You've heard it before--from me and other Inc.com writers. Take the time to create a well-thought-out strategy and mission statement. Set long-term goals and objectives. Stick to your vision so you always know where you're headed.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, says Ryan Urban, CEO of Bounce Exchange, a start-up that predicts online shopping behavior, allowing e-commerce sites to customize user experiences and make more sales. Founded with three people in 2012, Bounce Exchange now has 75 employees and may grow to 140 by the end of 2015, Urban says. Its clients include Ann Taylor, USA Today, Forbes, and Comcast.
Urban says he got the company where it is by setting aside most long-term goals and focusing on micro-goals--very short-term goals many of which can be accomplished in one day or less. Though it goes against most expert opinion, here are his arguments for why lots of very small objectives are effective--and why you should give up five-year plans, grand visions, and big hairy audacious goals:
1. Tactics are more powerful than strategy.
One problem with big, long-term goals? Business doesn't happen in big, long-term activities. "It all boils down to tactics and no one talks about them because tactics aren't sexy," Urban says. "Your mission statement may not mean much to the people working at your company. We try to break everything down into baby steps."
2. You will adapt to changes and take advantage of opportunities more quickly.
It's easy to make instant adjustments when you don't plan ahead very far. "We execute hourly," Urban says, adding that on Friday he often doesn't know what's on Monday's agenda.
3. You will show up.
Urban say that showing up--being at the office every day--trumps having a grand vision every time. "I learned this from the CEO at a different company who was never there," he explains. "Yes, they had a mission statement, goals, and core value, but the CEO was out being the brand evangelist."
Going out and representing the brand has opportunity costs many company leaders don't consider, he says. "If I'm at a conference for four days, how much could I have helped people by being here? If you want to be an evangelist for your company--be in your office every day. If you're there, your employees will do better, you'll retain your clients, and they'll talk about you." (Here's more on why businesses lose customers and how to keep them.)
4. You will create a bottom-up culture.
"Having a long-term vision is a top-down approach, and I rarely see top-down approaches be really effective," Urban declares. "We take a bottom-up approach and we try to be the best at whatever we're doing at that moment."
That approach means Bounce Exchange is able to focus more on its employees, and Urban believes that's where your focus belongs. "No investor has ever asked us about our employee retention, and that's the most important metric," Urban says. Bounce Exchange was named as one of Internet Week's Best Places to Work in Silicon Alley. Urban takes pride in the fact that no employee has ever left to work at a different company. (Here's more on how to keep employees engaged and happy.)
5. You will hire better managers.
"With top-down, you wind up bringing in the wrong people," Urban says. "You have people who are very strategic. They have their head in the clouds and they're looking five years down the line. The number one reason people leave companies is that they have a boss who is either a jerk or has their head in the clouds and isn't being productive."
6. You will waste less time.
One benefit of micro-goals is that they can apply to everything. Like many companies, Bounce Exchange has reset the default meeting length to 30 minutes instead of an hour. But there's more. "Before you go on a call or to a meeting, you have to decide what the objective is for that meeting," Urban says. "And the meeting ends when you have met that."
7. All employees will take ownership of goals.
With a large number of micro-goals, all Bounce Exchange employees can take ownership of individual items, and they do. "We really believe in ownership," Urban says. "A lot of people who are younger or newer at most companies aren't given ownership of things. Every single person in our company, no matter what role they're in, gets ownership of different things. You own a client, or you own a task. Nothing slips through the cracks that way."
And if someone's not living up to these ownership responsibilities? "In a short period of time we move it to a different owner," Urban says. "Then we find the first person something that fits their skill set more."
8. Employees will feel more fulfilled.
With everyone owning one or more micro-goals, Bounce Exchange regularly experience the satisfaction of meeting a goal and celebrating an accomplishment. "It's kind of like living in the moment," Urban says. "You always want to feel a sense of accomplishment. People are generally happy to go to work and they're doing fulfilling things."
9. You will reach your long-term goals--even if you don't focus on them.
Though Urban avoids most large goals, there are some he still has to set, such as revenue numbers. "We do have numbers you want to hit by the end of the year, but once we write them up I don't think about them," he says.
It turns out setting micro-goals is a surprisingly effective way to sell a product to the Fortune 1000 companies Bounce Exchange targets. "On our first call, the micro-goal isn't to sign the company, it's to understand the customer's needs," Urban says. "The next goal is, how do we get a meeting with the decision-maker? And at the first meeting with the decision-maker, our goal isn't to close the deal either. By doing things in these small steps, our sales cycle is one to three months instead of a more typical four to six months."
That has led to beating the company's revenue goals, even while Urban wasn't thinking about them. "We've blown away every number we've wanted to hit," he says.