What will you do differently in 2017?

It's a new year, but no B2B marketing predictions from me. Because as we slowly ease or quickly dive into 2017, I’ve been reading so many marketing predictions for the upcoming year that frankly I’m tired of it. And year-on-year, not much seems to change. Sure, there’s new technology, a new platform, a new app, a new buzzword, but there are always these new things. And every year, while there are many interesting articles, I end up being disappointed and even deflated by what I read. Because I want inspiration, not endless lists of the next big things for marketing.  Every single article I read continues to be focused on tactics and tools, and we remain totally side-tracked by all these shiny new things instead of concentrating on what we need to achieve as marketers.

We really have got to stop staggering like drunken New Year’s Eve revellers from one tactic or channel or format to another in search of that silver bullet that will finally launch us into the strategic stratosphere (and onto the board) at last.

So, I’ve done something very different this year. Instead of starting my new year with a list of all these trends and predictions from the plethora of marketing gurus that inhabit my digital world, I’ve been doing some hard thinking about my goals and objectives for the year. Which has led me to think about how we set goals and objectives within our B2B organisations.

In his 1954 book, ‘The Practice of Management’, Peter Drucker introduced his concept of Management by Objectives (MBO), the essence of which is that individual objectives are developed in alignment to corporate objectives:

  • Objectives are determined with the employees;
  • Objectives are formulated at both quantitative and qualitative levels;
  • Objectives must be challenging and motivating;
  • Daily feedback on at the level of coaching and development instead of static management reports;
  • Rewards (recognition, appreciation and/or performance-related pay) for achieving the intended objectives is a requirement;
  • The basic principle is growth and development.

Out of this MBO concept has grown the SMART technique - Specific, Measurable, Attainable (sometimes Achievable), Realistic (sometimes Relevant) and Time-bound - which is pervasive and which the majority of us, including myself, have used for objective-setting throughout our careers. These are the objectives against which we receive feedback and are measured during our performance reviews, which are the generally reflected in our pay packets. And we have accepted SMART as the way it ought to be done.

Yet, because I’ve moved out of the corporate environment, I started to wonder if this same SMART technique was best for me running my own business. And in the process, I read an article that made me think about objective-setting in a totally new way.

Dick Grote - a performance management consultant with an early career spent at GE, United Airlines and Frito-Lay – argues in an article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘3 Popular Goal-Setting Techniques Managers Should Avoid’ that SMART objectives may, in fact, be leading people to set low goals. In particular, he cites the work of 2 of the best-known academic researchers on goal-setting – professors Edwin A Locke and Gary P Latham – who found over 35 years of research that specific, difficult goals with tight deadlines (irrespective of whether the goal is jointly set by the individual and manager together, or whether the manager defines what’s expected with a tough due-date) resulted in greater effort and better performance. Grote believes that while the SMART technique is useful, we need tough, demanding goals and objectives that really stretch us in order to achieve the highest levels of effort and performance.

This article was an eye-opener for me, and reinforced how we seldom question ‘what we’ve always done’. When I was in the corporate world, our annual goal-setting exercises were more like a to-do list of what we would accomplish each year. As I think back on this, I realise what a waste of time this was. Our annual objectives were something we did because our annual performance reviews were based on them. There was no allowance for not achieving any of the objectives, with the rationale during the review process being that someone who achieved all of their objectives was a better performer than someone who hadn’t. So, none of our objectives were particularly challenging or motivating; we created our objectives in such a way as to enable us to receive the best possible performance rating.

But we don’t learn and grow if we’re not stretched; we need tough, we need demanding, we need to be pushed outside of our comfort zones. This really doesn’t happen often enough, and this is why mediocrity persists throughout B2B marketing. It’s why we glom onto the latest and greatest technology, tool or tactic as ‘proof’ of our effort, because we have our SMART to-do list and at some fundamental level we don’t actually know what we’re trying to achieve, for ourselves as marketers or for our organisations.

So, I’m doing something very different with setting my goals and objectives for 2017. Besides the more usual financial targets I want to reach, and the things I want and need to do to sustain and grow my business, I’m looking at what’s professionally hardest and most uncomfortable for me, the things that will stretch my marketing abilities and push me outside of my comfort zone.

I may just learn and do things I never knew were possible. And in the process, become a better marketer.