HomeBlog “SQUIRREL!” – Or, How to Avoid the Disease of Distraction

“SQUIRREL!” – Or, How to Avoid the Disease of Distraction

May 17, 2019 | By Jennifer Rouse

  • Shifting priorities too often can kill the momentum and motivation in your company
  • Every new opportunity is not necessarily the right opportunity
  • Know your audience, create a plan and stay focused

Ever make fun of someone else who is easily distracted by yelling “Squirrel!” and then laughing? I do it to my eight-year-old son all the time. (Note: he does it to me, too, when I get really excited about something in the middle of a conversation.) We can be in a very serious discussion and suddenly, he will see Christmas lights and yell, “Santa!” It’s really funny when I see him getting excited about Christmas lights, even if it did interrupt the discussion.

But it’s not so funny when it’s your CEO.

CEOs of emerging companies – start-ups and hyper-growth companies under $50 million – are by nature entrepreneurial and tend to gravitate toward new ideas and technologies. They aren’t afraid to start new projects, try new technologies or go down a different path for product development. That’s what makes them great start-up CEOs in the first place.

However, shiny object syndrome (as some call it) can rapidly kill the motivation in your company. It is beyond frustrating to change direction constantly. And if employees are never given the satisfaction of completing projects and seeing them come to life, they will simply stop trying. They will think: “Why bother? He’s just going to change it tomorrow.”

Wanting to explore new business objectives, marketing strategies, or even new routes to market is essential if you are to grow as a business, but these options should be calculated and researched properly. When your CEO chases the newest shiny object just because he heard about it at a conference, golf game or investor meeting, it causes your team to lose trust in that person as a leader.

In addition to losing credibility as a leader, a CEO who does this is also being a poor steward of your company’s resources, including cashflow and headcount. I once had a CEO who prioritized audience segments for me and asked me to develop a comprehensive go-to-market plan for the top two audiences. I trusted her expertise and held a two-day workshop with my team. We came out of that planning session with a beautiful plan, complete with persona details, value propositions, sales enablement, product marketing, PR, new content and digital support (e.g. SEO, SEM, blogs).

We had barely gotten the first campaign out the door when she told us we needed to go after a completely different audience. My team was completely deflated. And we had just sunk more than $250,000 in a campaign that we were now being asked to kill. It was a complete waste of time, resources and cash, and it really wasn’t necessary. We could have gone after the new audience the next quarter, but instead we lost an entire quarter of lead generation by creating a new program, stopping it and then creating a new one.

Unfortunately, we as marketing leaders all have stories like the one above. A CMO friend of mine told me about the CTO in her company. Essentially, if he met with a partner on Friday, she would be asked to shift all of her channel marketing resources to that partner on Monday. Of course, the next month, he would meet with a different partner and get excited about the new opportunity, and my friend would be told to shift all of her resources to THAT partner. This went on for about a year. The result? Missed opportunities, a demotivated team, frustrated partners and loss of revenue.

So, what should you do if you work for a “squirrel!” manager? As frustrating as it can be, try to understand your manager as an entrepreneur who just has lots of ideas. Ask him or her to stop for just a minute and let you conduct a relative targeting exercise, which weighs internal and external factors to determine your ideal path to revenue and helps guide your planning process. This will allow you to create a very clear go-to-market plan, which should be tied to your persona research, aligned with your current product offering and documented for executive approval.

Reference this plan when a new idea is handed to you. In some cases, the change in direction makes total sense, as it adds to the overall value that the company is delivering to a certain audience, but many times it will be obvious that the new idea runs contrary to the established direction of the company. If it is contrary to a large degree, it really needs to be discussed at the board level and not executed on the fly.

So, what if you are reading this and thinking, “Oh no, that’s me! I’m the “Squirrel!” manager!” Don’t panic. Once you realize that you are shifting priorities too often, do exactly what I mentioned above. Conduct a relative targeting or audience framework exercise, commit to the strategy and have someone hold you accountable to the strategy. I used to ask my second in command to always reference the plan when challenging me on new ideas; it kept us focused on the end goal.

Additionally, it’s good to simply sit on your ideas for a moment or conduct a small pilot before rolling them out. Take the time to evaluate your ideas and solicit feedback. Ask your team (and others you trust in cross-functional teams) what they think, and listen to their perspectives, concerns and ideas. Someone may be able to help you realize it’s just not the right time to launch that program before you get yourself into trouble. On the positive side, if they agree with the new program idea, by soliciting their feedback ahead of time, they will be more likely to be excited about executing the program when the time comes.

Bottom line: whether you work for a “squirrel!” manager or you are one, you need to have a firm (and documented) grasp of your company’s strategy and goals, and how your team can drive initiatives that lead to your organization’s success. Make a decision and stick with it.

To learn more SiriusDecisions’ line of b-to-b product, marketing and sales training, take a look at our learning offerings.

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Jennifer Rouse

Jennifer Rouse is a research director in the Emerging Growth Strategies service at SiriusDecisions. She is a successful high-tech marketing professional with almost 20 years of b-to-b experience, including over 10 years in management.

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