Not everyone can say that within 4 years, they went from being an individual contributor to the VP of a billion dollar company. McLean Donnelly can.
How did he do it? As someone with a design background, you might expect the answer was jaw-dropping designs. But that is only part of the magic. It is the well-paired designs with outstanding business cases that propelled Donnelly’s career forward. And, his ability to grow the talent he manages, the product he sells and the bottom line.
So, how did he get there? In his Digital Marketing Summit presentation on Tuesday, Donnelly shared what he learned through his MBA, adding “business IQ” to his repertoire of design skills. Here are the three areas he suggested you can grow in – with or without an MBA.
#1 – Learn the Math
Even if you haven’t taken a math class since 10th grade, you can still learn the “business math,” as Donnelly called it. Buy your accountant a burrito for lunch one day or check out a quick course from Khan Academy and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can learn.
- Income Statement: Understand the basics on an income statement. It is the blueprint of understanding a business model. And, don’t just focus on the revenue sources. If you can find opportunities to reduce cost, you can drive profit just as quickly. For instance, at Expedia, Donnelly learned if a customer spent more than X seconds on a customer service phone call, the company began losing money. Opportunity? I’d say.
- Statistics: Get the hang of statistics. And it doesn’t have to be as complicated as you might think. For instance, in Google Analytics, you’ll find your eCommerce conversion rate = the # of visitors / the # of conversions. Really dig into the data, question it. Once you have a solid understanding of statistics and the income statement, you can take this business math to the next step:
- Building Models: Identify the business case before even working on a specific design opportunity (writer’s note: apply this train of thought to every marketing tactic to drive stellar strategy). Then, build a model to test your designs against metrics that lead to ROI. And to get started, keep in mind a quick Google search will find you free design templates for testing revenue models.
#2 – Execute on a Strategy
Backed by a strong business case, you can now be strategic in the tactics you’re implementing. Donnelly cited Michael Porter’s – the Lebron of business – definition of strategy:
The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.All too often in business, we get caught up on what we’re supposed to do or what was in the plan. Constantly stepping back to reassess “why” and determine what not to do will drive results more quickly.
To help us execute on strategy, Donnelly took us through his favorite creative approach – Human Centered Design. Human Centered Design is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Here are the four pillars Donnelly covered:
- Find the emotional connection: Every brand experience has an opportunity for an emotional connection. Find yours. Help your team figure out customers’ emotional connection to your brand by mapping a customer journey collage. At Shutterstock, Donnelly’s team brings in customers to share what they want to feel at each stage of the journey. When they’re designing that photo book, they want the warm fuzzies, whereas while they are about to check out, they want to trust the site’s security and speed of product delivery.
- Solve for the users’ worries/problems: Look for honest, constructive dialog from your customers about your product and company. Easy place to find it? On social media. Value that input rather than worry too much about the negative feedback. You can address it and learn from it.
- Talk to your customers: No, seriously. Talk to them. “If you’re not having actual face to face convos with your customers, you’re not going to succeed” CTT See how their voice and facial expressions change when they talk about each interaction with your brand. Customers can’t just be data points in Google Analytics.
- Find your signature experience: Figure out what is unique about your brand. Eye glasses shopping once took place in a store where you snapped a photo of yourself and texted your friends for input. Today, you can have your top frame picks delivered to your door, and make an evening of the experience, gathering friends and sipping on cocktails. Donnelly highly recommends leveraging the Northstar Workshop to drive these insights. Gather team members from every department in one room to foster an open conversation and create a sense of investment in the customers’ problems you are solving for. You can set this type of meeting at a regular cadence, or like some organizations, work in SCRUM 100% of the time.
#3 – Empower Your Team
Empowering his team is what really got Donnelly started down the path of getting his MBA. “When I got my first report, it’s when I realized how much I love being a manager. Getting my MBA was a way to scale my passion for management. I am now better able to help grow talent and the organization as a whole,” Donnelly explained.
Posted at his desk, Donnelly’s daily inspiration are Dr. Edward Deming’s 14 points. “It has been transformational in how I think as a manager,” Donnelly shared. Dr. Deming was a visionary in empowering employees. He believed “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” Often called the father of LEAN, Deming advocated process reduction and a push toward individual ownership.
Here are Donnelly’s favorites from Deming’s 14 points:
- Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team to foresee problems of production and use that may be encountered with the product or service.
- Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place. Mass inspection is not scalable, not empowering and just doesn’t work. Put quality back on the worker, giving them that ownership.
- Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.
Add Strategy to Your Work Today
Do you sometimes feel like you’re going through the motions, executing marketing tactic after tactic? Take a step back today, huddle with your cross-functional team and ensure you’re on point with WHY. Use your newfound business IQ to inform your tactics and in Michael Porters’ words, take the time to “Choose what not to do.”
What should you stop doing at work today?