February 3, 2013: the Super Bowl lights go out, and Oreo dunks into the darkness with their marketing playbook and emerges with the greatest score of the night. A perfectly timed tweet, with pitch-perfect tone. As we all know, the Super Bowl is really about the ads–the night for brands (and their agencies) to shine or flop. As Ad Age noted, “[Oreo] won the evening and it wasn’t even an ad”. The tweet was no last minute fluke, though, it was 18 months in the making: from a strategic decision resulting in a process and team development that allowed their marketing team to effectively and agilely seize the moment. (Background on some of that process here: Business Insider, Ad Exchanger, Ad Age)

What made this win so incredible wasn’t just the timing and poise of the message, but the fact that their marketing team had a process and ability to greenlight a major message like this in minutes instead of days. Most other examples of major brands being “agile” have been the result of rogue operatives acting independently or even accidentally, often with serious negative marketing consequences. (Such as when Chrysler’s official twitter account insulted the city of Detroit.) Being this nimble and agile without tarnishing your brand can only arise once you’ve established the why, how, who, what and what if rules–and once you’ve begun the critical work of consensus building around these objectives.

Have you ever had your Oreo moment… when your issues hit primetime in the zeitgeist and a singularly ripe chance for the moment for massive attention arises? If only you could get sign-off on your fantastic message without arguing over if the logo is the approved treatment or the copy fits with your expert voice, or other “insert reason so and so has to say yes” here, If only there weren’t so many roadblocks then this would be your moment… Alas, in the time it took you to lock everything in, the ripe moment is beginning to rot.

The good news is that the agility needed to seize an Oreo moment is not as hard to develop as it may seem; any organization can create this capability with an alignment of strategy and tactics through process, policies, and governance.

The root of organizational agility is anchored in policies that reduce the number of questions that need to be answered before action can be taken. No matter the size of the team, defining and drafting the documentation for approved processes, policies and governance is critical for creating free spaces in which a team knows they can operate without requiring additional feedback or permission. Staff wants permission to take ownership and responsibility in their roles.

If you’re looking to get started, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Your processes don’t have to be perfect or complete. They will be adjusted and adapted over time to experience and use. These documents should not be written from a single perspective, instead, they should address cross-organizational needs, concerns and objectives–consensus is required for successful implementation and adherence. *Consensus does not mean group ownership.* There should be an organizational leader who is accountable for the oversight and enforcement of each policy. Remember the key goal here is to reduce the number of decisions that need to be made in hectic operational situations.

A first step is to inventory and organize the processes and policies your organization already has figured out. If you have documentation in place currently, is your staff aware of it? Dust off the materials you have and adapt them to your current objectives, staff, and budgets. While you’re doing this, consider where and how your new policies will be stored. They should be easily accessible (i.e. someone can find them without asking several other people) so there is no confusion or reason to forget them. You should create a plan to review and update as needed, at least every 12 months.

So what does an agile policy look like?

There are three components to the agile policy process. Governance documents outline the rules of the road policy documents are focused around what is explicitly allowed and what is explicitly forbidden in a particular arena. Process documents outline standard operating procedures for various activities. Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.

Governance: This is generally the document of how to start things, who must approve them, what are the ground rules, what happens when rules are broken and how to close things down.

Questions that governance might address:

  • How can I start a Twitter feed?
  • Our program just ended; how do we sunset all of our public outreach channels?

Policies: Clear guidance on acceptable and unacceptable actions and the consequences. These are best when there is a why for the policy and when they are written from a positive, pro-employee perspective–i.e. here’s what you can do, not so much a Hammurabi’s Code of Thou Shalt Nots and their consequences…

Questions that policies might address:

  • Can communications staff use their personal phones to run organizational social media accounts?
  • Does an organization allow non-staff to post to a blog on the organizational website?
  • Do we co-brand with other organizations?

Process: This addresses the tactical and practical realities of how the operation will function. It defines hand-off and decision points and identifies who is responsible for each component.

Questions that process might address:

  • When I have a first draft complete does it need a review or not, and who reviews it?
  • Who is responsible for reviews, edits, and publishing?

Remember, change takes time, anticipate stable agile policies to emerge no sooner than three months and no longer than three years.

As you draft these documents there will be at least one person in the room who will raise every possible exception to each policy you attempt to adopt. Try to understand their insights, but don’t get hung up on them. You cannot increase agility by starting from a place of exceptions. Remember to focus discussions on setting a sensible baseline that can be adapted, not on an idealized model of reality. Reducing confusion is the purpose and the power lurking behind these documents and it will unleash your ability to have its own “dunking in the dark” win.

Here’s to you, and your next Oreo moment!