Gamification for growth: Simon Mackay, MD at Web Marketing Experts
Web Marketing Experts is a company built on gamification from the ground up. At every management conference there’s talk about what a ‘gamified’ workforce might look like. But there’s a real gap in terms of examples of organisations who are leading the field.
Simon Mackay is GM at Web Marketing Experts, and in this interview we talk about how building a gamified workforce has driven incredible growth. How incredible? In the past year the company has tripled from 50 to 150 employees.
There’s some very interesting things happening in this organisation. Real time measurement, live metrics, objective based management, and monthly performance reviews (that are made transparent to the entire company).
Some of the topics that Simon and I cover in this interview:
What a gamified workforce actually looks like
Why real time management dashboards are so critical
Why Web Marketing Experts has performance reviews every month
How full transparency around performance drives results and improvement
The company is a great example of the “Fast Moving Organisations” trend that we’re increasingly seeing drive high performance in the mid-market. Over the next few weeks there’s a couple more interviews coming with CEOs who are adopting time based management techniques with great success.
I hope you enjoy this interview – It’s a long chat but definitely worth the investment.
Steve Pell: So we’re here with Simon Mackay from Web Marketing Experts. You’re the general manager here. We’re here to talk about some of the insights and lessons as you’ve scaled up the organisation.
To start with, could you perhaps give us a little bit of a background about Web Marketing Experts,what it is you do?
Simon Mackay: Yes, certainly. So, we’ve been operating for around six years now. We focus on search engine optimisation, so essentially assisting clients to get on the first page of Google. It’s not long ago that small businesses, to be found, needed to be found in things like the Yellow Pages. Nowadays with everything moving online, essentially being found means being found on Google, and more particularly being found on page one because 80-90% of people only search on page one. They never go to page two. So our company is entirely focused on getting organisations and our clients onto page one.
Steve: Fantastic, and there’s a bunch of awards you guys have won. It seems like your organisation is going pretty well?
Simon: Yes, there’s been phenomenal growth. We’ve been in the top 100 fastest growing companies in Australia from BRW. We also have an award through Deloitte as well. We’re currently sitting at 16 I think.
Of course growth comes with some challenges. We’ve opened up offices in Sydney but we’ve also got offices in Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong and California. So running all of those different companies at once is a big challenge. One of the most exciting parts of my role as general manager is keeping that speed up. As we get bigger, getting more structure in place, but making sure that structure doesn’t slow us down.
Steve: How do you go about reconciling that need to put processes around your growth at the same time as you’re trying to move faster and faster?
Simon: Yes, it’s a challenge, and it’s one that Nick Bell as the founder and I tussle with every day. We’ve found our roles very well in the business, in that he focuses on being the entrepreneur, and I bring more of that corporate experience. We both have that sort of competitive tension between us because he wants to continually strive ahead and I’m here to support him in that. But I’m also here to make sure that we’ve got the structure in place to make sure it’s sustainable, to continue to be profitable. And make sure we don’t get ourselves in hot water too many times as well.
Steve: So kind of a good cop/bad cop dynamic?
Simon: Almost. Either one of us could send the company broke, either by me slowing it down too much, or by us going off on some new tangent without thinking it through properly. To me that’s the ideal dynamic that you have in a small, fast-growing company. The challenging part you’ve got in bigger companies is that it just takes too long to get everything done. If you speak to lots of professionals who have succeeded in one way or another, the common theme that comes out of that is the speed of iteration.
So you hear comments like fail fast. The idea is that you never get it right the first time or very rarely get it right the first time, and it’s never a mistake unless you make that error twice because the first time is a learning curve. The idea is to fail fast, try things, iterate quickly, and put processes in and learn from that. Corporates try to do that but they might take a week or a month to do something that we would do in an hour. That’s literally the speed of the pace that we work at.
Steve: How do you build failure into the DNA of the organisation?
Simon: Yes, so you need people to feel safe. That’s really important to make people safe, that they’re not going to get chastised or fired if they make a mistake, and you need to build a new culture, that failing is good for the purpose of learning, observing and ultimately refining the process and going again. Just like sales people, if they get a knock back, successful sales people can get back on the phone quickly, back on the horse quickly.
So building that into your DNA is very, very important. What I bring to the business is we need to measure everything that we do. We’re measuring things so that you know what your results are, and when you change something you can measure yourself against the results you got last time. You keep that process going incessantly and quickly.
Steve: Wow, I’m really interested to come back to this insight on measurement.
You’ve got a background that’s been through a variety of different sized organisations, how did this insight come about around failure? Where did you learn this? Was there someone who taught you that, or was it through experience?
Simon: I think it’s a combination of experiences. I’ve always been interested in success and what creates successful people. The magic formula, what is it?
Why do some people succeed and some don’t?
Why do others fail or fail to achieve?
The reality is that if you do a lot of reading in literature around success coaching or wealth creation coaching, etc., you generally find there are only 3%-5% of people that have that ability to drive and get back on the horse and go again. I’ve worked in lots of different companies and that common theme has always been companies that are trying to be innovative or trying to grow, trying to get new products into the market place.
What I’m excited about in this organisation is that it has all those ingredients. But it also has one important ingredient that I think every other company that I’ve worked for has missed and that is the speed at which it operates, almost that no fear mentality.
If you go to a corporate, that analyse everything, and they do big business cases, they spend a lot of time worrying about what the outcome is. Instead, we spend a lot of time worrying about how much faster we can move. If you add measurement into that, then you move in real time. So to me, this is an opportunity to bring all of the things I’ve learnt from all of those different companies and apply that knowledge to help one organisation grow.
Steve: Fantastic, it sounds very exciting.
Steve: How many people do you have now?
Simon: So we have over 100 staff now. There are literally 100 that fit on this floor here. We’ve got another floor upstairs and then you combine the other offices around the world and you’re sort of getting up around the 140-150 mark, and that’s growing rapidly. It’s just a matter of controlling that growth but not slowing. Not controlling to the point where it slows it down.
Steve: As you’ve gone up, how many people were you a year ago?
Simon: A year ago … I’ve been here for five months now, so a year ago we would have been … gee, we would have been at the 50-60 mark, might even have been slightly lower than that.
Steve: Wow, so you’ve tripled over that space in time. Has the organisation changed as you’ve added all of these people in?
Simon: It has. There’s still a number of founding people that were here from the beginning. In every company when you grow, there’s a scary part where you stop knowing everybody in the organisation. We’re on the cusp of that now, and indeed we sent an email out the other day saying, “If you run into the hallway, somebody you don’t know, then say hello to them.” Again, that was a big turning point for me because when we were smaller than what we are now, you could know everybody personally. The challenge going forward is, as we get bigger and bigger, is to make sure we still have those personal networks. It’s not just important for culture, it’s also important that you have your finger on the pulse of the business.
That incessant theme that runs through your organisation is always one of speed and I want to try to codify that now, make that part of our rituals if you like. It’s a really important part of the business is to have something ritualised that you do. Whether it’s ritualised words or other sorts of cultural icons. The ones we’ve got here at the moment are sort of less talk, more action. Go hard or go home. They’re fun expressions, and this business is run more like a rugby match than it is a business because we’re constantly going for the goal all the time. Indeed, you have to be almost physically fit in this organisation to keep up with it.
So there are all sorts of cultures we want to keep going. We want to have lots of fun but want to work really hard and fast while we’re doing it. So we keep pushing that all the time.
Steve: I’m interested in the scale you’re going through at the moment. That 150 person level seems to be a level that challenges people because there’s a need for a bigger management structure but not necessarily the ability to afford it. How do you reconcile that?
Simon: It’s interesting. That’s a challenge that I’m spending time thinking about right now, and one of the ways that you can overcome it is moving into real time communication, real time documentation. Why do you need a senior management team that meets once a week or once a fortnight, etc? If you do have that team that meets together, what they do is they tend to review PowerPoints or they review financials or review agendas, etc.
If you can get rid of all that documentation and act in real time rather than try to accumulate that information and have a meeting, discuss it, run an agenda, have action plans out of it, all that slows you down. But if you can have real time documentation, so all of your reports, your business intelligence, etc., your dashboards, your financial information is coming to you in real time but also your management actions are happening in real time. So if we discover that we need to do something or change something, I sit out on the floor and literally I will get up and I will grab the three people that I need to make that decision, tap them on the shoulder and drag them into a meeting.
We’ll have a stand up meeting that will last five to ten minutes, we’ll agree on what needs to be done, we’ll disband. Literally we move at that pace all day. I’ll sit down at my desk, read an email, somebody will come in, and then I’ll do it again and Nick will do the same thing. We do that all the time. Now, what underpins that, is also the more formal aspects. Every person in this organisation has a personal development plan or a professional development plan which is a set of clear objectives that they need to deliver. So instead of tasks and saying, “Well, you should create these things for me and deliver them by the end of the week.” They have a set of goals that they need to obtain.
Steve: Can you give me an example?
Simon: Yes, so a classic example is … I’ll use one that everyone will understand in the finance area, I’ll say to Maggie who heads up our finance area, “I don’t want a P&L on a cash flow. What I want is for you to meet the objective for me, is to provide me with information that enables me to make good management decisions. That’s your objective is to provide me with information that enables me to make good management decisions.” Now, I do need a P&L and a cash flow in order to do that but because you understand that objective, I need that in a timely fashion, I need it to be more management oriented rather than pure financial accounting. So every person in the organisation has those set of key outcomes.
If you’re in a sales area, you’ll say, “Well, you need to make sales target. It’s fairly obvious.” But what actually happens with most organisations is they get to the end of the month and they either exceeded the target and we’re really happy or they missed it and everybody’s really sad, and they all sit round and analyse what could happen. If you adopt that real time management ethos, then what happens is you break each one of those major goals down into smaller manageable goals. So for the sales target, if you have a sales person that’s got to hit a target of $150,000 a month, that’s the number, the end number that they need to get to, but it’s made up of lots of smaller things. If you can track those smaller things, you can have what’s called ‘leading indicators’. We try to adopt leading indicators a lot.
Most companies run by lagging indicators which is at the end of the month, they look at the financials. Usually it’s not at the end of the month, usually it’s two or three weeks after the end of the month because that’s how long it takes the finance department to fix it. You look at the financials, you’re already half way through the next one, and so it’s like driving a car with very sloppy steering. By the time you’ve corrected course you’ve gone off the road. I call it the black ice syndrome, cruising along, the numbers look great, everyone feels like they’re in control, and then a corner comes up, something happens in the business and you go to react to it and you realise you’re not in control. So we use leading indicators a lot.
In the sales example, the leading indicator is, as long as you’re making 100 phone calls a day and you’re speaking to 50 people and as long as your conversion rate hovers around 25%-30%, then you’ll hit your $100,000 and your deal size is a certain size. The second that sales person starts dropping back to 70 or 60 calls, you know three weeks ahead of time that you don’t have a problem. You apply that principal to the entire organization.
Steve: That’s very interesting. I can see it in a sales environment but what about the cultural level where you’re talking about measuring speed. How do you do that?
Simon: The traditional way that most corporates will go is the service level agreements etc and have things done by X days or Y days etc. To flesh that understanding out to everybody, we have a sales team that work with our clients, bring our clients on board. Those are then handing off to an accounts management team and those account managers onboard the clients, introduce them to what we are going to do with the search engine optimization, run them through a project plan so that both parties understand what work has to be done. Then they get on with it and then that workload goes to a technical team and the technical teams begin to optimise this site and apply all their knowledge and their internal algorithms etc., to give them the best chance of ranking.
So in the account management team, those account managers use things like Google docs. Google docs you can run a spreadsheet, and that spreadsheet is live. It’s not saved on somebodies drive or the shared drive of the company network and is version 126.96.36.199. It’s one live document that everybody can interact with. So each team, account management team, has their work in progress files sitting in Google docs sheets.
Every time they act on something then I ask them the second they hang up from a client to write down what is your next most important action to take because what people often do is they have a conversation, they record the conversation, they hang up and then move on to the next client. This happens in sales, it happens to all businesses but the minute you hang up is the minute we’re going to have the utmost clarity in knowing what the next outcome is that you need to do with that client.
It might be send them a brochure, might be send them a pricelist, it might be to gather some more information but it’s at that point you have that moment of clarity. Every one of our account managers has all listed up. It’s all in real time so when they add data to a sheet, I can literally see that data being added into the sheet. I can resort those sheets and check things, clients by date, by date last interacted with, by next action, by quality of action, by outcome, and I can do that across the entire team.
So I have a live dashboard feeding information to me that I can manage in real time. If you keep that real time ethos going in your organisation all the time, then you can measure your activity quickly, people are clear about what’s going on, you also get that dynamic because the second something happens I can walk up to someone and say, “Hey, awesome action you got there, well done on that,” and people begin to feed on that response.
One of the key things there is when did you last thank somebody for what they’ve done? Instead of looking at the last seven days, well we’re almost looking at the last seven minutes. So you speed everything up. It’s like high speed trading, so seven days becomes seven minutes.
Steve: It sounds like you need a Powerade at lunchtime.
Simon: Yes, well that’s exactly right but you keep that dynamic going with people. If you see and hear things happening, and you can see that information being fed to you in real time, you can go over and reward somebody and say, “Well done.” We have the culture if somebody does something, everybody claps and cheers. It’s a great culture that drives everybody and keeps everybody excited.
Steve: Do you think you need a different management style when you’re so data driven? Do you need to come back and be more empathetic at the same time? Does it change how you interact with your staff?
Simon: It’s information driven rather than data driven. I just pull up on the statement of data because it’s not that numbers per se, it’s about actions and numbers as well. I think that empathy comes and that engagement comes by congratulating people, patting them on the back, calling them out in front of everybody else and that team spirit. That team spirit is brought back to a hard number or hard action and I think that’s where a lot of companies go wrong is exactly that point.
They’re either really fluffy and caring and, you know, “Well done. You’ve really improved Johnny. You haven’t being performing that well, what are we going to do about it?” at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of that spectrum, “You missed your numbers, you’re out of the business.” If you can combine both of those together in a real time environment, you can say, “Awesome job. Well done,” and reward somebody there and then with that compliment.
But you can also say, “Hey that wasn’t right. That conversation I just overheard, can I help you with that? Where did it go wrong?” And because we have those underpinning structures like your objectives, what is the outcome you’re looking for? How do you measure that outcome? Smart goals, specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely, if you can have that underpinning measured with the stats in a real time environment, then you can guide people constantly.
It’s like they say when Apollo was heading for the moon, 99.9% of the time it was off track because it had to keep correcting its course all the time. Most companies take far too long to correct something and pick things up. So by the time they are picked up and then you call a meeting next week, set an agenda, spend an hour of the meeting etc., then you’re so far of course that you spend so much time bringing it back.
I love it when I started here. I saw Nick walk past one of our guys, and he said, “Facebook.” The guy went, “Ah, yes.” He said, “No, Facebook,” and kept walking. Most HR departments say, “Oh, we better get a policy for using Facebook.” That will take a couple of weeks, senior management will have to approve it, and then we’ll do a seminar and have a stand up meeting about it all. A month’s gone by. Well, the message came pretty clear to everybody. And because it’s done in a fun way, people actually feed off that and they understand it. As I said, it’s like playing a sport.
Steve: The gamified workplace.
Simon: That’s it, all the time. That’s it, absolutely.
Steve: Have you looked at much of the gamification research, the principles there? Has that informed the way you manage?
Simon: I’ve certainly been across it in previous roles and more applied to analytics and data management. But now you mention it, we are pretty much doing that because we can see the score on the board all the time, and we are in that team environment, and we are coaching and pushing all the time. So it’s probably less about how people write about gamification and more actually about the game of sport because we are on a floor together and we are pushing together.
So it’s actually probably less intellectual than some of the stuff I studied before and actually more humanistic. That’s what I think makes it so fun working here because it is fun when we do that. We do enjoy it. It’s hard work but we love every minute of it. My shortest day in this business felt like it was about 45 seconds long because I got to the end of it and went, “Wow, what happened?” Most people feel like that.
So a weird thing happens with time in this organisation because you can have days that last 5-10 minutes long but then you have trouble remembering something happened because we can cram more in a day than most businesses would cram in a month. So a lot happens. You think, “Did that happen a month ago or two weeks ago?” Somebody says, “No, that was just yesterday afternoon we did that,” because you do cram so much in.
As soon as it’s reached, it’s actioned, and it’s disseminated amongst the business. We’ve got all the places to store that information back into those objectives, I think that’s the other place that people fall down too, is that they have agendas and actions in business management, going back to that question about having more senior management and more senior instruction in place, tradition methodology is to have an action plan or a business plan etc.
The problem with the traditional business plan is the objective of a business plan is usually to finish a business plan. They’re not executable documents. They’re informational documents. Everything we do here is about executional actions, not documenting things for the sake of having a plan to sign off, so we go straight to execution.
Steve: Could you give me an example on how that’s differed in a kind of the common action that you might have taken in a previous business to this one?
Simon: In previous organisations, it starts from that top down, “Where is that gap in the market?” So you do the market analysis, well where’s the white space? Then you might size the market up, so the marketing guys gets involved, you do a bit of research and then you start looking at the product guys and talk to the technical team and they might create a bit of scope. Then you get the financial team, they do some finances on it, and all that takes months. Then it’s got to go to senior management and they’ll sign it off and debate whether they’re comfortable with it etc.
In this organisation, we try to break things down into smaller chunks. So, Nick will bring a group of people to the meeting and say, “I want to do this.” You’ll have all other people in the meeting and he’ll say, “Okay, well, there’s a danger of this and that might happen and we need to worry about that.” Then the group will go, “Okay, we can feel that we can probably make this happen.” So we immediately go into the execution but we execute it in smaller pieces. Immediately we start moving.
We might move and we might create a brand, so “Okay, we’re going to create the brand.” We’ll create the brand name then go, “All right, we need some sales guys,” so we’ll put them on it. “Okay, what do they do?” “Well, start selling.” Right? Then it will be, “Okay, I’ll start calling customers so look, I need a little more definition around the product list.” So it’s all created on demand. That might appear risky to a lot of people but the reality is that it works well because you’ve got to trust your people.
You’ve got to trust that you’ve got the right people in the organisation. If you’ve got the right people, and they’re given the opportunity to use their common sense and to be resourceful, then they will draw on that. So don’t agonise over it, just get on with it. Start calling customers. “Oh, I need a customer.” “That’s great, get one of those. Here’s 10 customers to call.” So they start calling and after the first five they go, “Okay, well, I actually should have more information on the value preposition,” “Great, we’ll get you one of those. Here, this guy will help you with that. Sit down for 10 minutes, slash one out, try it, go there.” So that’s the way it works.
I’ve been in corporates where we’ve done that whole business planning process, we’ve finished the product, we’ve invested $400,000 and then we’ve got an outbound team to start calling clients and selling it to them. So the outbound team is doing a more solution sales approach, so they start asking people, “Do you use that?” After the first day, I found out there’s another product that’s cheaper and better than one we’ve created but somehow in the whole research phase and business analysis phase, we missed that.
You miss it traditionally because following that business case process, people get very excited about being involved in a new project, documenting and provide a report to the board next week, etc. They lose track of the fact that the real objective is to get the product out there and sell it because the focus comes on finishing the business case. They’ll do research that sort of helps them build a business case but if you’ve got to go sell and then make it, they quickly come to the conclusion, “Look, we can’t sell that because people have already got one.” You just turned everything on its head.
We actually start at the end rather than starting at the beginning and then we work backwards. And we do that in real time because we know we can find the people we need that are in the organisation by literally going and tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, “Come here, I need 10 minutes of your time.” We’re also not talking about huge software projects.
Steve: How do you come back from that to developing an individual in the organisation? So as you double up in size over the next six months, six weeks, how do you develop the next one of you? Where do they come from?
Simon: As part of the succession planning, making sure you’ve got the right talent in the organisation does go back to those underpinnings. I’m very precious about having those personal development plans. We do those personal developments plans, so they lay out no less than three key objectives, no more than six. We apply project management methodology to it, so in other words you pick four key objectives or four key deliverables, and then under each one of those deliverables write three or four key actions that you need to take place.
Now, we then sit down once in a month with every individual through that management tier system, so I had a few of my employees sit down, “Give me a look at what your objectives are and how you’ve been performing against them.” So I ask for three or four things. “What are your key objectives? What does success look like? How do we measure it? And when you’ve looked at that, if you’re not achieving the goal that we both agreed on, then what’s your action plan to fix it?”
So when we have our meeting, which would be an hour long meeting, we sit down and we go through every one of those objectives. You’d say, “My target was 100 here and I got to 8.” “What you are doing about it?” “This is what I intend to do.” “That’s awesome, that looks fantastic,” or, “Have you tried this? Have you tried that?” We write it in, and so that gives you a lot of guidance back to, “Here’s my overall outcomes that I’ve got to delivery in my role. I can use my own intuition, my own capabilities to deliver that. Those objectives give me permission to talk to anybody in the business to achieve the outcome.
So rather that an organisational hierarchy where you’ve got to ask permission from your boss to talk to another person, senior manager, and then go down the chain, we use those objectives to guide action. We have an organisational chart because people need to know what they sit but we don’t use that organisational chart for permission to do your job. If you need support from the sales manager or from the finance department, providing what you’re asking for helps deliver on your objective, you have permission to talk to anybody or demand resources from anyone in the business, as long as you’re demanding them in order to meet the outcome.
So your role is to deliver this outcome through whatever means. As long as it’s legal and ethical, it’s okay. It’s not just saying, “You do this within the boundaries of your little cubicle, within the boundaries of your role.” Those objectives and that personal development plan are what you have to deliver come hell or high water, using whatever resources you can beg, borrow or steel in the organisation. We publish all those objectives across the entire company, so that if I’m going to go to you and ask you for resources, I’ll look at your objectives. If mine are in conflict and I’m actually going to stop you delivering yours, I know I’ve got a problem.
From my perspective, I’ve got to make sure that all these groups of people working together, all their objectives cascade up, so they’re all supportive of each other. If you design it that way then everybody is going to work hard. My top line objective is revenue, profit and market share. Every single person in the company delivers one component towards those three outcomes, so I keep breaking it down. So for me to deliver revenue, my sales manager is a key part of this, so I break his objectives down. For him to be successful, he relies on his sales team. For the sales team to deliver, they’ve got to break it down into activity, conversion rates, etc.
Every single component from those four key factors that I need to achieve, is broken down into smaller pieces and they all cascade up. So every number supports every other number. I know three months ahead of time, if something is going wrong down here, it will eventually feed up to there. If I don’t fix it straight away then I end up with the lag time effect, it’s cancerous, because by time it gets to that point where it’s observable at our end, it’s too late. That’s why I watch those things down the bottom.
That objective management process means that I can sit with every individual, provide them feedback and coaching about where they’re going, find out where their challenges are and help them develop their own personal leadership style because they know what the outcome is, they’re clear about what they’re trying to achieve from me and they’ve got the support of the entire organisation. So it doesn’t matter that HR freaks out about feedback being transparent to the whole company.
What you do is you teach managers to provide constructive feedback. “You can benefit by spending more time focusing on this”. “How about your attention needs to be focused on this”. “This is a key outcome that we need”. Now, that delivers far greater value than saying, “You’ve failed at that, failed at this.” By making it transparent, everybody knows that everybody else is watching, so people try to spend more time being constructive and supportive, etc.
But gamification, go back to that idea, if I can see how every other individual is performing in the company, I can begin to benchmark myself against that. I can begin to learn what my peers’ action plans and performance is. “Boy, I’m onto the bottom level or hey, I’m at the top.” Now from the top, people naturally begin to coach and feel confident about coaching others. “Hey Jim, I saw that you had a little bit of trouble here. This is what I learnt. I will share all that.”
Whereas most companies and HR departments don’t share that because it’s all confidential, we don’t want them to be upset. But if you can get that culture of openness, then you get that culture of trust, then you also get the culture where we’re all here to support each other for an outcome. So those simple fundamentals actually drive success through your organisation. Let me sit down with your objectives, we not only go through that, we also look at saying, “What are your goals and aspirations? What’s in your heart? What do you love doing because if I know what your goals are ultimately, then I will try to push workload towards you that helps you achieve that.”
I’ll tell you an example, I had a girl working for us who wanted to be a personal trainer. In fact, she did that at night, and she worked in the sales team. I said, “Okay, what do you love about personal training?” She said, “Well, I love helping see other people succeed and achieve weight loss and fitness or whatever.” I said, “That’s awesome because you know what? You’re helping support sales guys. It’s exactly the same thing.” She got excited and started thinking about it.
So we aligned what her passions were workwise and that helped her ultimately build her personal training business that she wanted to go into when she got older, and because her passion was about helping people succeed and she could see that in her personal life, she could apply that same principal to her business and she just thrived in the role because she actually understood. She wasn’t being the sales assistant. She was actually there to help people win and she reframed it.
So you sit down with each person and you try to find out what’s in their heart, find out what their goals and inspirations are. Then we ask them and say, “What are your strengths that support that aspiration?” Then we ask them and say, “What are your areas of improvement, not weakness but areas of improvement that it can’t hold you back from achieving that?” Then make a list of that and then through that self-introspection, they begin to understand where they are heading, what’s holding them back, where they’re going. Then we ask them to write an action plan to overcome the things that are holding them back, so it continually works in a circle. That self-improvement is aligned to what they’re achieving in their top line objectives. So that facilitating introspection is a really important component of supporting the team.
Steve: If someone was going to go down this path towards making objectives more open and driving around vision, what advice would you give?
Simon: Start the process. Either use something like Google docs, or you can do it in SharePoint. If you’re a slightly larger company and have got SharePoint in place, and you can use Excel in the browser. Now, the reason why that’s so important is because the documents need to be live because otherwise you’ve got problems with version control. The documents also need to be shared by everybody. The problem is if you’ve got one sitting on the server, “Oh, Bill’s got it open.” You’ve got to go find Bill, “Can you close it?” “Oh, sorry, I forgot I left that open. I forgot to close it.” It just doesn’t work. You need to use the technology of either Excel in the browser or a Google spreadsheet, that’s the first thing.
The second thing is you need to follow that S.M.A.R.T acronym. So it’s specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely, and you’ve got to focus on the concept of what is the outcome that you want? Not what’s the action, it’s what’s the outcome? So going back to the finance example, the outcome is not a P&L and cashflow. The outcome is good management decisions.
Now, some of the tools you have like cashflow and P&L but you can imagine if my outcome is good management decision, you start to think about those. I need a timely P&L and cashflow etc. So start at the top, and every company wants to go for revenue or profit, those are the two basic properties. From each one, from each component, break those down and understand what are the drivers of revenue and profit? Try to spilt things up. It’s like splitting the atom. Try to keep breaking into ever smaller pieces. That’s the first thing.
I would advise any business to actually understand you know what your first objective is, and set yourself lofty goals. Go for something big and lofty because that will stretch you and it’ll make you more demanding of the team. If you miss it by a little bit, you still exceed. Start with those big numbers, those big goals, and then break them into smaller pieces.
I used the sales example before. The big goal of $100,000 is an example for sales. What’s that made up of? What is $100,000 made up of? It’s made up of what I say is activity, times conversion and people’s results.
So, $100,000 in sales is made up of how much activity? How many people have I got to call? How many people have I got to convert? What price point? You keep playing with those numbers until you find the magic combination. There’s got to be 100 people/dials a day, you speak with 50 people converting to 10 leads or whatever, and start measuring the outcomes. Get your objectives, break them up into key components, work out what measure against each and then iterate.
So don’t agonize over it, just smash it all in there, get the basics right and if you publish it to your team, they’ll all start looking at everybody else’s and they’ll say, “Oh, that’s good.” They’ll steal a bit of that. It becomes like a Wikipedia. You throw it all in there, it looks like crap, and then everybody starts stealing and borrowing and refining, and you keep driving people to do that. Don’t try to plan it out too much. Just put it in, get it … rough it in, don’t be ashamed of it or nervous about it, you can’t get it wrong, nobody’s going to die, just throw in there and then get people to actively clean it up.
Then start using it because as you start using it, you start discovering problems with it and then fix it and as you go along and make it better. You learn so much out of it because it becomes introspective again. You start looking at it and go, “Wow, that’s really interesting.”
Steve: Simon, that’s been fantastic. I think some real powerful insights about how to get that gamified workforce. If people are interested in more information about Web Marketing Experts, where can they go?
Simon: Just go to the web, webmarketingexperts.com.au or look us up under “search engine optimisation”.
Steve: Fantastic, thanks so much.
Simon: Thank you.
You may notice slight differences from the interview in this transcript for the sake of readability.
Management.Disrupted is a blog about management beyond the production line. Thoughts on better management and leadership for knowledge work. It’s free to subscribe. Sign up now in less than 30 seconds