There’s an old saying in racing that goes “in order to finish first, first you must finish.” No one knows exactly who said it first, but everyone agrees the adage speaks to the idea that you cannot win over the long-term without discipline, discretion and focus. From companies with over 150 years of experience to my current role at an identity firm with five years under its belt, and countless hot laps around the racetrack, I’ve spent a lot of time steering my passion for racing alongside my career. With that breadth of territory comes a lot of lessons -- one in particular that has transferred from place to place and scene to scene: productivity is the friend of success.
To me, productivity means consistently achieving goals. So let’s first talk about the structure of a strong goal. Goals are measurable, single-layered, simple and number-oriented. With a well-defined goal, you can benchmark progress easily and regularly, garner excitement quickly and define focus whole-heartedly. If, alternatively, you rally your team around a subjective goal, such as “be the best” or “have the most,” achievement becomes subjective as well.
From racing cars to building a cross-device identity solution at Drawbridge, I follow these tips to find the productivity our team needs to cross the finish line.
1. Commit to your line.
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When you’re driving 100 miles an hour, there are going to be a lot of distractions on the road. There are other drivers busting into your lane, fans cheering along your windows, maybe even a dead car on the side of the road. It’s your job to focus on the clear path ahead. That’s the only thing that matters.
So what is your clear path? What is going to drive your business in the long run? How will you motivate and incentivize your team to drive on the clear path? For my team, that clear path is identity. Our technology is the cornerstone of our business and deserves to be the cornerstone of our commercial efforts as well. It would be simple to get distracted by the easy money on the side of the road -- for us, that’s media -- but through repetition and clear messaging, we’ve shifted our focus to selling our core technology, the Connected Consumer Graph and personalized cross-device user identity.
2. Sweat the details.
How well does a race car drive without a proper oil change? Or with a rusty spark plug? Can you drive in the rain without excellent tires? These details are your competitive advantages on the track.
This lesson ties very closely to my days at Apple. The details matter. Apple creates beautiful products, but they’re not just beautiful on the outside. What you don’t see are the tens of thousands of hours spent designing things we, the consumer, will never see. I swear, the circuit board inside your iPhone is as stunning as a piece by Monet. Why bother? We’re focusing on the clear path ahead, is the inside of a phone what really matters? It does matter, in fact, it’s the reason your phone works.
Without sweating the details, users receive at best a neutral experience and at worst an unpleasant one. You don’t want to hear from your social media manager about an angry, Yelp-savvy, unhappy consumer on a Twitter rampage. Achieving goals means creating a built-in, pleasant, end-to-end customer experience. From the first email your client receives, to the wrap-up report, even the shipping label on the package at their door -- you need to deliver a great user experience. Good products are good from beginning to end.
Sweating every detail means you’ll end up with a high-quality product. A high-quality product means better capabilities and more precise data. And just like a dialed-in car, a high-quality product wins in a head-to-head competition.
3. Never be satisfied.
Do you think Mario Andretti, Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton achieved their legendary status by winning one championship and checking it off their list? This is the darker side to productivity, but perhaps the most important. When you consistently achieve goals, you consistently have to set new ones. Being productive comes with a healthy dose of never being satisfied.
Related: 4 Ways Leaders Kill Productivity
If productivity is the friend of success, complacency is the enemy. When you get complacent, your competitors lap you. From product to consumer experience, revenue to internal cost efficiencies -- productive people always strive to be more productive. True innovation comes from an insatiable desire.
4. Don't trick yourself about your productivity.
Training is just that, training for the real thing. Push until you break because your muscles will come back stronger. Sure, going out for a few easy laps is better than nothing, but it’s not going to win you any trophies.
Trust me, I know it’s really easy to focus on the things that don’t matter, and it feels really good. But here’s the truth: replying to 50 emails and doing back-to-back meetings might be an easy win for the day, but cutting out the noise to focus on something bigger such as an annual plan -- that’s a better win. Don’t be fooled by the easy victories. Going through the motions does not equate to productivity, going through the motions means you’re getting managed by your to-do list.
5. Treat others the way you would like to be treated
That’s right, the golden rule applies here, too. There is a reason Senna is one of the most-loved drivers of all time. He wasn’t a jerk.
So often we choose to worship the ruthless leaders of our industry, the ones that see their teams as disposable masses. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: your team will work harder for you if they like you. Be nice. They’re your greatest asset. Pushing for productivity is hard work and it’s bound to put a strain on your team. As you consistently achieve your goals, you’re also going to hit pressure points. That will lead to burnout if you don’t find a happy balance for your people.