- Wise Words -
Find the needle.
Then move it
by seb blanc
Giving advice is always difficult as it is so personal and, perhaps unsurprisingly I have no claim to the secret recipe that will turn us all into Elon Musk!
Now we have got through my “advice small print”, I do want to share the one thing that has allowed me take a key role in building successful tech businesses: the one and really only thing that matters at work is what you deliver for your business.
What I mean by this is that only the output matters. If you are busy, that’s great, it’s unlikely you will achieve anything without hard work. That said, as only results (the output) matter, the inputs are almost irrelevant. While you can attend meetings, send emails, follow the book of process to the letter (the inputs), if this does not move a business metric in a meaningful way, you have likely wasted both your and your company’s time.
Having impact is far from easy. If you are competent, your colleagues will ask for your involvement on many projects; you are also likely to receive a never ending flow of email and meetings. All of these things make it hard to get things done.
To make it even more difficult, a lot of companies don’t set out clearly the one metric you should focus on. It is so easy to be solidly busy the entire week, yet achieve very little that matters for the company.
What I am advocating here, is a radically different frame of mind. What I am advocating is a culture of aiming to move the needle for your business every single day.
Two Big Needles
A CEO will tell you that there are only 2 ways to really move the needle:
There are many ways to increase revenue. Some are direct and can include signing new business or streamlining process to increase speed to market. Some are indirect such as building a great brand, finding product-market fit on a new product, setting up a strong learning practice. The point is that you will need to be in a place where you can spend all your day moving the needle that you are responsible for.
Focusing on the result needs to become your number one goal.
My advice is that you shouldn’t think about anything except what you can do to move the output metric that you are responsible for. Obviously do it in a way that is consistent with the official goals and time frame set out by the company.
Note: I am not advocating for you to launch in China market when you are an individual seller in the US. Nor am I saying that teamwork doesn’t matter; it does. Being part of a team and strong team player is often how you get results. Instead what I am saying is that we should work within our teams to set the output goal and then focus on achieving it no matter what business-as-usual throws in our way.
To maximize your output you may have to reshape a process or change your focus. Sometimes it means that you have to literally ignore stuff that crosses your desk. It may even ruffle some feathers but in a world of constrained resources and unlimited company ambition, something will fall through the crack. Your value comes from making sure that nothing important falls through the cracks.
It obviously forces you to compare different initiatives that are very hard to compare even though they all impact the output of the company in some way. An extreme example could be: should you reach out to a new business lead or should you go to this week’s culture committee?
The former may increase slightly your chance of closing a large account. The latter impacts the mood in the business and may improve retention and hire rate. One could argue that both are output-focused. If you have an output driven view of the world though, I have no doubt that you should focus on lead generation (unless of course you have a 35%+ employee attrition rate and retention is the company’s n1 problem).
I find it useful to try to maximise the following formula when I think of what I should be working on:
[What is the likelihood this project will succeed] x [tangible benefit to the business of success]
If you are an Early Stage Professional you are unlikely to have the context to plug in the numbers to my “output equation” above. That’s ok, you can always use it later. Instead be proactive in working with your manager to identify the results that are important to them. Focus on understanding what they need to achieve and how you fit into their success. (For more on how partner with your manager and focus on results see "The BIG 3 questions to ask your manager")
Once you know your goal, track your progress towards it and give yourself a discreet timeline. If your experience is anything like mine, knowing what you need to do and focusing on that will allow you to filter out the standard “organizational noise” and achieve.
I hope this view of business and personal achievement makes sense to you. My success metric for this column is helping you change your focus in the workplace to outputs so that both you and your company succeed. Hopefully you won’t just read the words (my inputs),otherwise, we’ve both wasted our time here!
For more on the topic of prioritization see The Lean Manager: A Novel of Lean Transformation by Michael Balle and Freddy Balle as well as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Related columns: "Be a Professional of Action" and"Small Actions Build Big Results"