Communicating Vision & Progress


by Sean McCosh

This is the 8th post in the Innovating Like a Startup blog series. Previous Post: What the MVP?

As an entrepreneur or project manager in a larger company, you’re responsible not only for setting the vision for your team and holding them accountable to goals and deadlines throughout the project, but also for keeping your project funded through clear communicating with stakeholders and executive sponsors. Not exactly easy tasks. Fortunately, doing the former helps with the latter: good internal communication with your team lays the groundwork and greases the wheels for better communication with executives.

The longer you commit to good communication practices and rhythms, the more trust and productivity will grow among your team. These tips should help you with communication on both sides of your role.

Use a shared document to record decisions made and next steps.

Innovation initiatives or startup work can be a twisting path and things happen quickly. Keeping good notes during your investor or stakeholder meetings, along with a list of action items assigned to specific people, can help ensure everyone remembers the major decisions made in the same way. It also provides clarity on who owns next steps and helps keep expectations aligned.

There are many ways to do this, and countless project management tools to choose from. But at the end of the day, I believe the simplest solutions are often the best. At Differential, we often use something as simple as a shared Google document to record the participants, agenda and action items resulting from each of our recurring meetings, with the most recent meeting notes appearing at the top. That way, anyone who was in the meeting (or who may have missed it) can go back and quickly review major questions and decisions made, who “owns” next actions, and more. It also creates a nice timeline-based source of documentation, which can be helpful when generating a case study down the road.

Anchor yourself (and your team) in mission and values.

Use the updates to your team and investors as an opportunity to reinforce your mission, key objectives and the principles which you lean on when making big decisions. Continuous reinforcement of these higher level concepts, in addition to more granular progress updates, will do three things for you.

  1. It will help you manage expectations with investors or key stakeholders. So long as your actions stay in alignment with your mission and key operating principles, your investors are less likely to push back against your plans when they start to get nervous (and they will, if you’re doing something bold).

  2. It will better equip your stakeholders to keep you accountable and correct your course if you’re ever tempted to make decisions that are off strategy.

  3. It will help you scale. Regularly reinforcing the mission and strategy of your project enables your team to make better decisions and take action quickly, with or without managerial supervision.

Communicate your key metrics.

In the 4th post in this blog series, 10 Questions to Ask Before You Build Your MVP, we talked about working to define your key performance metrics and trying to find your “one metric that matters.” A famous example of this is Facebook’s “7 friends in 10 days” realization. After analyzing what paths their most active users took, Facebook realized that if they could get a user to reach 7 friends in 10 days, they were able to deliver the core product value which would keep them coming back. It was a tipping point of sorts that helped define what success looked like for their growth team and kept them focused on making progress towards a clear objective.

As you progress in your project, keep actively looking for this type of “Aha” metric and regularly communicate your performance vs. key metrics to your team and stakeholders. While monthly or quarterly updates may be OK for investors, look for ways to communicate data-driven performance metrics to your team as often as possible. Can you create a dashboard to help them see updates daily or weekly? If so, put it on the wall and make it top of mind. As the old saying goes, “What gets measured gets done.”

Make specific asks for help, connections, and feedback.

Whether you are reporting progress to a board of directors, trusted advisors, or to one or more executive sponsors, they can become much more helpful and valuable if you give them a specific ask or action step to take. That might look like asking for introductions to specific companies or people, feedback around a specific problem you’re trying to solve, or an ask for specific resources you need to take new ground. In any case, you’re more likely to get value from your advisors and investors if you tell them exactly what you need and why. This direct approach respects their time as well and helps them feel more engaged in your work, because they are able to contribute in specific ways that they know are valuable and not a distraction.

Summary

  • Document decisions made and why you decided to course correct (and share this doc with your team!). To know where you’re going, it helps to know where you’ve been.
  • Tie your project updates to your mission and values. This helps manage expectations, increases accountability, and keeps vision top of mind for the entire team.
  • Concentrate on the “aha” metrics. There are countless metrics your team can chase after or you could highlight for your stakeholders. But you’re operating under limited time and energy, so pick the metrics that pack the most impact and significance for your core purpose.
  • Be specific. When asking for help, introductions, or feedback, be clear about what you really need.

Finally, and most importantly, whether communicating to your team or presenting to a group of key stakeholders, share your challenges and unknowns honestly. If you present everything as Rainbows and Unicorns, you’ll likely lose trust, not gain it.

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