A Simple Way to Break Silos at Work with David Beebe

Andy Cook
March 20, 2018
Interview with David Beebe

If you’ve ever tried to launch a big idea internally at your organization, then you’re all too familiar with the various shades of “no” new ideas come up against: “we don’t have the time;” “we don’t have the budget;” “we don’t do things that way;” “we don’t have enough resources.”

What you may not realize, however, is that those “no’s” have nothing to do with your idea and everything to do with the way you’re trying to “sell” that idea internally.

David Beebe, a marketing operations consultant to some of the largest brands in the world and the architect of the ultra-successful Marriott Content Studio initiative, says that if all you’re talking about is your big idea, you’ll never find the support you’re looking for. What you should do instead, he explains in our conversation for this episode of Org Uncharted, is focus on breaking down the silos between departments by talking about other people and how this idea will benefit them first.

“We’re all in the people business, regardless of the role you play, the job you’re in, the industry you’re in. That’s a really important thing to remember.”

At the core of it, David concedes, this idea of switching your thinking from your idea to its benefits for others is not all that innovative. In marketing speak, it’s often packaged in the dictum “think of the consumer first.”

What he’s found, however, in his experience with organizations of all varieties and across all industries is that no one, not even the marketing department, thinks of applying this strategy internally to their colleagues when internally marketing ideas. Yet, it’s these people you’re trying to get on board with your idea who should be your primary focus.

“It’s about showing other groups how what we’re trying to do globally could benefit them.”

When people can see a clear value for themselves and the organization in your idea, they’ll be much more interested to hear you out and much more eager to help you find ways to implement it.

So, if you want to get company-wide buy-in to your next idea, David advises following the “consumer first” strategy with these three steps:

  1. Think about how your idea benefits them. How does your idea benefit the HR department? What about the customer support department? And the finance group? Think about the different benefits that your idea will bring to each department and start from there. This strategy is all about creating a value exchange, and you have to create the value first.
  2. Communicate those benefits to each of them. Instead of preparing one grand presentation for everyone in the company, make the time to connect with key people in each department and tailor your presentation to your specific audience every time. What does HR need to hear to get on board? Talk about that first and show them that you’re fully on their side; don’t try to bring them around to your side right away.
  3. Bring them along for the ride. Once people see how your idea can benefit them, they’ll be much more invested in seeing it succeed and much more willing to contribute their time or resources. Make sure you bring those people along with you for the ride. This isn’t about getting “backing” for your idea, but about cultivating true partners for the journey. How can you and this group of colleagues win together?

Tune into our full episode to hear more about how David has used this strategy successfully throughout his career at places like Showtime and Disney and ABC for launching the wildly successful Marriott Content Studio. Throughout our conversation, David shares with us specific tips and tactics about how he approached other departments, how he got commitment from others for his projects, and how he avoided having “too many cooks” on one project.



Jay Acunzo 00:02

You’re listening to the show for people who empower other people to do their best work. I’m Jay Acunzo, and this is Org Uncharted.

Jay Acunzo 00:25

Hello, and welcome to the show that believes in putting the customer first, and making decisions from the bottom up, and then fighting against top-down leadership. This great show is brought to you by Tettra, the makers of knowledge management and sharing software for fast-growing teams. Tettra has also collected all kinds of company culture decks for our show website, including Google, Spotify, Patreon, even NASA. So you can go behind the scenes with how these companies and others like them create thriving cultures at orguncharted.com. Okay. You know this. I know this. But it bears repeating. People are so much more than little shapes on an org chart. So why don’t we go beyond the org chart to explore today’s theme? Breaking Down Silos.

Jay Acunzo 01:18

In the fight against top-down leadership, we often come across lots of inconsistencies and inefficiencies when we feel relegated to a certain part of that org chart, a certain part of our companies, never to mix and mingle, not to mention collaborate with people outside our bubbles. I mean, when was the last time you got lunch with somebody who wasn’t on your team? When was the last time you Slacked or Gchatted somebody in HR or finance? There are so many benefits to breaking down silos in the workplace. At the everyday level, it’s about creating a shared vision for a company. You might say a shared consciousness for this organization made up of lots and lots of people. And when you execute on that shared consciousness, you collectively live up to the vision of the organization. When you get everybody on that same page, you make people feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves. What better way to get people to do their best work than that?

Jay Acunzo 02:14

Breaking down silos is also really important when you have a big idea. For instance, maybe you’re on the marketing team and you need to push through a huge brand storytelling initiative around a business that just keeps on growing. That’s an expensive project that takes a lot of time and energy and alignment from different people. If you’re going to tell that brand’s story, your brand’s story, you need to actually understand the brand. And what is a brand if not a collection of people doing work in a coherent way and the world’s emotional reaction to the work of those people. But too often, when you’re in the marketing department — and trust me; I know this first hand — you just start with an idea that feels right to you. You might not inform your vision for the brand with any other employee around that business.

Jay Acunzo 03:01

But every employee is in some way responsible for the brand experience that people have, whether they’re a prospective customers, actual customers or users, people in the press, people who observe you second hand but never buy from you, or people who actually join your company and work there longer term. Whatever the case, a brand is a collection of people. So what if the marketing department recognized that? What if more people were involved in the brand’s story than just marketers?

David Beebe 03:35

Oftentimes content marketing brand storytelling really gets stuck in marketing and people think that’s the only place it can work. And in a lot of brands, especially experiential brands, there’s a lot more opportunity to spread it around the company.

Jay Acunzo 03:49

That’s David Beebe. He consults some of the largest brands in the world on how to transform their marketing operation to be better brand storytellers. He helps them set up things like internal news rooms and content studios and generally embrace the ways of content marketing around the business. David got his start in scheduling and programming at DirecTV. Over the years, he’s created content at places like SHOWTIME and ABC Disney. Then in 2014, he joined Marriott, where he started his huge initiative called Marriott Content Studios. Marriott Content Studios is one of the most widely cited case studies of how to transform a brand into a storytelling entity, embracing the ways of content marketing. The studio is most famous for the Two Bellman series of fill. They’re actual films with production value, and action sequences, and real actors, and even original music; actual films made by hotel chains to tell stories, not advertise. And these films were so successful early on that Marriott just keeps making them. That project and the broader Marriott Content Studio helped David win tons of awards himself and go on the road giving keynote speeches to all sorts of organizations.

Jay Acunzo 05:02

Today, now that he’s out on his own, he’s in demand because of that studio. But to start something like that, meant that he had to break down a ton of silos inside a huge, red-tape-ridden organization and get everybody else on board with the idea. It wasn’t easy, but, man, did it pay off.

Jay Acunzo 05:20

When I think of your work, I think of transformative creative ideas, large-scale kind of like culture shifts to be more content and story focused. And I think of having to make the case internally. I want to start by going way back to when you were building out your first content studio. Do you remember any moments in time or people you had to deal with where you thought it actually wasn’t going to happen for you where you felt like you were either getting turned away or shot down outright?

David Beebe 05:50

I don’t know if there was one particular moment where I thought it wasn’t going to work, but there were certainly challenges you faced with individuals who when you step back and look at it at the end of the day, they just didn’t understand what you were trying to do. What I found would work is taking the time to actually educate them versus trying to force them into doing, then, what you wanted to do. Whether they were a college, whether they were part of your team, whether it was an executive, I think if you’re a storyteller by nature, and that’s how you’re positioned in the company and externally, you should be able to tell your own stories to achieve the results you want. I spent the first six months, essentially, going around the company not only, in the United States but to the global offices, and educating people. What is this about? What I was really selling was, “Here’s what I’m doing. Here’s how it’s going to help you do your job. And here’s how you’re going to be able to measure it to make it a success for everybody.”

Jay Acunzo 06:58

Yeah. Where’d you get this idea for roadshows?

David Beebe 07:01

It goes back to I’ve always been a believer in you really have to educate people of what you’re doing and what your role is, and, ultimately, how does it help them. I think, at the end of the day, regardless of what we do, we’re all in the people business, and we want to do work with people that we like. If I’m able to build a relationship with you by saying, “Here’s what I believe in and here’s how my beliefs can benefit you,” I think you’re more likely to come along for the journey and the ride and learn with me, essentially, versus what I see a lot of new executives do. They come in an organization, they’re like a bull in a China shop. They’re there to redo org charts, hire new people, change everything, and essentially, make their mark.

David Beebe 07:51

I think it goes back to that core of really understanding people and psychology and how they operate because there’s a lot of fear in corporations and in big brands. And fear stops a lot of things happening. So the more things you can do like roadshows, lunches, and just be out there talking about it, the more that you’re going to eliminate a lot of that fear, and you’re really going to build and clear a lot of the roadblocks you’d run into if you just went in and tried to do it on your own.

Jay Acunzo 08:22

I wish I had this advice or this example, I don’t know, four or five years ago. I was working as a team manager, and I was hired as a manager, which always makes it harder because you didn’t do the job there first. And my team was the content team. This was at HubSpot, and they were right on the cusp of an IPO. So the pressure was mounting on every team. And everybody needed something, or wanted something, or had new ideas, and it somehow required my team’s work. When I had a big idea or when I wanted to defend my team’s current focus on ideas against everyone else’s requests of them, I did this kind of roadshow thing. I didn’t have this term, but I think given what you just said, I think I did it really poorly. I would like whiteboard everything that we were doing, right, like, “Here’s my strategy. Here’s what the team is up to. Here’s the breakdown of the team.” I would literally write the org chart of our team on the board for a team of like 9 or 10 people, and I was, basically, just pushing all of my stuff onto somebody else.

Jay Acunzo 09:20

What you said you did, and it seems way more strategic, is number one, I assume you selected the right people to talk to or at least the right departments, and then found the right people. And number two, the very first thing you said was, “I talked about their jobs.” You didn’t just shove the idea down their throats. You started by talking about what they cared about. I imagine that became a much more friendly and objective conversation.

David Beebe 09:44

Absolutely. And I think, also, one of the strategies was looking outside of marketing or the immediate groups that you work with and seeing how you can help people, essentially, tell their stories. Oftentimes, content marketing brand storytelling really gets stuck in marketing, and people think that’s the only place it can work. And in a lot of brands, especially experiential brands, there’s a lot more opportunity to spread it around the company. So a couple examples is I did the roadshow for people in HR, for people in the finance group, for people in the design group that designed hotels, for the food and beverage group. And it wasn’t necessarily about what I was trying to do strategically. That was very high level. But it was like, “Let me show you how this can help you.”

David Beebe 10:32

So an example that came out of that was in presenting to the food and beverage group, I really uncovered and realized in talking to them that they had a show within their group that we could produce. And ultimately, ended up launching an entire show around how food and beverage and restaurants operate and get chosen into hotels. Same thing with the design group. There’s really a niche audience out there who loves hotel design and architecture, and how do you make decisions, and what does a room look like, and what are the features in it. So it’s little geeky, but that super-engaged audience cares about that. And we created content around that.

David Beebe 11:13

So it was showing other groups how what we were ultimately trying to do globally could benefit them and how to tell their stories. And people love that because they want their work highlighted. People are really talented across organizations. You forget that while finance is boring for a lot of people, there could be really interesting people in those groups that are talented storytellers themselves. Maybe they just don’t know it or maybe they stopped doing it years ago because they got into a group, and it works, and they never really got that hopefully. So I say look around the company and get out of your own group, and tell that story as well because I think you’ll find a lot of other opportunities to really help bring it together.

Jay Acunzo 11:56

I love that. Right? Bringing everybody in, celebrating people’s work. However, here’s a big question. If you have large initiative at your business, whether it’s a brand storytelling push or something else entirely, how can you make it happen even if you don’t have a lot of time or money? That, after the break.

Jay Acunzo 12:18

This show is brought to you by Tettra, which makes knowledge management software for modern, fast-growing teams. Basically, Tettra helps your teams make better decisions in less time, and do so without having to worry about all these troubling silos that we keep talking about today. One of my favorite quotes from a Tettra customer comes from Patrick Campbell. He’s an ex-Googler and the co-found and CEO of the software company, Price Intelligently. He says that Tettra helped them eliminate information silos throughout the organization, which reduces ramp time for hires, increases collaborative productivity, and ultimately ensures that we’re moving as quickly as we can in growing the business. So if you the kind of leader who hates silos, who hates the ramp time for hires, who loves collaboration and productivity, and ultimately wants to move as quickly as possible in the right direction to grow, maybe go check out Tettra’s product because that’s exactly what they help with. Head on over to tettra.co to learn more. That’s Tettra with two Ts dot CO. And now, back to the show.

Jay Acunzo 13:29

My friend, we are in uncharted territory now. So let’s dive even deeper into this idea of breaking down silos and take with us a few treasures, a few gems that we can use back in our work to execute better. So that question again. How do you start breaking down silos? How do you push through those big ideas, whether you’re in a global corporation or a tiny startup where everybody sits in a single room? Well, it starts by getting to know people outside of your core function. That can feel really labor intensive, right? When I spoke to David, that’s exactly what I was wondering.

Jay Acunzo 14:07

So, David, isn’t the perception … I mean, some people listening might be thinking, “I’d love to push through a big idea, get other people on board, but that’ll take too much time.” And my question to you is that does it actually have to take time? If we just think about it, we all take coffee breaks. We all eat meals at work everyday. And I don’t see why we can’t invest a few of those moments here and there to just meet with somebody else? Like, that’s not a ton of friction to do that. I think there’s more mental friction, the idea of doing it is actually harder in theory than in practice. Right? Because it’s just like little moments of time.

David Beebe 14:43

Absolutely. It’s just those little pockets. It doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t take a lot of money. A lot of people will say, “That’s great, but I don’t have the budget to travel,” or, “I don’t have the budget to do whatever.” Well, do a brown-bag lunch. Do a webinar. When you think about it, it goes back to this core idea that we talk about all the time in brand storytelling and content marketing is thinking consumer first. What does the consumer want? How does this benefit them? Then I can talk about myself. And I just apply that internally is: How does this benefit HR? How could they tell employee brand stories? How could I help them understand? And then say, “Oh, by the way, I want to do this with you,” or pull it into my overall strategy. Then they get it. So it’s just taking that consumer-first approach and taking it internally to colleague-first approach. It’s a lot more effective and you find a lot more partners in a company willing to not only work with you, but in many cases, depending on how a company operates, help actually support it through their budgets.

Jay Acunzo 15:47

So that’s awesome. I mean, you can do brown-bag lunches. You can do webinars. And through all of that, you can rally a lot of folks from a lot of different departments around your idea. But then, you may end up in a situation where there’s too many cooks in the kitchen where that central vision starts to get really blurry with too many voices and too many ideas. David says that when that happens, the best thing organizations can do is to define one person who’s going to take the lead and really own the initiative, whether it’s an editor in chief if you’re publishing content, or an executive producer if you’re creating a show like David was. A point person. And so even if you have a bunch of people and a bunch of different departments executing, it all rolls up to one coherent strategy, one North Star set by one individual who can make sure the operation runs smoothly. But keep in mind, this person doesn’t own it all. She’s overseeing it, sort of like an air traffic controller.

David Beebe 16:43

It’s not about one person owning it all. It’s that idea of really being collaborative in nature where I think regardless of where you work today, you can’t do anything on your own. And you actually have to reach across the aisle, in a sense, to make it political, and really, truly be collaborative in nature.

Jay Acunzo 17:00

I want to talk about the importance of finding a true believer or a champion internally. We talked to Michael Brenner, who I believe you know in the marketing world. But he has this concept of the champion leader, this leader that champions the teams ideas around to other leaders or other departments. And with this roadshow idea or perhaps when you work with clients, I’m sure at some point you talk about how do you spot the individual that has the purse strings, so to speak, or has the influence internally, has the political capital, even, that will believe in you and help you?

David Beebe 17:36

Yeah. I think you’ve got to shift your mindset first, like we’ve talked about, right, and think about how I can benefit them, and, ultimately, benefit yourself. It is truly creating a value exchange. No different than like in marketing with a consumer. Provide that value first. You’ll get value back. So take that approach and strategy internally. I used to joke. I literally carried a tin cup around the hallways of Marriott and was begging for money all the time to get stuff done. But in order to do that, I had to convince the loyalty group, the brand group, another group of how what I wanted to create was going to benefit them, and say, “Okay,” once you’re sold on that, potentially, “Okay, by the way, I need some help making this.” But they were so invested that time and they saw how it was going to benefit what they do. They would contribute the dollars. So everyone, collectively, comes to the table with different amounts of money and budget to get stuff done.

Jay Acunzo 18:32

Yeah. So, normally, we think of marketing and sales as activities you point externally to prospects and customers. But now we’re also talking about bringing in that skill in-house, and instead of a customer, it’s a colleague or a boss, and that’s how you market and sell your idea: familiar skills just applied to different types of people internally. Now, we’re talking about another familiar skill, which normally points externally, and we’re, again, bringing it internal. Normally, when you network, it’s very common practice to say to somebody, “Who else from your network should I meet?” Well, internally, when you’re going on these roadshows or evangelizing, it sounds like you can do the same exact thing. Right? You can say to a person that you think you’ve convinced or at least met with, “Who else do you think I should talk to around your team or around this company?” It’s like you want to reach the super connectors first who can introduce you to or at least propose your idea to lots of other people or the right people around the organization.

David Beebe 19:28

Yeah. Absolutely. And look, think of other groups, too, that you traditionally wouldn’t be involved in marketing or sales. I’ve found some great people that ended up joining the team that were working in groups that you would never know about, literally, just walking around the building and talking to people. That was the nature of Marriott and the culture there. It was very much, being a hospitality company, people like to talk and meet, so that also helps. But I think it’s just take that different approach and think different. And, ultimately, again, I hear this all the time from people. “I can’t sell this internally. I can’t get it done.” And I go back to, “Your position is a storyteller, and one of the hardest things to do is to tell your own story.” It’s absolutely because you just get in your own way. But figuring out how you do that is key because it, ultimately, help you sell that story in-house and help you achieve your own personal goals as well.

Jay Acunzo 20:37

We’ve ventured away from the confines of the traditional org chart today. And we dove deep into breaking down silos as our theme. The whole object is to bring everybody along for the ride, whether they’re informed or actually collaborating with you. But let’s be realistic. We can’t be great leaders and empower others without other great leaders having first empowered us along the way. So let’s hear now about the person or people that David would thank, the intrepid explorer who empowered him to do his best work.

David Beebe 21:07

The first one is my first job at DirecTV. Talking about org chart and authority is, I had just come out of the military serving in the United States Coast Guard, which is very authoritarian, and about charts and who you communicate, and a process. I was fortunate enough to get an entry level role at DirecTV as a media coordinator, and that’s really where I started my career. The first boss that I had was a woman named April Watson. And she really held my hand, in a sense, and gave me a lot of opportunity to learn the world outside of the military and what corporate life sort of was like. I remember, yeah, a story that I’ll never forget is when I first started, I wrote all my emails in caps. She finally came to me and was like, she was like, “Why do you write all your emails in caps?” And I was like, “Well, that’s what you do. That’s how I was trained.” Because in the military everything was capitalized. And she’s like, “Well, let me … that means you’re yelling, in a sense, in our world.”

David Beebe 22:18

So she took the time to really guide me and sort of make that transformation, in a sense, of cultural and thinking, which really helped in the later years of changing your thought process that not everything is an org chart, and you can only talk to the person that you immediately report to, and all of that. So it’s funny, on this podcast of Org Uncharted, that’s kind of where I started was a completely different world.

David Beebe 22:48

I would say the second person at Disney-ABC would be Albert Chang. Albert was the chief digital officer there. He’s now the chief operating officer at Amazon Studios. Super smart leader. He really taught me how to really solve problems, meaning, he didn’t really always provide the solution. He knew what the solution was, but every time I would go to him with a problem, whether it was I couldn’t get something done, I was having a problem with another leader, whatever it may be, he would always push back. And through conversation of helping me understand how to get to the solution without him necessarily getting involved and taking care of it, even though he totally could, he spent a lot of time in that leadership-type role, which I think was leadership to do is it’s not just about, “Hey, you report to me. You do what I tell you to do.” He spent a lot of time in training me, really, to how to do this communication internally, and how to talk to people, and really how to sell your ideas internally. So that’s, I think, is a big part of it as well, taking that experience and knowledge that he shared into a larger brand to be able to do everything that we did there.

Jay Acunzo 24:10

Thank you so much to David Beebe for his time and his awesome look at roadshows. If you do use this strategy, I’d love to hear from you. Maybe we’ll include you in a future episode. Email me, J, J-A-Y, at unthinkablemedia.com. You can give David himself on Twitter using his handled which is in the show notes.

Jay Acunzo 24:29

Special thanks also to Tettra for making this show possible, and for our amazing show website full of other interviews, both audio and text, all about rethinking leadership today. Don’t miss the Culture Code section of that page where you can browse actual decks and employee handbooks from some of the world’s best companies. That’s orguncharted.com.

Jay Acunzo 24:50

This show is a production of my company, Unthinkable Media, makers of refreshingly entertaining shows about work. More at unthinkablemedia.com. I’m Jay Acunzo, and on behalf of Tettra, thank you so much for listening to the show. Talk to you in two weeks on another episode of Org Uncharted.