New tools to improve performance
on December 21, 2017 (last modified on April 19, 2022) • 10 minute read
Do you know what separates top performers from the average?
They don’t necessarily work more than most. It probably isn’t an incredibly high IQ.
They set goals and hit them.
But, how do they do it? Goal setting isn’t enough. 92% of the people who make a New Years Resolution don’t achieve it. (Source)
While the approaches I’ll share below can work across almost any function from sales and marketing to customer service or even the manufacturing floor, let’s take digital marketing as an example.
With digital marketers, top performing teams automatically stay on track by setting short-term goals and constantly updating their marketing plan to hit them. They set business goals that will help their team choose the tactics, activities and effort-level that gets them to the target.
They do what the team at Big Sea did when they took on this client’s e-commerce project:
“We have a client with an online e-commerce business, an in-person school, and we just built and launched an online school for them. We did all kinds of production of online video-based classes and then built them a whole system to sell those classes.
Our goal was to repay the investment they made in setting up the online school and for web development, video production, marketing–in three months.
This was one of the first months where we had Databox, so [after launching the online school] the entire marketing team had the numbers in front of them as watched orders come in. Instead of telling the client, “here are the tactics and what we’re going to do,’ we told them ‘we’re going to hit this sales goal.’
We knew that every email we sent would sell more and more, so instead of saying, ‘we’re going to send five emails for you and here’s what we expect’, we said, ‘we’re going to sell this much revenue for you, and however many emails, social media messages, special offers, etc., that takes, we’re going to do it.’”
Founder, Big Sea Design
Good marketers have done this since the dawn of analytics. Today, with digital marketing, everything is measurable. And with the rise in popularity of automated dashboards, you can build consolidated views of all your data and track your progress as you execute your work. With this level of data access, you can adjust your marketing tactics and sales activities daily or weekly, well before it’s time to report results again.
Unfortunately, tracking progress towards goals will not automatically rally your team. You need to avoid these three common pitfalls too.
Marketing leaders falsely assume that any goal will set the tone for their team. If you tell a team that their only goal is to “increase leads this year compared to last year”, you will get the bare minimum effort.
And, if you tell each member of the content marketing team that they just need to keep executing their formula and release 3 blog posts a week (for example), your team will struggle to stay motivated on a daily basis, since they are not being measured on the outcome or even the quality of their work.
Why does this happen? In his book on motivational psychology called Drive, Daniel Pink shares why purpose is one of the 3 main motivators that humans need, alongside mastery and autonomy. Purpose is a more powerful motivator than extrinsic rewards like money (for knowledge workers) because it provides a larger mission that can guide decisions every single day. Employees crave a larger purpose for their work, and a vague goal will not give them direction.
This is why SMART goals are so powerful- they provide a clear pathway from small, monthly goals to the bigger goal.
“I try to break my major personal and professional goals into smaller, more easily achievable milestones, and then monitor progress towards hitting those milestones on a daily basis. I’ve found this helps me feel like I’m making progress along the way, and hitting each milestone keeps me motivated to hit the next. This approach works great for team goals as well. If a goal is too lofty, it can feel you’re never going to reach it.”
CEO, Pepperland Marketing
If you break up a specific, long-term goal into smaller monthly SMART goals, employees will be able to understand their progress every day and see how it fits into their larger goal.
“We use SMART goals on our team. The goal should clearly communicate why it is important, how and when it can be met, who is involved and the implications of meeting this goal.
The goal must be measurable with established benchmarks and leading indicators to track your progress.
It should be attainable, realistic, and relevant to your current initiatives – make sure this goal makes sense in the context of your business.
Lastly, it should be timely – you should have an expected completion date for this goal.”
Internal Marketer, New Breed
When you report your performance to a boss or client, you are guaranteed to miss your goal at least a few times per year. So, you may feel tempted to either skip reporting altogether, or simply report activities you completed, like:
“I hit my goal of publishing 3 posts per week”
“I published 3 social posts per day”
This may feel like the right move in the short term, but over the long term, you will be held accountable for your performance. This could happen in an annual review, for example.
Top marketers share their performance regularly so that they keep their team informed of their successes, and when the numbers fall short of expectations, they can adjust their strategy in order to get them back on track.
This is why businesses implement management frameworks like the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)
“We use a methodology called EOS, which is detailed in the book Traction by Gino Wickman. We set annual company goals, or ‘rocks’ as he calls them, and then break them down each quarter to help make sure we reach them. The quarterly rocks then get reviewed each week at our Leadership meeting, which keeps us accountable on an ongoing basis.”
Your brain needs this constant reinforcement in order to focus its energy on improving the numbers. The science of feedback loops tells us that there are 4 pieces of data needed to grab your attention:
Patrick King creates a feedback loop by meeting with his client every week to stay on top of his metrics.
“I learned from setting weekly meetings with clients that a regular pace keeps you accountable and on task, and that you get a greater understanding of what you’re capable of within that period of time.”
There are multiple ways to create a feedback loop that will demand attention from your brain. Carole Mahoney will share her goals with multiple stakeholders in order to make sure she achieves them.
“I use a 5 step scientific process for goals.
Founder, Unbound Growth
This one should be the easiest of all. Sometimes, your activities on a weekly basis do not directly align with outcomes. For example, if you are writing blog posts that are meant to acquire organic traffic over a number of years, you will not get any quick feedback after you hit that “Publish” button.
At the same time, it should be easier to focus on activities than actual performance, since you have more control over your weekly activities. But, like we discussed above, it can be tough to even stick to activity goals if there is no feedback loop.
Another example- let’s say you work in sales, and you want to sell $500,000 of products this year. You are going to need to be diligent at the beginning of the year to hit this big goal. Even though you know this is true, you can still slack off because the consequences are so far away.
David C Baker, the author of The Business of Expertise, creates detailed plans for the activities that go into writing a book so that he can stay on track.
“I want to write one book every three years, on average. I break my goal down into intricate timelines for research, outlining, writing, and preparing for publishing. The entire process usually takes me 9 months for research and outlining and then another 7 months, on average, from that point to print.”
David C Baker
When you remind yourself of weekly activities with written goals, you actually make it more likely that you will continue to practice the activities! This is called the “principle of consistency” by famous psychologist Robert Cialdini.
Here’s why it works- your brain wants you to stay consistent with past actions, otherwise it will have an identity crisis. Once you begin practicing a specific activity and remind yourself that the activity is intentional, you are more likely to keep doing it in the future.
Jerry Seinfeld uses a technique called “don’t break the chain” to constantly remind himself of the need for consistency. Brad Smith also uses the strategy to hit his goals.
“I have a monthly revenue goal linked to production. I break that down into weekly and daily numbers. For example, I know that my personal ‘daily quota’ is $1,500. Then, I don’t break the chain. If I do, that means I need to make it up somewhere else (like billing $3k the next day or working Saturday/Sunday).”
Anthony Cole calls this “Sales Activity Effort“, and he manages his activity on a weekly basis.
“I keep myself accountable for Sales Activity Effort, the number of times I have reached out via social media or direct calls. I have to report on this every Monday. I don’t want to report zeros.”
Founder, Anthony Cole Training
One of the reasons that marketers do not rigorously track goals is because it is too freaking hard! Every daily or weekly data check requires you to log in to multiple services and copy/paste into a spreadsheet. Every communication with your boss or client means another Powerpoint presentation.
Unless you have seen the impact of proper goal setting in your life or career, you aren’t going to go through all those steps. To make it easier, we created a free automated SMART goal tracking tool that allows anyone to track performance to goal using near-real-time performance data from 60+ sales and marketing services.
You can set individual goals for team members with multiple time frames. And as soon as you hit your goal, you can send an alert to anyone in the organization with this business dashboard software.
Of course, the tool itself will only take you so far. As I (and a bunch of other accomplished goal-setters communicated above), you need a complete framework for goal achievement, including careful goal setting, daily or weekly progress tracking of your most important KPIs using a business dashboard and group accountability.
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