blog overview
Frans Riemersma, 10 Nov '15

Goal-Setting - How to Avoid 5 Common Mistakes

Save 20%-40% of your operational marketing resources. Start aligning your strategic goals with tactical and operational objectives. Avoid these 5 mistakes.

Did you know that 20%-40% of all operational marketing deliverables don’t serve any tactical or strategic purpose? Imagine all the things you could do with the additional capacity and budget, if you would just skip all strategically disconnected operational tasks. Now that the marketing planning season is here, you are probably asking yourself, “How to avoid all this waste?” Here is how. It is easier than you think.

For over a decade we helped marketers to avoid waste in their marketing operations. It’s a combination of a correct planning structure and the ability to be agile when corrective action is required.

In the process of executing the marketing plan it’s easy to get sidetracked. The moment the plan is approved and you start executing, reality kicks in. Just think of the frequent time and attention consuming incidents; your boss comes up with a new initiative, the agency delivers too late and the product launch is in jeopardy, sales needs a campaign to meet quarterly targets due to poor sales performance, etc.

It is easy to imagine that without a proper overview, activities get overlooked and do not add to bigger goals anymore. Waste is the result. At the end of the year you have done a lot of hard work. But was it worthwhile? Did it add value? Did it contribute to the marketing, or even company strategy? And here you are, telling yourself, “Yes, probably 20-40% of my marketing efforts were wasted. But which efforts exactly?”.

Case Study: You cannot ‘action’ an MS PowerPoint

The answer lies in setting objectives, how you formulate objectives and how you connect objectives. Not only when writing your marketing plan in October, but ongoing, throughout the year, month, week or sprint.

Objectives are the glue of your marketing plan and efforts. Without them, it will be hard to make your plan actionable. You cannot track. You cannot report. You cannot drive ownership. You cannot align. You cannot be effective, or successful.

To illustrate the crucial role of objectives, I’d like to show you a real-life example of a marketing department.

Let’s take a company in the financial industry, comprising 9 business units and operating in 17 countries. When asking for the strategy and corresponding plans, we were pointed to several departments. We collected a heap of presentations and spreadsheets. It was hard to imagine this pile would enable a successful execution of the company strategy. No wonder strategies fail in the execution phase.

It took a few days to consolidate strategic presentations and numerous spreadsheets from 24 different teams into one overview; an overview that had never existed in the company before. Here is the reverse engineered overview.

The CEO of the financial institution had set out 5 ‘Key Strategic Deliverables’, the big hairy goals. These goals targeted three audiences: customers, employees and shareholders.

Sales derived 20 tactical objectives from the Key Strategic Deliverables.

Marketing, in its turn, had formulated 163 tactical & operational objectives. The marketing objectives varied from customer campaigns to internal improvement projects. The campaigns covered all sorts of areas: brand, digital, social media, outdoor, Radio/TV, merchandising, in-store materials, events, trade shows, sponsoring, online, Public Relations, etc.

How to avoid 5 goal-setting mistakes

Drawing upon our experiences at other clients, we learned that the following 5 mistakes are most frequently made. We added the figures of how our ‘real-life’ example as an illustration. The good news is that all 5 mistakes can be easily avoided.

1. Avoid orphan objectives. 20% of the objectives were orphans, disconnected from their parents, the 5 ‘Key Strategic Deliverables’. The biggest source of identified “waste” is the result of this 20% disconnected objectives. There is no way you can justify these objectives to your CEO. So, think twice before assigning them to your team. Or better, don’t even think about them in the first place.

2. Avoid internal focus. 75% of the objectives have no customer focus. Most of the operational activities were aimed at employees, e.g. “Create alignment across teams”, “Grow marketing capabilities within the team”, “Develop exchange opportunities for staff”, etc. Only 25% of the objectives were aimed at customers. So much for customer centricity. Although companies are forced to battle their legacies, the customer should always remain the center of focus.

3. Avoid incomplete objectives. 71% of the objectives were not SMART. The objectives formulated turned out to be far from Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-bound. You can avoid this by agreeing on a handful of base objectives’ elements, which should be mandatory for every objective approval. Each element should be specified to make an objective more SMART. The elements we identified as indispensable were: audience, deliverable, proposition, delivery date and metric to measure change. 71% of objectives missed one or more of these elements.

4. Avoid incompatible objectives. The reverse engineering exercise revealed that for 60% of the operational objectives base elements got disconnected somewhere along the path to their strategic parent. E.g. while a tactical objective pointed toward the ‘customers’ audience, its parent strategic goal pointed to the ‘shareholders’. A clear indication that a common understanding, focus and handshake are missing across the different levels in the organization.

5. Avoid group ownership. 87% of the objectives have multiple owners, like teams or departments, but not named individuals. The blame game is the symptom. Ineffectiveness the result. In psychology, the ‘Bystander Apathy’ or ‘Diffusion of Responsibility’ effect teaches us that when a situation requires someone to take action and there are many bystanders, people tend to wait for others to act. Making multiple individuals responsible for one and the same objective is dangerous, because nothing will happen. Nothing gets done. The remedy is simple: one objective, one owner.

Increase effectiveness of your marketing efforts today

To find the 20%-40% wasted initiatives you can start any moment. You do not have to wait for the planning season. You can start today. So here is what I recommend.

First, to motivate yourself, imagine all the additional campaigns you could execute, and how it would impact results, revenue and growth if you had 20%-40% additional capacity. Your increased productivity and focus will certainly not remain unnoticed in the company.

Second, create a goal tree, just like you would draw an Org Chart.

1. Create an overview of your marketing initiatives.

2. Group your initiatives by linking them to a single strategic company goal.

3. Ensure your team leads (owners) do the same with your individual initiatives.

4. Formulate a SMART objective for each initiative together with the owners.

5. Close down your orphanage. All objectives need to serve a higher goal.

Update your goal tree on a weekly basis. Print it. Hang it on your office wall, serving as a team goal infographic. Drive results, while focusing on creating value.

Have fun.