Welcome to lesson one in Building a Goal-Oriented Team. Your first step is setting business priorities and then setting priorities for teams.

While there are different ways of going about this (I’ll mention a few in a second), it starts by thinking deeply and critically about your mission.

Define your company mission and prioritize company objectives

To build a focused team, you need to answer the question: ‘Why does your company exist?’ This is an essential foundation for all other prioritizing and goal setting. If your mission isn’t clear, you’re not alone. Take time to stop and really think about it.

Tomasz Tunguz, venture capitalist at Redpoint, says that every successful startup has a threefold vision: product vision (the dream), business vision (the go-to-market strategy), and team vision (the culture).

Once you have a succinct, clear statement defining why your company exists, then you can prioritize your objectives around your mission. What do you need to focus on (as a team, as a company) to achieve your mission?

To obtain higher performance, leaders must identify the critical obstacles to forward progress and then develop a coherent approach to overcoming them.

Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy

We recommend reading Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt as a helpful resource for creating a strategy that bridges the gap between where your company is now and where you want it to be (your mission). All good strategy has three elements, what Richard calls a ‘kernel:’

  1. A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge,
  2. A guiding-policy for dealing with the challenge, and
  3. A set of coherent-actions that are designed to carry out the guiding-policy.

In contrast, Richard explains that “Bad strategy is long on goals and short on policy or action. It assumes that goals are all you need. It puts forward strategic objectives that are incoherent and, sometimes, totally impracticable. It uses high-sounding words and phrases to hide these failings.”

Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes.

Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy Bad Strategy

A couple of frameworks can help you define your mission and prioritize your objectives to align with that mission:

Jobs To Be Done (JTBD)

Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) focuses on the specific ‘jobs’ that a customer would hire your product or service to accomplish to give direction for priorities in product development and marketing messaging.

Case study: Intercom and Jobs To Be Done

Since their customers come in all shapes and sizes across different verticals, Intercom faced the challenge of not knowing what features to develop next or how to position their product. Intercom employed Jobs To Be Done to develop a strategy for reaching more prospective customers, building a better product, and providing a better experience to customers. They started with the following template that describes the situation, the motivation, and the expected outcome of their customers.

Source: Alan Klement

This framework helped Intercom identify four distinct jobs:

  • Job 1: ‘Acquire’ [live chat] enables sales and support teams to talk to visitors on their website and convert them to customers.
  • Job 2: ‘Engage’ [marketing automation] allows marketing teams to onboard and retain customers with targeted email and in-app messages.
  • Job 3: ‘Learn’ [customer feedback] provides product teams with quality feedback from the right customers.
  • Job 4: ‘Support’ [customer support] streamlines support for your team by making it easy for customers to ask for help.

Intercom has identified the primary customer (i.e. support team, product team, etc.) for each job to provide more context and focus for their own team. The jobs help inform their strategy for growth and answer questions regarding individual tasks (e.g. does this feature help customers complete the job they’re hiring our product to do?).

One example of how JTBD significantly improved their product was a map feature in their software that showed customer locations all over the world. At first, Intercom thought the accompanying text list of locations would be more helpful for finding and learning about customers but it wasn’t nearly as popular as the visual map.

After conducting research based on the template above (When ____, I want to ____, So I can ____), Intercom discovered people were using the maps as a way to impress investors and potential clients at tradeshows and on Twitter. So instead of designing a better map, they were able to design a better show piece by improving the visual design, hiding sensitive data, and making it easier to share (either at tradeshows or on Twitter).

JTBD has helped Intercom continually improve how they explain their product throughout the entire user experience - from attracting visitors on their website to cultivating advocates. Since implementing Jobs To Be Done, Intercom has more than tripled their top of funnel traffic while maintaining their conversion rate.

Here are some resources to help you achieve similar results with JTBD:

Buyer Personas

Buyer Personas define the specific type of individuals that are your ideal customers - demographics (age, gender, location, salary), pain points, interests, title/position, and more so you can prioritize actions throughout your business to delight this audience.

Case study: HubSpot and Buyer Personas

As HubSpot started the inbound marketing movement, it became apparent that the traditional approach to reaching prospective customers (blasting everyone with interruptive ads, commercials, and mailers) wasn’t effective. People could easily tune out ads, fast forward through commercials, and immediately trash mailers.

They needed a better way to reach a niche audience with a relevant and compelling message. Buyer Personas became the solution.

HubSpot created a generalized snapshot (buyer persona) of each of their ideal customers that tells a story using demographic, personal, and professional information. They compiled information from customer and prospect interviews, social media, and other behavioral data to discover what their ideal customer looks like, what they’re interested in, and how Hubspot can best help them.

Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot, reflects on how they came up with two different personas - a small business owner ‘Ollie’ and a marketing manager ‘Mary’ - but couldn’t pick just one. “By not deciding on one of these personas, we paid a gigantic, invisible ‘optionality tax.’” Since everything from product and support requirements to pricing were different for each persona, the team spent years making compromise after compromise in response to competing priorities.

In 2012, they finally just picked Mary. Now each team - sales, marketing, product, pricing, and service - were all able to make decisions and focus on tasks that benefit ‘Mary,’ improving the entire experience for potential and current customers like her. Having a single buyer persona enabled HubSpot to produce focused, relevant content that attracted over 300,000 subscribers and over two million monthly visits to their marketing blog.

Here are some resources to help you achieve similar results with Buyer Personas:

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle starts with why you exist, then define how you’ll achieve your mission, and finish with what product/service you provide to inform priorities.

Case study: Apple and the Golden Circle

For decades now, Apple has been able to take continuous innovation leaps in technology because they started with why. Apple believes in challenging the status quo - in doing things differently. This is their ‘why.’

One example of this is the creation of the iPod. Unlike the numerous other companies first pioneering MP3 players, Apple didn’t start by working on a product to play digital music files. Instead, they focused on challenging the status quo (why) - on reinventing the way we buy, sell, listen, and share music.

And how did Apple transform the music industry? They created a beautifully designed product that was simple to use and user-friendly. Their grand vision was made personal and practical as they identified how they would bring about massive change to a massive industry. Simplicity and ease of use were priorities.

Apple’s ‘why’ and ‘how’ resulted in the ‘what’ - they created a sleek, powerful, and easy-to-use iPod. Even though the first iPod went on sale in 2001, three years after the first MP3 players where available in the US, Apple quickly dominated the market. Their laser focus on the why rippling out towards ‘how’ and ‘what’ enabled them to grow faster and revolutionize not just a single product, but an entire industry.

Apple isn’t just creating new pieces of technology (what), they’re changing lives (why). As Tim Cook describes it, Apple is “…a special place where we have the opportunity to create the best products on earth — products that change lives and help shape the future.”

Here are some resources to help you achieve similar results with the Golden Circle:

Your mission (why your company exists) should dictate the decisions you and your team make for the business. Every new product feature, customer support offering, marketing campaign, sales script or pricing change will align with your purpose.

Pro tip: This must be a clear, company-wide mission, especially as you cascade priorities down to separate teams - and even individual team members. Each team must prioritize their objectives in light of the company as a whole. If they’re all working towards a different mission, focus is diluted. Be 100% clear to everybody about that mission by repeating it over again. Have it always present on the walls in the office, reiterate it at the start of all-hands meetings, buy everyone a laptop sticker with it. Make it ubiquitous.

Pitfall to avoid: If you’re at the C-level, don’t give your teams a laundry list of priorities. Select only a couple of the most important objectives that align with your mission. Remember, objectives can be adjusted over time as your company grows. If you’re at the receiving end of a laundry list of priorities, keep asking and pushing back until you have a clear understanding of the most critical objectives. Be sure that everything your team does aligns with the overall company objectives.

The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Clarifying your mission and creating a strategy to achieve it is by far the hardest part and takes lots of work, but it’s also the most critical. This isn’t about short wins. It’s about positioning the trajectory of your company for long-term success. Don’t rush this step!

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

Now it’s time to get your team together to define your company priorities and set your objectives.