Writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau is known for having said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”
When we think about what is involved from the idea stage of a project to full execution, Thoreau summed up the process well, and with that in mind, I created some easy rules for marketing teams to achieve great execution.
My first rule is to remember that great ideas and great execution take a great team. While an occasional solid idea might come from out of the blue from time to time, the best ideas usually emanate from a group used to working collegiately, familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses and comfortable taking reasonable mutual risks.
The process formula should be simple and fun, if possible, and easily remembered. Perhaps from an acronym like “ATTACK”:
• Assess the problem.
• Think of ideas.
• Target success.
• Advance and achieve.
• Calibrate progress.
• Keep pushing to completion.
Assess The Problem
Every team should assess the problem it faces before it moves to the stage of thinking of ideas. Does the assignment reflect the actual problem, or is there a broader or more narrow issue needing attention? Is the task doable with the resources available?
Think Of Ideas
Assuming the team is ready to tackle the problem, the next step is to think of ideas that will lead to solutions. By the time you and the group reach this stage, ideas are usually already forming in everybody’s minds. So, the next step is to use a brainstorming session to get those thoughts flowing.
It’s only natural for the senior executive to want to run the creative meetings, but I’ve found that it is often more effective to listen to the ideas and the discussion that the team generates. Sometimes, I don’t even go to the initial brainstorming meeting. This hands-off approach also gives me time to begin to evaluate the viability of the ideas and how they may impact other organizational aspects the team may not be aware of.
Once the exuberance of the brainstorming session is over, and you and the team have settled on the best idea, I’ve discovered this as an ideal time to target success. In other words, define with the team what success will look like once execution is complete.
I firmly believe there are success metrics for everything. Those who say it’s hard to assign measurable metrics to some of the components of marketing because they are more of an art than a science are either afraid to commit themselves to precise measurement or they don’t have confidence in some combination of the idea, themselves or their team.
Defining success early. Assigning your own success metrics does several positive things:
1. It may prevent others from setting unreasonable success measures for you after the fact.
2. It provides the team with a “success dashboard” with which to measure progress as the project moves ahead.
3. It provides an incentive if the project is struggling or moving smoothly.
4. It makes the more subjective aspects of marketing — and there are some — more tangible and objective.
Successfully targeting success requires building in practicality, calibration points that enable changing the scope or measurement of success and time to get buy-in from other stakeholders if adjustments need to be made. This process is not easy, nor should it be.
If you’ve created the right environment for your team, members will be comfortable with assigning metrics to their work. They will have confidence in what they can do with the budget, the time frame and the success target to which all agree. A seasoned team will also know how to test the qualitative and quantitative fibers of a success target. Is it a healthy stretch or is it unattainable? Can the team defend each without excuses?
Identifying these qualities can be easier for everybody if you and the team budget some time and money to target success, perhaps with some preliminary research and success analysis.
Advance And Achieve
The advance-and-achieve stage is the guts of the project. It is what most see as execution, which is incorrect if one does not recognize it as a necessary component of a more broadly choreographed process.
During this process, keep things simple. Deadlines must be met, budgets maintained, timelines assessed, updates provided among the team and to affected stakeholders. This is time during which the team must trust each other, tolerate each other’s foibles, have the confidence and courage to challenge and critique without offending each other. If there are ruffled feathers, make sure to fix the situation promptly and with as little drama as possible.
Update meetings among the team should be frequent and face-to-face. I’ve found that allowing team members to apprise other stakeholders on the project’s status builds confidence among the team and stakeholders. In considering this option, each leader is responsible for assessing that the organization has the culture appropriate for some out-of-protocol engagement.
As the advance-and-achieve stage chugs along, allow some time and, if necessary, allocate some money to calibrate.
Is the success target still realistic? Is the project on budget? Have any extenuating circumstances, inside or outside the organization, developed that could have a bearing on the project — negatively or positively? Do any tactics need tweaking? Is the team still strong, energetic and productive, or does it need a short respite?
All these aspects merit consideration during this stage. None of them is unmanageable unless they aren’t managed.
Keep Pushing To Completion
Assuming you and the team master the above, adjust and adapt where necessary and are secure in that your success targets remain solid, the last phase is to keep pushing until the project is complete.
And, by the way, I suggest two more steps: Make sure the team gets proper recognition throughout the organization and set aside time to allow it to celebrate its success.