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Business ambition from the bottom up

The start of a new year is a great time to demonstrate business ambition and set targets, but a system must be put in place to bring them suitably to life.
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It’s a tricky time of year for businesses. On the one hand, it’s a boom time with lots of activity and everyone back at work doing things for the year ahead. On the other hand, there’s the challenge of getting the team back and focussed again after Christmas, getting them to leave behind some of the uncertainty that arrived last year and focus on driving your own business ambition forward.

Setting up the team for success at the start of the year is always a bit of a balancing act. You want some business ambition – setting targets so that your company really performs and your team really feel excited by being part of something that’s very successful. But you also don’t want to overwhelm them with a large annual target that seems unachievable in the dark drizzle of a January morning.

Hopefully by now you’ve decided what you’re planning to do in your business over the next twelve months and you’ve a pretty specific idea of what the next quarter needs to look like. But even that quarterly target can look pretty challenging. In my own business, I’ve done top down strategic planning through November and December giving both the broad brushstrokes of what we plan to achieve during the year and the clearer and more specific targets for the quarter.

Deploying the agile scrum

But those take a bit of a back seat during January when we bring the team back to work and get everyone motivated and chomping at the bit again. Our business runs on a two-week planning and reporting cycle, known as an agile scrum for those in the software business. This means that every two weeks we meet, decide what we’re going to achieve, go and do it and then come back and report.

So in order for our annual and quarterly objectives to mean anything at all, we have to break them down into what can be achieved over the course of a two-week period. Breaking them down like this is the critical step in bringing these targets to life and is absolutely essential if they are to be achieved. In our business, we have four key areas of performance that are important to us: how many users we acquire, how engaged those users are, how many users decide to become paying customers and how many paying customers decide to leave us.

So what we’ve done is to break each of those down into a two-week target where we can track day by day where we are. In practical terms, this means that we are guided by our performance from one fortnight to the next across our four objectives. If during the last fortnight we hit three of our targets but missed the fourth, it’s the fourth that will get the attention over the coming fortnight.  Even though its performance might take a few weeks to come back on target, we can be sure that we’re focussing our efforts where needed to achieve our targets.

Business ambition: Clear target setting

So that’s all very well, but as a business leader, setting these targets can be very tricky. For some things that’s relatively straightforward: “we’ll sign up 500 new users”, “we’ll convert 100 users to paying customers”, those are easy to track day by day, and “add up” in a very obvious way to a quarterly and annual total. Other targets aren’t so direct, so for example if we’re looking at enterprise sales, or partner distribution deals, we need to find other measures. Saying we’ll sign four new large clients a year might be a great annual target, but what does it mean we should achieve this week?

It’s about looking at the component steps necessary to getting to the results we want. Perhaps we know that in order to get one deal signed, we need to do three demos, and in order to get a demo done we need to get three calls with senior stakeholders, and in order to get one call with a senior stakeholder we need to make 20 sales calls.

That equates to 15 sales calls a week to achieve one deal per quarter. This kind of target setting is simplifying a complex process, and it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger goals. But by breaking down big targets into achievable weekly items, you’ll be able to show your team that the things they need to do to achieve your shared goals aren’t so scary, and get them really fired up with business ambition to deliver a great 2017.

This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.

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About Author

Martin Campbell

Martin Campbell is MD of Ormsby Street, the fast-growing financial technology firm behind CreditHQ, a digital tool that helps small businesses improve cash flow and get paid on time. He is a veteran of several successful digital companies which were founded, lead, and sold – although not necessarily in that order. The entrepreneur now mentors aspiring business leaders and shares his stories from behind the scenes.

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