Confusing Momentum with Progress

The trap is simple. We create to-do lists to cross off and attend meetings to discuss problems. We stay at the office late and fill the day with phone calls. We try to reach email in-box zero.

We call it work. And it is.

But are we confusing momentum with progress? Are we making thunder but not lightening?

Momentum is the buzz and activity. Progress is moving the needle and delivering results that matter.

I am familiar with an organization that suffers from this confusion. An employee reported that team meetings are filled with lists of completed activities, but usually void of KPIs. Excuses for not making progress are routinely made and accepted, and more activities and to-do lists are created with little thought about overall strategy. The company has suffered from the same critical issues for years because the problems are discussed, rather than resolved. The company is stuck because it confuses momentum with progress.

Find the Progress Makers

In your organization, the secret is to find the progress makers and avoid the noise makers. Progress makers are the people everyone goes to when they have something critical. People actively seek to be part of the progress maker’s team. Progress makers tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear. Noise makers are great at marketing their activities and finding new items to fill up their to-do lists.

How Drift Made Progress

On the podcast Seeking Wisdom, Drift’s CEO and head of marketing discussed a recent shift they made as a company. There were too many goals, causing split effort and limited progress. The CEO set one goal for the entire company for the quarter: increase trial sign-ups. Every department had to report on what they were doing to meet to goal.

The head of marketing, for example, realized he had too many fields in the sign up process. He really only needed an email address. He made the change and saw an increase. (Drift, by the way, also decided to un-gate all of their marketing content. They wanted to educate, not collect names. The forms were in the way of that objective.)

As a result, Drift made progress on growing their user base, not just noise.

How to Be a Progress Maker

Set one big goal. Evaluate everything you’re doing. If it doesn’t contribute to the goal, stop doing it.

Evaluate your team. Are you suffocating under the noise? Evaluate the agenda of team meetings — how much time is spent on your goal? How often are the correct action items identified and then completed? Require real reporting, based only on what they did to contribute to the goal. If needed, remove the noise makers and bring in people who can drive real change.

Be a walk-around manager, not an email manager. The best way to understand what is inhibiting your progress is real dialogue with your team and beyond. Stop leaning on email to set policy and answer questions. Get out of your office and see the day-to-day tasks of your team. Set up lunches and walks around the block to chat. Ask questions and resist the urge to give immediate solutions.