Dave Balter’s framework for being a great leader



I have been thinking about teaching at Intelligent.ly as I have been mightily impressed with the concept and list of classes.  So I dropped in impromptu on Dave Balter who was running a session inspired by what he learned inside dunnhumby about leadership and strategy setting and how he helped apply it to, notably, smarterer.

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Dave learned a framework called OGSM (Objectives / Goals / Strategies / Measures) after his company Bzzagent was acquired by market research firm dunnhumby.   My notes follow, fairly straight from the horse’s mouth, though I modified the examples to protect the talented (smarterer in this case).

Level shifts and the need for OGSM

With the current focus on fast iteration and pivots, it’s easy to forget that businesses mostly evolve in big steps : it feels like they move up different rungs on the ladder.   These shifts in levels are significant and leaders need to fundamentally change and be ready for change.  A classic shift in level happens after VC financing, for example, when a full executive team might get hired.  ”You got all these big wigs moving around the office, and you might be wondering how on earth you’re going to get them to work together”.

The OGSM framework can be use to manage change at each of these levels.  

Simple framework : the top 5 list

In his previous company Dave turned to Jeff Glass, his VC, to help him figure out what to do after he hired his bigwig exec team.  The advice was simple:

“As CEO, write the top 5 things that you and only can do in the business, put it next to your computer and make sure you are doing one of the things on that list every day, and when you are doing something that is not on your list, delegate.”

Dave’s current top 5 list looks like this:

  1. Manage senior dunnhumby relationships
  2. I zapped number 2 on purpose :-)
  3. Thought leadership for DH 
  4. Set the vision for “social meets shopper”
  5. Create an unreal and unique culture (bzz being a culture driver inside DH)

Vision / Mission / Values: beyond the BS

A bit like me in the past, Dave used to think that wasting time laying down Vision / Mission / Values was a thing big companies do, and in his words “a load of b/s”.  Being entirely focused on execution and doing great things fast – who really needs VVM ?  Dave’s now come around to realizing that getting this right even in startups is mission critical: getting the team to know the vision and understand exactly what it means, getting the market to realize where you’re going is the most important thing you can do.  

Dave underestimated the value of VVM until he hit hard bumps on the road and the need for a unified vision become a core requirement that his company was missing to keep everyone unified though tough times.  When the shit hit the fan, there was no time to agree on a common mission.

Enter OGSM

OGSM was developed by auto manufacturers (Ford) in the 50’s.  P&G picked it up as the cornerstone of how they cascade their strategic framework top down.  ”Sub-leaders” can adapt and cascade this further down the chain.

The OGSM needs to fit on one page, guide both long-term vision and short term success, guided from the top but discussed and defined by all, and used as part of the business planning cycle.

Step #1 : vision and big objective

Vision: what’s your vision of the future ?  Example: we want to be the place where every entrepreneur gets funding and advice (Angellist)

Big Objective : what will happen when you get there ?  Example: By 2015 $1bn of financings will happen through the platform.

Step #2 : 2-3 global objectives

The planning process starts with a set of objectives that overlap with the corporate vision and Big Objective.  These elements are stable and don’t have a definitive duration.    Example: achieve scale & create critical mass, drive adoption through great product, find a business model.

Step #3 : 2-4 goals per objective

These goals are specific and have a numeric measurement that determines if you succeeded on achieving your objective.  They should ideally be related to financial performance and ideally stable and reviewed annually.  These are more tactical goals you can actually go and execute against.

If you are trying to figure out the timeframes for these various goals, I like to think of it as “where do we want to be in 5 years” (Big Objective) then “how does this translate into what our company looks like in three years” (Global Objectives) into “what do focus on this year” (Goals).

The goals are translated into choices, which are what strategies you will deploy in order to achieve your goals.  One strategy per goal.

Step #4: Measures

Measures are how you know your strategy is working.  They can be both quantitative and qualitative.  These should go beyond financial perfomance as every organization aspect is considered.

Examples could be retention rate on cohorts, viral coefficient.

Quality Control and Feedback Loops

This process is nicely iterative.  If you define the strategies poorly, this will come out in the goals, so you go back and achieve convergence.  So the next stage is to go into feedback loops to make sure the OGSM is well defined.

  • Synchronization
  • Review objectives and goals with everyone in the organization to make sure they are aligned with the specific strategies and measures to make sure everyine in in sync
  • Sufficiency
  • Rigorously assess whether the strategies and measures are sufficient to achieve the objectives.
  • Selectivity
  • Review the strategies to ensure they lay out what you are not going to do as well as what you are going to do.
  • It should also be clear that you have adequate resources to achieve the objectives, and that said resources won’t get distracted by items that are not part of the strategy.
  • Sustainability
  • Does this set of strategies offer my company a barrier to entry versus competition ?  What’s fundamentally defensible ?  Is there a real consumer need being met ?  Does it address customer profitability needs ?  Does it meet my company’s financial needs ?

The real work starts next.  Multiple strategy sessions are required to check the path is correct, the concepts need to be worked into common vocabulary, each functional manager then needs to take this down into individual working groups, and the cascade starts.

I found the OGSM framework useful because it is simple and actionable.  And I found my first intelligent.ly session to be simply great.  Another nice step forward for the ecosystem.  Well done Sarah Hodges.

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2 Responses to Dave Balter’s framework for being a great leader

  1. parkparadigm says:

    Reminds me of John Boyd’s OODA loop http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop

  2. Emi Gal says:

    This sounds very familiar with OKRP (Objectives and Key Results Planning) used by small companies like Zynga, Google, Intel.