Confessions of a New CMO – The Importance of Goals and Time Management

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Confessions of a New CMO

The Importance of Goals and Time Management

Perhaps it’s cliche to begin the year with New Year’s Resolutions. But there’s a strategic importance in forming and completing goals. And the start of a brand new year is always a good time to think ahead about the coming challenges.

When I first began my career in marketing, I had no concept of setting goals or project management. My role was too tactical. I wasn’t concerned with making and carrying out plans. I was simply there to push buttons and make things happen. And for the better part of a decade, I hummed along just that way. Sure, I was getting as many things done as possible. But I was oblivious to strategic objectives. I only knew how to do it, not necessarily why.

I remember sitting with my manager at a company headquartered in The Netherlands as we set first strategic goal of my business career. Actually, it really wasn’t “we.” She told me what that goal was – without asking my opinion. There also was a major “gotcha” with this goal. My performance bonus was tied to its completion. The goal was big and hairy. I didn’t know how to accomplish it. Oh, yeah, and it spanned the entire year. They clearly wanted to give an employee to figure out a tough problem that they don’t know how to solve.

Well, I earned my bonus. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what the goal was or even why it was so important.

Now fast-forward a couple of years. When I arrived in Mountain View at my first Silicon Valley job, I found a finely tuned machine operating at a speed and efficiency that left me in awe. In past jobs, I had seen how many of my colleagues appeared to each be moving in different and sometimes opposing directions. My new company had a very different approach.

That success was built on the foundation of two ideas: project management and goals.

Suddenly, I was speaking in acronyms – specifically OKRs and BHAGs. (They are short for Objectives and Key Results and Big Hairy Audacious Goals.) And if the OKRs goals philosophy that was popularized by Google is totally confusing to you, I suggest checking out John Doerr’s video on BetterWorks. In essence, the key objective is to make sure that everyone understands what you are doing and, in turn, for you to understand what your colleagues are working on.

We had company BHAGs, departmental OKRs, and individual OKRs. The doc that contained our team’s OKRs became my road map for the things we were going to be accomplishing during those upcoming months. And those goals would be reset every three months. So each quarter, we would redefine our next sprint and be off to the races.

Now it’s great to know where you’re going. But there’s still everyday life. New priorities pop up every day. Suddenly, competing agendas yank you from task to task without the strategic cadence you come to expect from the highest performing teams. That’s where project management became the key foundation in achieving optimum performance.

I had always carried a little notebook to keep track of the tasks I needed to accomplish. I would write –  with a pen – the things I absolutely needed to complete. I would get a little thrill out of dramatically crossing out a completed task. Knowing that I had gotten another thing done made me happy. (I will admit that creating a task and “checking it off” in our project management software didn’t quite give me the same jolt of excitement.)

I’m not going to go too deep into how BloomReach’s CMO, Joelle Kaufman, runs her marketing team. But her coordination of the many people on the marketing team always impressed me. A weekly meeting found us gathering together to review our project management tasks. We used Wrike to keep the team focused in the same direction. Each week, we sat together looking through how we were tracking toward our top-level goals and which things we were committed to achieving over the next seven days.

Watching that level of coordination was a valuable lesson. It’s why when I became the CMO of LeanData, one of the first things I did was set up Wrike for my team. And my small team, has completed nearly 750 tasks over the past few months.

Likewise, I replicated the goals model. We have a single document so that we can see not only how we’re currently trending toward our objectives, but also how we’ve done in the past.

The only change that I made in our execution was I treated scoring like Yoda would. Translation: Do or do not, there is no try. My team isn’t exactly in love with this edict. But it does keep us honest. The reality is that circumstances change, priorities shift, and sometimes you need to drop goals for new ones. However if we decide that we are no longer going to do something, we don’t just give ourselves an “A.” We get an “F.” We didn’t do that task. And as much as we realize this was no longer a priority, we still failed to complete the objective. Do or do not, there is no try.

Another element to this process where I’ve kept strict controls. Every goal has to have a measurable end. “Learn X” isn’t a goal because it can’t be measured. Instead we have goals to do “X” number of “Y” activities. At the end of the quarter, we count up the number of actual activities completed. A simple division gives us our score out of a possible 0.8. If we said we would do five things and we got four done, then we get a 0.6. If we get five or six done, we get a 0.8. If we accomplished eight or 10, then we went above and beyond and deserve a 1.0 – the highest score.

Of course we don’t meet every goal or complete every task. Things get canceled. Items arrive at the end of the quarter half-completed or even barely started. There are no excuses or finger-pointing. There is only a score.

And this is why we do it: The system has helped my team achieve more than we ever thought we could accomplish, and with better coordination. My goals are right there with the rest of my team’s in a Google doc. There is complete transparency. Using Patty Azzarello’s system of Ruthless Priorities, I let my team know, not just what I will do, but what I consider the most important thing to get done – right now. We’re a startup. Everything is happening all at once. But it’s important for my team to know what I’m committing to do first.

But even though I’ve put in place a series of goal-achieving systems, I admit there are times when I’m tempted to resort back to something a lot less tech-savvy. I still sometimes struggle to not grab a pad of paper to start scratching notes of minor tasks to complete.

Old habits die hard.

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