In-house Issues: Who’s Your Daddy?

If your in-house department works for multiple clients in multiple departments you should be operating within a shared services model – period. Chances are, at least based on the surveys and anecdotal evidence I’ve reviewed, that you’re not. Most likely you’re part of the Marketing or Sales departments but responsible for providing services to HR, PR, Facilities, your C-team, Finance and on and on. That’s good – you’re an integral part of your company that’s flexible and creative enough to do everything from a recruiting brochure to a package for your new product.


The trouble starts when you have to prioritize your projects, enforce uniform branding standards and gain access to strategic meetings while reporting to a group whose self-serving interests may be in conflict with your needs and goals. I don’t care how enlightened your managing group may be – they’re still operating under a territorial mindset. To a degree, that’s how they’re supposed to be behaving. A company is group of departments each with their own mandates that hopefully operate under a reasonable system of checks and balances and with enough shared goals that, in the end, they achieve overarching organizational goals. But your team can’t best serve your company if you’re reporting into a department who doesn’t have the expertise or incentive to allow your department to do that.

Your team should be a separate entity outside of any one department if you’re servicing multiple departments. Of course, here’s where the challenge lies and where you have put your designer derrière on the line. You have to make a case for your departmental head reporting into the C-team and having the same authority as the heads of your company’s other departments. This is, at best, incomprehensible to upper management, at worst, utter blasphemy. If you come to them with this suggestion without the needed gravitas and rationale to back it up they’ll patronizingly pat you on the head and tell you they’ll take it under advisement.

I can’t coach you in one post on how to become the kind of person whom they’ll listen to or feed you the rationale you’ll need to make your case. I can direct you to periodicals, books and consultants who can get you where you need to be to achieve this goal. And, believe me, you need to achieve this goal.

Resources include:

  • A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
  • Design Thinking by Tim Brown
  • The Design of Business by Roger L. Martin
  • Fast Company Magazine
  • CATALYST Strategic Design Review
  • @issue
  • Cohen-Miller Consulting
  • HOW’s InHOWse Conference
  • Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company by Robert Brunner, Stewart Emery and Russ Hall

3 thoughts on “In-house Issues: Who’s Your Daddy?

  1. Diana

    Wow, thank you. Did you write this post just for me? Please, yes point me in the direction of where to find written documentation and how to write a proposal for a shared services model. I want to propose this in an arts organization that does NOT have a centralized marketing team or a marketing person to report too. The shared services in my organization are: HR, IT, Operations, Accting. All these shared dept. report to the CFO and CEO. A shared creative team would have multiple bosses??

    Thans for any input you have. I don’t want to jump into a shark tank, but I can’t just sit by and see people struggling for good design and knowing where to go (me), but not being able to ask because of the internal structual woes.

  2. Karen

    Absolutely right on, but probably suicidal to implement.

    We are part of the marketing department of a large university but service every other college and department on campus as well. Often we must set aside work for others in order to meet a rush deadline imposed by our own VP. This sometimes results in missing the other deadlines, which results in those department heads complaining to our VP, which results in an internal and external “reputation” for being slow and unresponsive–a disheartening lose/lose cycle.

    However, I think our continuing survival is because we belong to the Marketing Department which has enough clout to keep a staff of people performing a function not seen to be critical to the mission of a university. If we were a separate entity, we would be an easy target to be lopped off and out-sourced.

  3. zh

    Mi Hijo: Right on the money as usual!

    Pushing this thought further: do you have any plans to cover the issue of working under the direct supervision of non-designers? (e.g. marketing execs) particularly in situations where they may function as art directors, but are not necessarily the client/audience…

    Please, would you post any relevant links if you’ve already covered this topic… thanks!