A Simple Matrix to Prioritize Your Marketing Efforts

One of the most difficult things to learn how to do as you grow your career is manage your time. That is because your responsibilities change with the roles that you serve in, the value you bring to the team, and the expectations put on you by various managers.

When you are just starting out, the expectations are often clearest. Someone else is setting your priorities, or at least defining clear goals. So the most difficult part about managing your time is learning how to do things correctly in the shortest amount of time.

But as you move up from that first position, more will be asked of you. You may serve on different teams, and wear different hats. You may have competing priorities, in service of different, but equally important company goals. Here, it is important that you learn how to prioritize your time on the most important matters. And often that means learning how to automate, delegate, or eliminate lower-level tasks.

If you are lucky enough to move into a management role, where you are presiding over a team of people and have more of a say in your company’s strategy, this skill is critical. You will fail unless you know how to set priorities. And you will be expected to help others set priorities as well.

Unfortunately, this is a skillset that is not taught in any class. It’s one that you are expected to learn on your own. If you’re lucky, you have a manager or mentor who can help.

If not, let me offer a simple 2x2 matrix you can use to determine where your team should focus it’s time and energy.

The Matrix

What you need to do to start out is create a full list of all the projects you are considering. Usually, this list is far too long for the size of your team and the resources allotted. That’s a good thing – a sign of an ambitious agenda. And it’s the precise reason that we need the matrix, to help us prioritize.

For each item on the list, then you are going to rate it’s potential impact and its level of effort required. For both, you are either going to list them as High or Low. For example, if you think a project is likely to lead to big gains in revenue but take your whole team six months to complete, you might rate it High for both impact and effort.

To construct the matrix, we need a sheet of paper with four quadrants. On the vertical axis, we are going to put “IMPACT”. On the horizontal axis, we are going to write “EFFORT”. Then divide them up into High and Low, so that you are left with something like this:

 

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Once you have everything on your list categorized into one of the four quadrants, you are ready to prioritize.

High Impact/Low Effort

Always start working on projects in this quadrant. These are your easy wins. That you expect high returns for low cost, or low effort, is a sure sign that these are the projects where you will get the greatest “bang for the buck”.

Focus on these first and ignore the others until everything here is done.

High Impact/High Effort

We always want to maximize our impact. With that in mind, though some might argue to focus next on the other projects that don’t require much time or resources, I would recommend jumping to the high impact, high effort projects. These are those priorities that will require a significant amount of investment, but when all is said and done, your company will reap the rewards for your expenditure.

Low Impact/Low Effort

Low impact projects may not mean that much to your company in terms of improvement on the grand scale, but if it doesn’t take much to achieve incremental gains, they are still worth doing. These projects may make even more sense if your team is under pressure to produce short term wins, or lacks the resources to complete your higher impact projects.

Getting these items done checks a box and moves you in the right direction, even if it is in smaller steps.

Low Impact/High Effort

Anything that winds up in this quadrant should stay off your to-do list. It’s going to cost a lot to get done, without providing significant benefits to your team or your company. This is grunt work, and if you find yourself working on grunt work, you are ignoring potential successes elsewhere.

The Case For and Against Electronics in Meetings

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If you work in an office, you are likely familiar with this scene:

You walk into a meeting and the others who have arrived before you are sitting around a conference room table, on phones and laptops, heads down, typing or reading. This behavior might change somewhat as the meeting begins, but still the sound of typing can be heard under whoever is speaking.

Are they taking notes? Are they responding to emails? Does their activity help make the meeting better, or is it a distraction?

Companies large and small are battling with this question – is it okay for people to use their devices in meetings?

Let’s solve that problem now.

The Case For Electronics in Meetings

First of all, any argument for the use of electronics in meetings acknowledges their inherent value. Whether you are using them to take notes, share work, collaborate, or conduct research, access to phones, tablets, and laptops can make everyone at the meeting a more productive member of the team.

That’s what is so great about these devices. When used correctly, they are additive. They make each one of us smarter and more productive.

These are tools that we should use to have better meetings. And any argument against their use ignores the simple fact that these devices are so ubiquitous in today’s offices that to try to ban them would do little more than cause confusion and resentment.

The Case Against Electronics in Meetings

The case for electronics in meetings is a blue-sky version of the perfect meeting, and ignores reality. In the real world, when we allow electronics in meetings, we are inviting distraction.

With our phones out, and our screens open in front of us, we are much more likely to ignore (fully or partly) the conversation happening right in front of us for the other attention-deserving items at our disposal. From email to text to one-off projects – whether work-related or personal – we become tempted to let our minds and fingers wander away from the meeting at hand.

We are more productive when we put down the devices and focus 100% on the conversation. Electronics are fine in the office in general, but should not be allowed in meetings.

Conclusion

Different people, and different companies, will have to answer this for themselves. But for me, a policy of no electronics creates a better atmosphere, and a more productive meeting.

Where necessary, one person in the meeting can be designated note-taker. That person may be the only person on their laptop, and will share her notes with the rest of the team as part of the meeting’s follow up activities.

Many offices will allow for a shared computer, a screen for presentations that will allow for someone to “drive” the meeting from a computer. In this case, that should be the only device in use, and can be shared for presenting, researching, displaying, and note-taking.

This type of policy, if implemented and upheld in the right way, will lead to better meetings.

The One Thing That Will Make or Break Your Next Meeting

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A lot of ink has been spilled about meetings – the bane of many office-dwellers’ existence. We have seen advice on how to run better meetings, how to hold fewer meetings, and how to make meetings as short as possible.

Meetings are often considered a necessary evil, one we all tolerate because somewhere deep down, we know that without meetings, our business could not function.

The truth is, there are good meetings and there are bad. And only a few things separate the good from the bad. So it is very easy to take good intentions and turn them into a bad meeting.

But there is one thing that is guaranteed to make or break any meeting.

Before we get to what that is, let me paint a picture for you…

Imagine your company is preparing to launch a new product this fall. Loads of time and money has been sunk into planning and developing this product, which everyone at the organization is fairly certain will be a big seller. And now the marketing team is planning the launch – how to get this product seen by the right audience.

Sounds like a good time for a meeting with the marketing decision makers, perhaps even someone from product and someone from sales to talk about the details of the product and how you plan to get as many out the door in the first month as possible.

So you organize a meeting. You invite all the right people. You send out a clear agenda. Everyone gets a chance to speak and the best ideas rise to the top.

The meeting ends, everyone feels good. This was no waste of time. It was a great conversation, enlightening even.

But a week goes by, and then another, and you find that you need to meet again. Or you need to chase down the team to figure out what happened to all that positive momentum.

The problem is, you didn’t clearly define the next steps and hold someone accountable.

Action Items

Every meeting needs to end with a review of the action items decided on during the meeting. Everyone at the meeting should know what those action items are, and who is responsible for completing them, and by when.

Ideally, someone’s job will be to write down these next steps and send them around to all the attendees. This will ensure there is no confusion, that everyone is on the same page. That way, you will know who is doing what, and when you can expect to see progress.

Without action items, the meeting is a waste of everyone’s time.

Identifying Underutilized Talent in Your Organization

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When it comes to hiring, there are three common complaints you are likely to hear if you spend any time with management teams in small and medium-sized businesses:

  1. Hiring the right people is one of the most difficult challenges we face,
  2. It is hard to find people with the right set of skills to accomplish our goals, and
  3. We do not have the budget to hire all of the people we need.

But often, there is a solution to these problems hidden in plain sight. And that is your current workforce.

Many smaller businesses do not have the same hierarchical structure that most large companies have put in place. This is a good thing when it comes to managing a team, but it can create functional boundaries that make hiring and professional development more difficult.

Because there is no clear upward path to new roles within the organization, your people often reach a plateau, wherein they can either look for new challenges outside of the organization or they can stagnate right where they are.

But new project, new priorities, and new strategies bring with them an opportunity for you as a manager to rediscover the talent on your current roster. Rather than immediately planning for an external hire to fill the new role in your plans, think about who you can tap internally.

Chances are, there is underutilized talent in your organization just sitting there, waiting to be discovered.

The following are some ways you can tap into that talent:

1. Cultivate it over time.

In order to encourage the talent that you already have to continue to grow and develop professionally, you should make that a regular part of working for your organization. Give people access to professional development opportunities throughout their tenure and follow up with those that take advantage to find out what they learned and how they enjoyed it.

2. Be transparent about future plans.

In order to give people the best chance of future success, it is important to be open and clear about where the company is going. When people know the types of roles and positions that are likely to be necessary in the future, they can begin to prepare and adapt to those roles today. This kind of thinking can guide their professional development, ensuring that they end up with the right types of skills the company will need tomorrow.

3. Incentivize internal moves.

Don’t sit by and assume that people will on your team will raise their hand and volunteer to take on new tasks. But incentivize them to do so. If your company does not have a traditional path to promotion, you need to motivate people to think outside the box. Encourage moves within and across departments with financial and non-financial incentives.

4. Establish cross-training norms.

To ensure that you don’t lose institutional knowledge when someone moves to a new position, it should be a regular practice within your company to make sure at least two people know how to do any one task. This also creates a sense of shared responsibility which can help teams grow closer. When each person is responsible to making sure that others are knowledgeable about their roles and assignments, we can eliminate some of the boundaries that make hiring and training so difficult.

A Simple Strategy for Deciding Which Risks to Take

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Human beings are naturally risk-averse, meaning they like to control the amount of risks they take and avoid them if at all possible. It’s what helped our ancestors survive.

But in the business world, risk aversion is a dangerous thing. You don’t succeed without taking risks. The world’s most successful companies were all built on risk. And the most successful leaders are those that know which risks are worth taking, and when.

So if you are someone that is not comfortable with risk, does that mean that all hope is lost? Should you pack up your desk and find a new job, one that does not force you to take any risks (like that exists)?

Obviously, the answer is no. There are ways that you can train yourself to see risk differently. You can become more comfortable evaluating, and taking, risks in your company.

Here is a simple strategy for helping you decide which risks to take:

1. Write it down.

The best way to start to evaluate risk is to clearly define it. This is helpful for you, and for anyone else you are working with. By clearly defining the decision that you have to make and what the risks associated with it are, you set the stage for clear thinking. Without this step, you might approach the problem more vaguely and end up scaring yourself out of making a decision.

2. Describe success.

Next, you’ll want to clearly describe for yourself what success would look like. Approach this as if you have already decided to move forward and the project succeeded. This helps you understand what a positive outcome will look like. Too often when we are risk-averse, we spend all of our time thinking about the potential failure and do not focus nearly enough energy planning for success.

3. Describe failure.

Now, only after you have defined what success will look like, will you turn to the opposite track. Write down in detail what failure will look like. The advantage of doing it this way is that you can create a more realistic version of failure. Often, we approach risk by immediately going to the worst-case scenario. But the truth is, more often than not the worst-case scenario is one that is unlikely to happen.

4. What are the odds?

Next comes the most difficult part – the part that trips up a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to trip you up.

You want to try to estimate the odds of success (the version you defined in step 2) and the odds of failure (the version you defined in step 3). The temptation is to say the odds are 50/50. But most decisions, if we are being honest with ourselves, don’t have 50/50 odds. Sometimes a risk is more likely to pay off, sometimes not. And sometimes there is an in-between outcome, somewhere in the middle of the success and failure you’ve described.

The closer you can come to the odds of each version coming true, the more comfortable you will be with the final decision.

5. What are the alternatives?

Lastly, there is a step too many of us leave out entirely. In most decision-making scenarios where we are weighing the risk of moving forward, we ignore the alternatives.

Usually, if you decide to move forward and take the risk, you are giving something else up. There is only so much time in the day, only so much money in the budget, and only so many priorities we can work on at any given time.

Additionally, if you decide not to move forward because there is too much risk identified, you may end up asking yourself what to do next. Identifying the alternatives to this risky endeavor may make it easier to say yes or no.

6. Make a decision.

When you are all done defining the risk, describing what success and failure look like, calculating the odds and identifying the alternatives, it’s time to make a decision.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. If you have a tendency to stagnate, to get paralyzed by the decisions before you, commit yourself to a deadline. Don’t let yourself ruminate. If you need to, bring in one or more trusted stakeholders to help you forward. Because the truth is, any decision is better than no decision at all.