blog overview
Frans Riemersma, 21 Jul '16

3 Steps to Transform Your To-Do List Into a KPI Driven Strategy

Instead of mentioning KPIs, marketing goals resemble ToDo lists. Learn how to connect operational tasks to strategic KPIs. In just 3 steps, or even 2…

“If I explain my team the strategy, they are confused. If I do not have a strategy, I am confused. - Manager”

Managers often have a different view on what’s important than their team. As a manager you are wondering how to make your team work on your strategy, but your team is still persistently holding on to marketing calendars showing tasks and to-do’s, and dashboards listing a generous assortment of miscellaneous deliverables.

Managers with the ambition to build self-organizing teams almost exclusively end up disappointed. 43% of CMOs say that the inability to align department strategies & priorities was a hurdle to success. That’s a pretty big number…

Willing but (somewhat) unable leads to micro management

It’s not that teams are unwilling to think more strategically, or don’t recognize the value of it. No less than 87% of employees “indicate they could have better accomplished their individual objectives if they had been provided with a clear understanding of the organization’s plan.”

Strangely, if you allow your team to work on the strategy they quickly end up performing operational tasks that often don’t fit the strategy. Eventually, you give in to having your team just performing tasks in response to your demands.

When managers notice that their team is incapable or unwilling to become ‘all abstract about strategy’, they tend to overreact and run toward the other far end of the spectrum. They resort to spelling out what they want in way too much detail, becoming micromanagers perpetually on the edge of having a burn out.

Turn the tables – purpose over process

The warped rational goes something like: if they do not get the “Why”, I will tell them the “What”, so they can figure out the “HOW”. E.g. saying:

“Bring me 1000 leads with an email campaign”

In doing so, you reduce your team to just being order takers, which is a terrible waste of expertise, experience and talent. An incredible source of wisdom is going unused on a daily basis. The team holds a great deal of expertise and experience on what needs to be done and how to achieve goals. So managers should leave the “How” and the “What” to their team. E.g. saying instead:

“Bring me 1000 leads…”

… where the team is to decide “What” needs to be done and “How” to do that. The manager then fully utilizes the wisdom of his crowd, the experience of his team. It’s a matter of purpose over process.

Be clear about the “Why” and your team will fill out the “What” and the “How”. Take a bottom up approach but be sure to tell them what ‘up’ exactly looks like - what they’re working up towards. Ask them to connect their goals to your strategy; to connect their What and How to your Why. Ask your team what they can do for you, for a change.

“Ask ‘Why?’… until they hit the KPI”

The reward for making all of this happen? Discovering which 40% of resources are currently being wasted on non-strategic tasks, and being able to reallocate the saved budget to make your dreams come true.

However, the question of how to exactly pull this off is still unanswered. The key to making your team self-organizing and yourself less busy is encouraging your team to always ask ‘Why?’… until they hit the KPI.

Find your strategic KPIs in 3 easy steps

We’ve developed a simple sentence to quickly pinpoint the KPI during goal setting. If you go one step further and find multiple related KPIs, the framework of your overarching strategy plan takes shape right before your eyes. It has worked very well for us ourselves, might I add.

The three step approach to filtering out the all important KPI:

1. Ask 'Why?' until you hit the KPI

2. Connect the tree (vertical, horizontal or both)

3. Eh, have a coffee?

If you get this exercise right, it will become pretty much the only thing you have to do with your team. You can apply it in any meeting, any time. They’ll be able to set their own goals in line with strategy, and make them measurable with a suitable KPI.

So, train your team. Support them, every day. And leave your door wide open, especially in the first weeks of the transformation.

Step 1 - Ask 'Why?' until you hit the KPI

Here's what you should do:

  • Have your team members take out their to-do list.
  • Ask them to identify the most important activity they work on.
  • Then let them ask their selves Why? they do this task.
  • Let them continue to ask Why?.... until they hit the KPI.
  • But don’t stop now! Ask Why? until you basically can’t go any further.
  • Then, scale it up. Do this with your top 3 most important to-do’s.

Your team will end up with strands of related KPIs indicating what every goal in your strategy contributes to, and why it adds value. Or maybe they’ll discover their ‘most important task’ isn’t important at all….

The conversation you’ll have with your team will be enlightening, to say the least. Chances are your team is not delivering on the strategy at this moment, and finding out about so many things you didn’t know before all at once can be humbling or even a bit scary.

“OMG, we have no clue about our conversion rates!”

“Are we that bad a goal setting?”

I’m afraid that is in fact the case. Many companies are very bad at goal setting. But at least you know now. Acknowledging a problem is the first, and very important step.

Luckily, these are all normal signs you are on the right track. If you dare to carry on, you’ll outperform competitors in weeks.

Here are some real-life conversations between managers and their team members. They serve as simple examples of strands of KPIs, indicating how and why tasks add value.


Hit the KPI 1 boardview


Hit the KPI 2 Boardview


Hit the KPI 3 Boardview
Step 2 – Build the strategy tree

As you can see, the exercise yields a handful of KPIs. It is time to connect the dots and shape your strategy. Connect the goals in a tree structure.

  • Have your team members compare their KPI strands.
  • Ask them to look for overlap in KPIs they found for different to-do’s.
  • See your strategy tree grow.

Chances are the success of different tasks can be measured using the same KPI. Two KPIs may contribute to achieving the same higher KPI, at some point in the tree. Two subgoals e.g. “Increase revenue (KPI)” and “Reduce costs (KPI)” will both have the same parent goal “Increase Profit (KPI)”.

If you map a whole bunch of tasks, you’ll end up with a tree structure as shown in the Growth Map below.

Boardview Growth Map
Step 3 - Drink coffee

Now all you have to do is align stakeholders. Grab a coffee and walk over. Agree with the team and Sales which goals you want to pursue. Then ask for commitment for the figures you want to deliver. Tip: it helps the process if you make sure the coffee is on you ;-)

Defining KPIs for goals: you can, and you should!

Don’t just read and nod in agreement, and then go on to micromanage your team some more. Build your own tree! That should be the first item on anyone’s to-do list. Go through the three steps with your team and align your strategy and every task in it for once and for all.

Ask “Why? So I can” not just because you can, but because the future of your company success depends on it. “Why? Because you should!”.