At my day job, we're nearing the end of an annual event which goes by the rather awkward jargon: "V2MOM".
V2MOM is a management planning tool that was invented by Marc Benioff himself, twenty years ago, and has been at use at Salesforce since it was first founded. A few years ago, Benioff described the genesis of his approach, and its motivation: How to Create Alignment Within Your Company in Order to Succeed
What I yearned for at Oracle was clarity on our vision and the goals we wanted to achieve. As I started to manage my own divisions, I found that I personally lacked the tools to spell out what we needed to do and a simple a process to communicate it. The problem only increased as the teams that I was managing increased.
At salesforce.com, everything we do in terms of organizational management is based on our V2MOM. It is the core way we run our business; it allows us to define our goals and organize a principled way to execute them; and it takes into consideration our constant drive to evolve. The collaborative construct works especially well for a fast-paced environment.
I can greatly sympathize. It is not a great exaggeration to say that the reason I changed jobs this winter was because I realized I was no longer in alignment with my (former) company. In fact, we hadn't been aligned for nearly a year. I wanted to take the technology, and the products, and the customer base, in a certain direction, but the company had entirely different plans, and goals, and intentions.
That's fine. But what's NOT fine, is that I didn't know that at the time. Horribly, I didn't know it for nearly a year. Which is a shame, both for me, and for the company, as neither of us were well-served by that disconnect.
Famously, Parker Harris saved that original V2MOM that he and Benioff wrote, literally, on the back of an envelope
before the dinner was over, Harris walked up to Benioff and gave him a gift: a framed American Express envelope.
It was the envelope Benioff had used to scribble down Salesforce’s first-ever V2MOM — a list of management guidelines that stands for vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures — when launching the company in 1999.
The use of V2MOM at Salesforce is fairly well-known, even though it was something I hadn't paid attention to until I joined. For example: SalesForce.com’s Greatest Secret: Art of the V2MOM
The goal of the V2MOM is create complete alignment. Immediately after writing it, share it with your top officers for input (for a startup, this is probably everyone). The brevity ensures a simplicity that is easy to digest. Clarified direction focuses collective attention on the desired outcome and eliminates anxiety in times of change. It is easy for people to connect with and scan quickly for alignment. The V2MOM is flexible enough for startups as well as public companies.and, Growing the team and creating our very first V2MOM documents
A few months ago I had a great meeting with a good friend and one of my mentors, Mariusz, who is already running a very successful Internet company (and a lot bigger than mine). We talked about team-building and how to maintain focus and make sure the team feels like "one vehicle driving in one direction" and everyone knows they have a big role to play and depend on each other. He suggested I read the "Behind the Cloud" book by Marc Benioff and implemented the V2MOM system Marc invented. I was like "V2what?" and he explained
So, anyway, we're now nearly done with the big annual V2MOm process for this year. The process proceeds top-down:
- Marc writes his V2MOM, which is the V2MOM for the entire company, and publishes it
- Then each level down the org chart writes, and publishes, their own V2MOM, extracting, selecting, refining, and elaborating on the V2MOMs already published
- Eventually, we get down to people like me, and once we've published our V2MOMs, the annual publication event completes.
This is, obviously, the first time I've been through this process, so it's not clear what standing I have to comment.
But it's been interesting enough that I'd like to share a few thoughts.
EVERYONE participates. This is not an optional activity. Some people put more time into it, others less, but nobody sits out entirely. That fact, by itself, creates a curious sense of "belonging," all by itself.
This is not just an exercise for show. The company takes this process VERY seriously. People devote substantial amounts of time to drafting, discussing, revising, and editing their V2MOMs.
The plans are interesting, but much more interesting and much more important is the fact that we are PLANNING. Recall Eisenhower:
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
At the middle levels of the organization, the V2MOMs describe, collectively, the work of teams of dozens or even hundreds of people, and they can be impressively detailed and robust. I participated in a 3 hour "readout" (a bit of business jargon which I'm told has Microsoft-heritage), in which my 50+ person team collectively reviewed a 35-page detailed description of our goals, aspirations, and worries for the year.
These are not private documents. Everyone's V2MOM is made available to the entire company (though obviously I'm not going to sit down and read 28,000 V2MOM documents).
In fact, you could say that this is perhaps the entire point, as the openness of the V2MOM process is a great example of what people mean when they talk about "transparency."
A crucial part of the V2MOM process involves ORDERING. When you choose your methods, you have to place them in a certain order, and this order conveys your priorities. Your top methods are crucial; these are the things you will fight to accomplish this year. Farther down the list, are things that you believe in, and want to do, but may not be able to achieve.
A famous cliche goes: "if everything's important, nothing's important." Placing your methods in a definite order forces you to stop and think about what REALLY matters.
And people pay attention to this order. They think about it; they arrange their own work around it; it structures the entire conversation. There is an often-retold story inside Salesforce about a very public meeting that occurred not too long after Keith Block had joined. It happened to be V2MOM time, and so Block was producing his V2MOM, and, as part of that process, it was being presented to the team, which meant that it was being presented to, more-or-less, the entire company (Block is maybe the 2nd or 3rd-most important person at the company). During this (open to all, broadcast, widely-watched) event, Block is stepping through his methods, one at a time, when a voice from the audience interrupts: Benioff himself:
Keith, here, I'm a bit puzzled: why did you prioritize this as Method 4? What makes it less important than numbers 2 and 3?
The message: this is important; this is open; nobody gets a free pass; we are all agreeing on this together.
But after all of this, I'd say that the single thing that startled me the most about the entire V2MOM process is: everybody does it!
Even in a small company, it's rare to find anything that everyone does. Corporate activities like this tend to be the sorts of thing that see 20% participation, at least in the corporate settings that I've been part of.
So the simple fact of saying that we ALL have a V2MOM is marvelously compelling.
Hey, I'm just one person out of 28,000, but I'm here! See? I'm doing something, and it's something that's actually relevant! Wanna know? Check out my V2MOM!