Yesterday I wrote a post about top-down versus bottom-up thinking.
There is a corollary to that advice, which is “doing the right things is more important than doing things right.” Sounds simple but in practice I promise you most organization fall into the latter trap.
Here’s how it goes:
You have a business development group with two people. They are tasked with “getting deals done” so they race around talking to tons of potential partners inking anything from channel sale deals, product integration, international distribution agreements, co-marketing arrangements, M&A discussions, etc. You can often measure how many deals were achieved but there often doesn’t flow a steady stream of revenues / profits from these deals.
You have a marketing department with three people. They’re tasked with doing … marketing. So they create a task list of all the marketing activities an organization can do: press releases, web site updates, customer case studies, blog posts, daily Tweets, Facebook fan page, attending conferences, etc. You get a lot of traffic – not always results.
When you hire people in functional roles they want to show that they’re achieving results and results are easiest to measure by tasks accomplished. But many CEO’s and management teams fail to set clear guidelines on what the company objectives are and make sure that everybody is driving toward the same goal. It’s actually quite hard to lay out an annual company strategy that is articulate and underpinned by facts.
So many CEO’s just carry on being … CEO’s –> fund raise, get media attention, attend conferences, hire staff, “set direction”, whatever. But this leads to organizational drift because staff will continue to produce “work.”
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a marketing department with an incredibly talented leader who knows SEO, SEM, social media and how to hit the ball off the cover on press coverage. So you generate a ton of traffic to your website. If the traffic is unfocused you actually can be doing a disservice to your company rather than a benefit. Your sales department has to have somebody has do deal with these inbound inquiries. If the people who wind up at your site are not high quality leads, you either piss people off by not responding to them or you respond and burn up your critical resources trying to be helpful to people who are not likely to convert to become customers.
It’s why I’ve often start when running marketing campaigns the most simple of questions:
- with whom are we trying to communicate?
- what messages are we wanting them to receive?
- what is the best channel to reach these people?
- if they receive our message what actions (if any) are we hoping for?
- how will we handle those responses
And the reality is that you might be better off doing less activity but doing “the right” activities really well. To do the right activities you need to start with a top down assessment with what you’re trying to achieve with your marketing.
Similar with product features. One of the most important movements in software design in the past few years has been a return to simplicity – a move away from the Microsoft era of every release adding a new 150 unused features. One of my favorite sayings in this area comes from a portfolio company, RingRevenue, who like to say “ease of use = use and use = revenue.” I love that saying. If you don’t know WHY you’re adding features don’t do it just because you have a development team. Better that they work on new initiatives, performance improvements, operational features to help internal management or anything other than just cranking out features for the sake of it.
But the counter case is equally ineffective. You sometimes find CEO’s who want press coverage, want to speak on important panels or want features that their competitors offer without knowing whether their customers care about these features. So they direct staff to meet these objectives without considering what the purpose of activity is and what the end result will be. People will certainly follow orders and do the things you ask of them.
Smart people produce high quality work. As management your job is to make sure that everybody understands how their initiatives tie into the overall company strategy. Do the hard work and try to define your companies objectives and get them on paper. Everybody should be able to answer the question, “why am I doing this?” Otherwise they’re likely to be doing things right, but not the right things.