Professionally, I lead the product marketing team at a telecommunications technology vendor. This team performs in an interesting, but complex reality filled with challenges. Looking ahead to 2014, I knew that we needed to work on only the most important things, and that we needed to get a bigger return on our energy than even that which has carried us so far. Consequently, in early January I initiated the creation of a team mission statement and the identification of strategies that would help us deliver on this mission. This post tells the story of what we created, and how we created it.
Even though the company had a record 2013 (in which we smashed through the $100 million revenue mark, w00t!), as I said in the introduction the product marketing team faces a number of challenges as we move through 2014 and beyond:
- Our company’s sales team has grown by a significant amount
- The organization as a whole, and the sales team in particular, is increasingly global
- Our company serves more markets than ever before
- Our company serves these markets with more products than ever before
- We have more competitors, both small-and-focused and large-and-broad
- The product marketing team has actually shrunk slightly (we had an individual slide over to another marketing team)
As our 2013 fiscal year was wrapping up, I spent some time thinking about how we can be more effective: due to the items I just listed, I sense that scaling the impact of our output is going to be a necessary focus in 2014 and beyond. Scaling impact requires working on the right things, and working efficiently.
Scaling impact requires working on the right things, and working efficiently.
At the same time, I was mindful of at least three other thoughts/cautions.
First, studies suggest that employees at anything other than very small companies often suffer from a significant disconnect between the company’s goals and the employees’ responsibilities: many employees don’t know how what they’re doing contributes to organizational success (in the most extreme cases, they don’t even know how organizational success is measured – that is, they don’t even know what the organization’s goals are). I wanted to ensure that the people on my team knew exactly how their contributions supported the company’s goals. As a corollary, if something doesn’t support the company’s goals, then should we really be working on it?
I wanted to ensure that the people on my team knew exactly how their contributions supported the company’s goals. As a corollary, if something doesn’t support the company’s goals, then should we really be working on it?
Second, many companies, organizations, teams, and individuals are so fearful of change that they stubbornly refuse to consider new approaches: they never challenge assumptions, they never ask if the reality has changed, they become close-minded, etc. They cling to the old ways all the way to irrelevance. I did not want to fall into this trap.
Third, I knew that I personally did not have all the answers. Sure, I had ideas, and those are based on quite a bit of research and experience – but guess what, other people have ideas, too. Plus, people are far more likely to buy into something they helped create than something that a manager just plunks out in an email.
So, in early January the team got together to discuss how we contribute to the company’s success, and to explore strategies that would ensure our continued and increased effectiveness. The stated objective was to “start off 2014 with clear alignment”. But in a sense, my larger objective was to make sure we as a team, as a functional unit, would spend our time in 2014 working on only the most important things; furthermore, I wanted to make sure that when we spent time on something, we got the largest return on our energy.
In a sense, my larger objective was to make sure we would spend our time in 2014 working on only the most important things, and that when we spent time on something, we got the largest return on our energy.
Prior to the meeting, I shared two pieces of (hopefully) thought-provoking material. One was a slightly distilled version of my post on The Golden Rule of Leadership, which relates objectives to strategies and to tactics, and touches on some common mistakes of leadership. The other was a story from the book Obliquity:
“An old story tells of a visitor who encounters three stonemasons working on a medieval cathedral, and asks each what he is doing. ‘I am cutting this stone to shape,’ says the first, describing his basic actions. ‘I am building a great cathedral,’ says the second, describing his intermediate goal. ‘And I am working for the glory of God,’ says the third, describing his high-level objective.” (p40)
I wanted people thinking big, beyond tactics, while understanding and appreciating the relationships between the big and the small.
The meeting itself consisted of a lively discussion of opportunities, challenges, strategies, tactics, and objectives/missions. I tried to do as little talking as possible, while the ideas came and the topics meandered. Like I said, I had my own ideas, but what’s the point in collaboration if one voice dominates? Afterward, I took some time to separate and categorize all the things we discussed. What should be part of our top-level mission or objectives? What is a strategy that will contribute to overall effectiveness? What is a tactic that can, for now, be set aside as we focus on getting the big things right?
Ultimately, we arrived at a two-part mission statement supported by ten strategies.
The Product Marketing team’s mission is to:
- Build demand within prospects, evaluators, competitors’ customers, and our existing customers for our products, solutions and services
- Provide the entire organization with market intelligence and actionable insight into emergent opportunities, and to lead (or initiate) activities to exploit these opportunities
To that end, we have adopted 10 strategies to govern and direct our activities (enumerated for convenience, not to denote relative importance):
- Practice outside-in thinking: get our answers outside the building
- Be leaders: take charge; initiate and drive; do what needs to be done
- Invest time upfront to reduce time ongoing: be effective in the early stages to reduce time on tactical support; build consensus
- Always look to maximize scalability: do a little more to get a lot more; reuse material and make material that can be reused
- Unify under a theme: group related activities and unite them; repeat key messages
- Think big before thinking small: serve regions, not individuals; objective–>strategy–>tactics
- Balance specialization with general knowledge: be a subject matter expert; seek and develop wider knowledge
- Exhibit and champion a competitive mindset: monitor competitors and war-game their activities; set an example for everyone
- Consciously prioritize: don’t be a victim of circumstance; focus on what’s truly important; say no
- Learn, introduce, and apply best practices: try new things; don’t reinvent what works; make excellence a habit
Will any of this make a difference? I believe that if we adhere to these strategies, and focus only on things that directly support the team’s mission, then we’ll have a tremendous impact in 2014.
Of course, if you disagree and think this is crackpottery, or have any questions or feedback, then I’d like to hear it.