Prioritising and The Importance of Saying “No”

One of the aspects I value most about working at HubSpot is the clarity we have about our goals, from a company-wide, team and individual perspective. Having goals and accompanying KPIs leaves us in no doubt what we need to do to become successful.

At HubSpot we communicate business goals in a document called MSPOT, which is published on the company wiki for all to see. It stands for mission, strategy, projects, omissions and tracking:

  • Mission: Rarely changes

  • Strategy: Annually changes

  • Projects: 4 or 5 big annual initiatives

  • Omissions: Projects we decided not to fund

  • Tracking: Numbers we are looking at to see if we are on track

Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s CEO and co-founder says, “The most important part of the document is probably the “Omissions” part. These are the projects we are not going to fund this year. This is how the organisation limits my appetite so I don’t overstuff us.”

The MSPOT is a hugely important document for HubSpot and while many companies have a good understanding of their goals and strategy for the year ahead, few in my experience take the time to spell out the projects that were under consideration, but will not happen. Including the omissions section helps employees remain focussed and say “no” to projects that will not support the overall mission or strategy. There’s a deliberate lack of grey areas, which I relish. Working in an environment with absolute clarity helps me do my best work.

Being discerning when it comes to initiatives or products is nothing new. Back in 1997 Apple’s Steve Jobs said, “Focus is about saying, ‘no.’ And the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.” Jobs was fiercely proud of this approach and when he returned to Apple the company slashed its product line from 350 to 10 in just two years. This enabled Apple to define their offering and focus on the customer. Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot’s other co-founder advocates this approach when he talks about doing fewer things, better.

Conventional wisdom states that more is better, but simplicity, whether it it be related to strategy, goals, mission, product or marketing trumps complexity every time. It’s a competitive advantage. Whereas complexity quietly creeps in, complicates matters and slows things down. At HubSpot we have a culture that is respectfully and caringly questioning. We welcome and foster new ideas and thinking, but equally these are challenged to ensure we stay focussed on our mission. This helps us prioritise and to nip complexity in the bud.

The value of the MSPOT (or one page strategic documents in general) is that it communicates our mission and goals in a clear, simple and concise way. At any given moment I can also go and see my team (sales enablement) and other's priorities and goals for the year ahead. This saves time and removes uncertainty, but more importantly helps create better alignment between teams.

The lesson here is twofold. By making your strategy and omissions widely available to employees you not only provide them with greater clarity about what's important, but you empower them to become more discerning in the projects they take on and the ones they say “no” to.