Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill.

Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview: mmolloy@siegelgale.com

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy and Instagram:@MargaretMMolloy

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