What Is a Center of Excellence and Why Do You Need One?

what is a center of excellence

As organizations scale, they often have marketing functions
sitting in many different areas. Perhaps there are social media
people who work both locally and in the corporate office, like some
of our
hospitality clients
. Or perhaps there are many different teams
which produce content that should be used across digital
properties, like a client of ours which is a trade
organization.

In those situations, these organizations benefit from a
structure that brings together various groups and sits outside of
the regular reporting structure. 

We work with clients to create short-term task forces, but in
addition to those bodies, we also work with clients on defining and
implementing long-term centers of excellence. 

What is a center of excellence?

Sometimes called a “competency center” or
“capability center” in academia, a center of excellence (COE)
brings together people from different disciplines and provides
shared facilities/resources.
In business, and especially
marketing, COEs should go further, in order to do what Gartner
describes as, “concentrating existing expertise and resources in
a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class
performance and value.” These long-term groups combine learning
and oversight around a specific area, driving the organization to
shift across multiple disciplines together. 

For instance, you may have the heads of various
marketing-related functions from across different product lines
gather in a COE around implementing best-in-class social customer
care for your customers, with shared customer history, multiple
types of customized content, and more relevant content production.
Therefore, the COE would focus on providing training, best
practices, and resources for all of these different teams, while
also gathering the data and learnings from all of the teams to
create a positive feedback loop. 

Here are 4 best practices of effective COEs.

  1. Executive buy-in: To function well, COEs first need
    buy-in from the top to get them planned and implemented.

    Sometimes, this can be a challenge. As we’ve discovered as
    we’ve worked with various clients to implement these processes,
    sometimes it can take many conversations and hours to get buy-in
    from skeptical team leads who don’t want their independence
    encroached upon. However, if there is executive buy-in and clarity
    in terms of reporting functionality, it can be done
    smoothly. 
  2. Cross-discipline team members: COEs also need to bring
    together people who are cross-discipline and whose experience
    touches the core area in multiple ways.
    For instance, a
    COE around content marketing might bring together a team that
    creates content for sales, a video content team, a customer service
    team, and a research team, all to create a more efficient and
    effective content marketing engine for your organization.
    Respecting and engaging the expertise of these different
    disciplines is key.
  3. Consistency and Governance: A consistency and
    governance plan are other key features of an effective
    COE.
    In working with our clients on implementing COEs, we
    often develop a cadence and structure for COE meetings and identify
    who in the group owns various responsibilities. For example, making
    sure that your COE has someone in charge of bringing in the
    analysis, and all team leads come prepped with an agenda may seem
    like a small thing, but it can make all the difference when your
    teams are extremely busy and time is a limited commodity.
  4. Shared resources: An important
    logistical consideration, COEs must have a system of shared
    resources.
    Templates, tools, calendars,
    and work standards must be accessible to everyone who is involved
    in the tasks at hand, and the organization must incentivize and
    monitor all participants’ adherence to these tools to ensure
    consistency. This process doesn’t work if only one or two people
    buy in. Everyone must use the system consistently.

What is the benefit of a COE?

As organizations get more complex, teams are often working in
silos, not sharing their knowledge, despite the parallel evolution
of various skills. COEs identify these areas and bring together
internal resources so they can be shared among groups. This brings
more organization efficiencies, but also creates
more consistent customer experience
across the organization,
benefiting customers of both B2B and B2C companies. 

Because COEs are designed to drive innovation and
improvement, they also create an organizational structure that
encourages the different members to measure, experiment, and push
each other forward. By promoting more transparency and more shared
results, they can be a powerful way for the organization to align
around business goals, rather than individual departmental
metrics. 

How do you roll out a COE?

As with all good things, COEs take patience to implement. Time
and dedication are key to creating a successful structure.

Here are four steps to rolling out a COE: 

  1. Identify the team members: Once you’ve
    defined the scope and nature of the COE, identify who should be a
    part of it, how often it will meet, and what information needs to
    be shared and agreed upon in each meeting. 
  2. Regular meetings: Schedule regular meetings
    and make sure that the agenda is shared with the entire group prior
    to the meetings. Be sure that reporting and data, pertinent to the
    conversation, is distributed ahead of time. 
  3. Set goals and timelines: Within the COE,
    develop specific goals metrics and timelines upon which the COE
    will measure and evaluate success, so that there is a consistent
    drive towards improvement. 
  4. Create your resource hub: Establish a resource
    hub to share tools, templates, and updates on the COE’s
    activities — whether that’s a Slack channel or part of your
    project management tool. 

Remember: a COE should drive improvement and change within the
organization. Don’t be afraid to challenge the group to get
outside their comfort zone and be creative about solving problems
together. 

Related Podcast:
How Hilton’s Social Media Center of Excellence Keeps Guests
Coming Back

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What Is a Center of Excellence and Why Do You Need One?

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What Is a Center of Excellence and Why Do You Need One?