How CMOs Can Prepare Their Organisations for AI-Driven Decision Making

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Problem-solving is explorative process. Since my job is to help business and marketing leaders identify and tackle their biggest growth challenges, when I’m not talking to people, I’m absorbed in research or excavating insights from data.

I’m a proficient at Excel and can make my way through data analysis in Python. Still, I often wish I had smart algorithms that I could use to complete complicated tasks on their own.

Fortunately for me, and people like me, that isn’t far off. Machine learning, and AI are developing at a pace where advanced analytics will soon be available to everyone across the organisation.

But truth be told, we’re not ready to move decision making away from the C-Suite to the people on the front lines?

Ready. Set. Wait.

If we’re to benefit from the AI revolution we need to enable and encourage people to solve problems by using data. At the same time, we need to teach them how to make better judgements using quantitative data without overlooking personal knowledge of context and facts.

Achieving this is, however, easier said than done.

Faster and more accurate data analysis is useless if people can’t act on insights quickly and when it’s relevant.

Most organisations are bogged down in archaic bureaucratic processes that no amount of AI can get around.

Now, more than ever, need to create a culture of performance and accountability that can thrive when supported with advanced analytics and AI.

In the last two years, I’ve been experimenting with various methods – both within my team and regular sanity checks when working with our clients. Here I want to share the management model that has been the most successful for me.

Embracing decentralized decision-making

My model blends Objectives and Key Responsibilities with tried and tested techniques from the 4 Disciplines of Execution.

The critical components of this model are:

  1. The discipline of setting and following your Wildly Important Goals (WIGs).
  2. Providing clear Objectives and Key Responsibilities (OKRs) to your team.
  3. Creating a culture of accountability by using a scoreboard.

Your Wildly Important Goals (WIGs)

A Wildly Important Goal is an objective that makes or breaks your organisation. Following WIGs means fully and unequivocally committing to achieving only those goals that ensure the sustained survival and growth of your business.

Research has shown that your success rate exponentially decreases as the number of goals you simultaneously pursue increase.

Finding your WIGs isn’t easy because there are always more good ideas than there is capacity to execute them.

Lessons from Levi Strauss

I recently read an interview in HBR with Chip Bergh. When he became CEO of Levi’s in 2011, revenue had fallen from $7 billion (1997) to $4.1 billion (2001). Furthermore, between 2001 and 2010 the brand’s growth had stagnated at $4.5 billion.

One of the first things he asked his new employees at a town hall meeting was how many people thought the company was performing well. To his surprise, three-quarters of the employees raised their hands.

His second shock came when he asked his top 60 executives what they were working on and how it linked to the company’s strategy and got only blank stares in return.

When your employees don’t have a realistic view of your company’s performance, and your senior managers can’t connect their daily activities with your company’s strategy, the evidence is clear that they’ve lost track of their WIGs.

Maybe you’ve also experienced this same frustration? When left unchecked it can lead to questioning your team’s skills, or worse, their commitment.

If this does sound familiar, you should take time to ensure that your team is aware of and believes in your organisation’s WIGs.

Setting and communicating your Wildly Important Goals (WIGs)

The biggest mistake you can make when setting an objective is to make it vague. The way most goals are defined leaves much room for interpretation, e.g. “increase customer satisfaction and improve quality of service”.

A WIG has to be clear, precisely measurable and it has to have a deadline. When turned into a WIG the above goal would look like this: “improve NPS from 30 to 70, while improving response time to customer feedback to 98% by the end of 2018”.

Making sure that people across your organisation can make smart and informed decisions starts with having clearly defined, easily measurable goals with set deadlines.

Objectives & Key Responsibilities (OKRs)

Creating and communicating organisational WIGs is only the first step. You also have to make sure that your managers and teams understand their roles and key responsibilities.

In the 70s Intel co-founder Andy Grove introduced OKRs. Today they are widely used in large companies, like Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and Apple. According to Grove, OKRs work because “[OKRs] aren’t about what you know, but what you do with what you know”.

Make your goals relatable

You have to make your WIGs relatable or risk them being forgotten altogether.

I’ve often made the mistake myself where I’ve detailed the metrics and rationale behind our organisational goals but failed to explain how my team had an impact on them.

We’re hardwired to avoid challenges, and when faced with a task that requires extra brain power we tend to stick to the familiar. In most cases that leads to sticking to the status quo.

Once you’ve set your WIG, take the time to meet your managers and talk about how it translates into an objective for them and their teams.

Once the team’s objectives is clarified, I typically give five key responsibilities to each individual.

My rule of thumb is to set three and leave two or the individual to decide.

OKRs ensure that your employees know how to make decisions that push them and their organisation forward.

Building a culture of accountability

Micromanagement doesn’t have a place in a high-performance environment. Resorting to micromanagement to get performance out of your team should raise a red flag.

Micromanagement isn’t limited to dealing with underperformers. A lot of times your star performers also need direction when they don’t have a clear idea of what is expected of them or how their performance is measured.

Enter the scoreboard

Scoreboards work because people play differently when someone is keeping score. They also make individual commitments public which boosts the motivation to follow through.

An effective scoreboard has to be simple and impactful.

Measure your team’s performance by tracking the activities they perform instead of tracking leads or revenue.

The most effective scoreboards are ones that track actions and activities, such as calls answered, number of tickets processed, or number of units manufactured.

Your scoreboard should be visible to everyone who’s score is being kept.

Key takeaway

Advanced analytics and AI are enabling companies to disrupt and overtake their competition, not only because they have access to the right tools, but because they’ve figured out how to benefit from this data across every level of their organisation.

You can do the same by incorporating these three management techniques into the way you lead your organisation:

  1. Define your wildly important goals clearly, with measurable metrics and deadlines. Commit to no more than three such goals at a time.
  2. Translate your organisational goals into relevant objectives for teams and help individuals discover their key responsibilities.
  3. Keep score of how well your organisation is performing against their key responsibilities instead of a lag measure such as revenue.

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