Leading with Visability: 4 Data-Supported Tips from Workfront's CMO

By Heidi Melin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that employees in possession of strategic goals must be in want of visibility. (Sorry, Jane Austen, for mashing up your most famous opening line.) My version is at least as true as the original. Workfront’s most recent State of Work report backs me up.

One of our key findings from polling 3,750 global knowledge workers: When people clearly understand how their work contributes to company goals and objectives, they feel valued, take pride in their work and align themselves with the overall strategy. It’s both as simple (and as difficult) as that.

If you want the kind of workforce that is so intrinsically motivated that all you have to do is give workers the tools they need, then visibility is the secret ingredient.

Whose job is it to make sure team members clearly understand how their work contributes to company goals and objectives? Answer: yours. “A leader is responsible for whether or not their team understands the plan, the strategy, and the vision. If someone doesn’t get it, it’s on you,” writes Workfront CEO Alex Shootman in his book “Done Right.”

With that in mind, here are four data-supported ways to lead with visibility.

1. Lead, don’t manage

First, and most foundationally, I believe it’s important to think of yourself as a leader, not a manager. Invite managers who may report to you to think of themselves that way, too. A leader focuses on the path ahead—looking onward and upward—and through example gets others to stand beside them, catch the vision, and follow where it leads.

By contrast, a manager tends to focus on what’s happening around them, looking backward and downward as they attempt to guide and shape the way the work is being done. Don’t just manage your people, lead them. By establishing a work style that others want to follow, being aware of the example you’re setting and always following through with integrity, you set your team up for success.

In my 30-year career as a marketing leader, I’ve realized that the ability to lead is one of the most valuable skills any of us can develop. When hiring, promoting or rewarding team members, I’m always looking for folks who exhibit the ability to lead across functional and organizational boundaries. The leaders who are best suited to take on more responsibility are those who actively and visibly participate on their teams rather than simply giving directions.

2. Believe in those you lead

Our State of Work report revealed some welcomed news for marketing leaders. Knowledge workers today are engaged in their work, and they feel a responsibility to their jobs that goes beyond punching the clock. A commanding majority (89 percent) believe that their role matters, while 78 percent say their job represents more than a paycheck and 91 percent say they’re proud of the work they do. When we asked respondents to choose the word that most represents the way they feel about their work, “accountable” was the top answer.

Contrast these numbers with the workforce at large. Just 33 percent of employed residents of the U.S. and 13 percent worldwide are engaged at work, according to a Gallup report.

What this means is, as a leader of marketers, you can trust that your team members are a cut above the average employee. They care about bigger-picture objectives, about making a difference. In fact, 65 percent of them said they wish they were rewarded more on results than simply on the number of deliverables they churn out.

US Navy Seal commander Mark McGinnis once said, “The best leaders are the ones who figure out real fast that they have unbelievably talented people working with them, and if they just point them in the right direction, give them enough information, put them in positions that play to their strengths, and shield them from their personal weaknesses, the likelihood of success goes way up.”

It's not merely about believing in your people; you need to show them you believe in them.

3. Lead with context

While our engagement statistics are encouraging, other stats are less so. As it turns out, less than half of those surveyed believe that leadership decisions are made based on data. However, 28 percent believe executives made decisions based on assumptions and anecdotal evidence. Another 25 percent aren’t sure how company decisions are made at all.

As important as it is for you to believe in those you lead, it’s even more essential for those you lead to believe in you. The more transparent you can make your work processes and work data, the more buy-in you’ll get from them. Conversely, you won’t get much buy-in if they feel completely in the dark about how you arrive at critical decisions that affect their daily work lives. An enterprise work management platform that centralizes the data about all work activity into a single, unified solution is one surefire way to provide continuous context that will keep everyone focused on the same strategic goals.

4. Get in sync with other leaders

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to build relationships with other leaders, both inside and outside your current organization. (Yes, this means more than just your network of LinkedIn contacts.) I’m talking about people you can pick up the phone and talk to for advice, recommendations and honest feedback.

Building strong relationships among the executive class within the enterprise is especially important as these relationships create stronger alignment across the board.

Phil Oster, vice president of information technology at John Paul Mitchell Systems, says in our State of Work report: “When we started, the norm was to see departments managing the same ‘project lists’ as their own version of the truth. This resulted in dates, tasks, and even, in some cases, deliverables being out of sync. By elevating work to a more strategic level and platforming it, we are gaining the ability to align complex, cross-department projects around one common goal (say a launch for example) and minimize the management overhead. This enables leaders to focus on results—not just being busy managing lists of tasks.”

In other words, lead with visibility, then get out of the way.

The future of work is about leading people, not managing them. It’s about outcomes more than output. Above all, the future is about increasing organizational visibility, leveraging your team members’ innate pride and engagement in their work, making sure they have the tools they need and then giving them the freedom to do what they do best.

As Workfront’s CMO, Heidi is responsible for telling the Workfront story, creating and executing an integrated marketing strategy, driving increased awareness, and building a customer marketing function to deepen Workfront’s customer relationships.

Heidi brings to Workfront over two decades of senior marketing leadership and a reputation for building award-winning marketing teams in the technology industry. She has a proven track record for driving measurable growth for some of the most respected enterprise SaaS technology brands and has been recognized for her industry expertise. Her knowledge in B2B marketing has enabled her to become a thought leader and a sought out speaker at many industry events throughout the country.

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