Align Strategy: Focus

We've been talking about how to Align from a strategic perspective. We've learned how to identify trends and how to create Success Factors. The third leg of the stool here is to Focus.

We know the broad areas where our strategic investments need to be applied; this is about making sure that we are laser focused on the right areas to invest. By invest I mean the ability to create characteristics and capabilities that will drive our future success. Whilst it may mean financial it also means the application of other resources including time, people, and attention.

“I believe that in life, you have to give things your best shot, do your best. You have to focus on what needs to be done, do the right thing, not the popular thing.” According to ex UK PM, David Cameron.

One of the clear indicators and a source of frustration for organisations when they have no focus, is a lack of traction. It's the difference between a shotgun approach which scatters resources into all sorts of areas, and a sniper's rifle that hits a specific target and has the impact it's intended to have. A lack of focus can lead to high levels of confusion, diluted, disparate resources, and very busy but unproductive team members.

What we're looking for here and what we want in order to be an effective organisation, is clarity on what matters most. Can we identify clear Success Factors and in the process say no to the less important. In an ideal world we only work on what makes a difference. If we do get Focus we can understand what is important, rather than what is just the noisy urgent. Strategic tasks are important but not necessarily urgent, so unless they are given priority they don’t get done. We need to learn to walk and chew gum; work on the day-to-day but also work on the future. The higher a leader goes; the greater proportion of their time should be spent on considering future implications. Identifying areas to focus on and improve, to build future capabilities and becoming laser focused on areas that will enable the organisation, not just to survive but to thrive.

Focus applies resources effectively on what matters, and companies change for the better. It’s like a magnifying glass that can concentrate rays so powerfully it can literally start a fire.

In the great Kiwi yachting victory for Black Magic in the Americas Cup, their Focus was a simple single question, “Will it make the boat go faster?” Every decision went through that question. Yes or no, in or out.

Having work priorities simply articulated makes them easy to communicate. It also makes it easy for you to make the decisions you have to make. It’s all about the Focus. They become the ‘impersonal referee’, the agreed course of action and informs the calls you make every day. The art and the challenge is to keep it simple. Multiple stakeholders will want 1000 things from you, your job is to get consensus around the truly important imperatives.

Someone once said, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have time”. It does take time, to think through the priorities, collaborate with others and create a simple mandate. Good is enemy of great. There’s lots of good things you can do, but what are the great ones, the ones that will actually make a difference?

But when you do have focus, when you have sorted the good from the great, have clarity on what will truly give you the outcomes you're looking for, you'll have your work priorities, and it will bring sustainable success.

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