I have found that there are 5 key elements to creating focus, and failure to master them will cause one to destroy growth and profit in a business.
While there are many factors essential to business growth and profitability, some have greater impact than others. The ability to focus an organization and its people should rank among the top 3. While conventional wisdom supports this theory, most who try to implement it do not succeed.
A recent example of failure to focus I encountered was in a company – let’s call it “XYZ Company” – that, much to its surprise, lost 15% of its revenue. The leadership team saw themselves as too busy to carve out time to focus on the big picture. Working long hours, they could only find time to put out fires while they tried to serve their clients. Had they set aside time to make sure they were focusing on the right operational issues, they would have realized that a couple of simple moves could have streamlined their workflow.
Unfortunately for them, a major client felt that the way XYZ was running their operation was riskier than their competitor’s methods. While the problems this particular customer encountered were limited, he did not want to have to worry. Management at XYZ knew of the client’s concerns but spent more time trying to create workarounds for them than it would have taken to permanently fix the root cause. Had they given this problem the proper attention and the priority it deserved, they could have retained the revenue his business provided and capitalized on the growth opportunity this customer represented.
You are probably thinking, “That would never happen in MY organization.” Nonetheless, in my experience, it is an everyday occurrence in most organizations because of 5 improperly addressed issues:
Many times focus is missing in an organization because leadership has failed to create clarity around goals. It is important to realize that two of the primary reasons for goal-setting are to identify what is most important for the company to focus on, and what the company needs to change. Leadership commonly fails to be specific in terms of measurable accomplishments they desire from each employee and changes they want to observe. When people are unclear or left to their own devices, they continue to do what they have always done. It is not enough to ask people to work harder because in their mind they can’t. When you tell people to work smarter, that is neither specific nor helpful. For example, to equal or exceed last year’s revenue, it is likely that people will need to do something different this year. They may need to call on specific types of companies, or call on more of them. They may have to say “no” to smaller companies, and only focus on bigger ones. Without charting the course properly, companies predictably return similar results to the previous year.
Another common problem is having too many goals. Having too many goals creates organizational exhaustion and stretches resources (people and finances) beyond capacity. While it is true that boundaries sometimes cause people to fall short of their capacity, that is not what is going on in most companies. Instead, leaders are pushing their people in too many directions, making everything important, everything urgent, and burning out finite resources. It is often said that a good strategy requires one to say “no” often. Well, the same goes for focus around goals. If you want to have maximum impact on your most important goals, it is best to have fewer of them. If you are not making tough choices and saying “no” a lot, then you are probably not getting what you can out of your best opportunities or missing them altogether. Companies should have no more than 3 to 5 key priorities at any given time.
Alignment around goals is also critical. There are two parts to this issue. First, make sure your goals are balanced between people goals (getting, keeping and growing customers, employees and shareholders) and process goals (improving your make/buy cycle, revenue, and record-keeping processes). If you focus too much on people, you hurt process productivity, and vice versa. It is important to have a balanced approach to your goals. The second part is to align individual priorities with the organizational ones. If an employee has goals that are not supportive of the top 3 to 5 organizational priorities, it is the equivalent of trying to push a car that has its emergency brake set.
Those who know me are constantly hearing my mantra, “Make your goals mandatory.” A decision or goal does not equal a commitment. If you are not committed to your goals, you will not achieve them. I have found that when something is mandatory it gets done. This is why I suggest you only set mandatory goals. A well-set goal has to be so important that no matter what problem arises, I am willing to conquer it.
Lastly, there is the issue of urgency. It is not enough to set the goal. You have to treat your year as a race in which each quarter is a sprint. Adopting that frame of mind causes one to feel more urgency. If one week is lost, it is one of 13, and that is significant. Imagine your team (company) is running in a race against another team that has a full 2-week head-start. That is what happens to many companies who set an aggressive business plan but start their year just doing business as usual. At the end of January they’ve made no progress on their primary goals. In race terms, their competition is now 30% ahead (4 weeks out of 13) for the quarter because nothing has changed since last year.
So next time you find that there appears to be too much on everyone’s to-do list, people seem exhausted, progress is not measuring up to projection, and you do not think you can keep pace, ask yourself how well you are implementing the 5 key elements to creating focus.
Howard Shore is a business growth expert who works with companies and people that want to maximize their growth potential by improving strategy, enhancing their knowledge, and improving motivation. To learn more about him or his firm please contact Howard Shore at [phone link=”true”] or firstname.lastname@example.org.