The discipline of getting stuff done is among the various topics that I tend to obsess over. Why? Because (wait for it …) there’s a verifiable causal relationship between efforts and outcomes.

Beyond such incisive crackerjack wisdom is what may be a more meaningful explanation for my curious obsession in this area: We often confuse full calendars with worthwhile contribution; we forget that each unit of effort isn’t valued equally.

Effort, like any other currency, should be managed to highest yield.

Still obvious? I invite you to look around your own organization to see for yourself. I bet you’ll find a lot of people lulled into the false comfort that busy means productive and productive means valuable.

Not always, it turns out.

As a marketer and a CMO, I’ve tried to live by two very simple operating philosophies:

#1: Operate with a bias toward external action.

Too often, we allow the formation of pristine strategy to distract us from the important work of getting stuff done. Former Allied Signal CEO Larry Bossidy wrote an excellent book on this topic. If you ask me, there’s nobility in swinging the hammer—and it’s clearly essential to achieving any outcome.

What’s perhaps less obvious is that internal action is rarely as valuable as external action. Of course, sometimes internal efforts lead to external action. In very large companies, it takes a substantial internal focus to line up the resources to execute at scale—for example, to put the might of a large marketing organization, distribution channel or sales force to work on your behalf.

The difference here is that such internal efforts are in-line with external action. When they’re not, your efforts are often wasted, an exhaustible currency sacrificed in the name of corporate habit.

When this happens, either find an internal path to external action or look outside of your four walls to see how you can move the needle yourself.

Hold yourself accountable to this sort of external action every single day. Allow yourself the twinge of disappointment on those days when you’re unable to deliver on this doctrine. Post a reminder that encourages reflection on an all-important question: Have you moved the needle today?

#2: Learn what moves the needle for the business and do more of that.

Every business has its own levers that disproportionately impact growth and profitability. These levers often include the likely suspects of new customers, customer expansion, retention, and cost of sales, which vary to a greater or lesser extent based on how your business makes money over time.

Once you understand the levers of your business, create a metrics strategy that shines light on your contribution to these all-important areas of performance. Here, the key is to find intermediate metrics that fit neatly between the most granular measurable moments—the things that you can directly instrument and control—and these highest level goals.

Once you understand the direct relationships between these two things, you can begin orienting your teams’ effort around what moves the needle for the business.

And when in doubt, you can do more of that.

  1. 17 June 2014 at 12:59 pm
    Bret Freeman says:

    Nice one Jake!
    Busy means productive and productive means valuable is in my opinion the biggest challenge in transforming any business. Weather in Marketing, Sales or bottle washing busy just means busy…
    Less busy, smarter action equals more productive! Move that needle! :-)

  2. 20 June 2014 at 1:15 am
    Lea Cullen Boyer says:

    Yes please! Part B is to look at ways to reform your corporation to support “not busy” time. Recreation, staring at the walls. The idea that people not in motion are slacking keeps lots of employees in decorate the fiefdom mode. Let both sides of the brain take over for part of each day.

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