12 Guiding Principles for Business Success – No.12 – Keep a laser like focus on the objective

When running a business we all know that clarity of purpose and achieving the objective is paramount.  So our last guiding principle, no 12, is a reminder to maintain that focus

  • Keep a laser like focus on the objective

Don’t let yourself be sidetracked

In the course of my work with businesses as an advisor and on advisory boards, a constant and recurring theme is this need to keep focused on the objective.  What I continue to find surprising is how founders, CEOs or business owners can so easily become distracted. Part of business life is about learning to sort the wheat from the chaff, discerning what the important things are that require effort and focus and what are the less important things that can either wait or even be disregarded completely.

There is no rule book for how to sort these things, it’s all a matter of judgement. However I believe that one of the key guiding principles that should inform that judgement is making sure that there is always a laser like focus on the objective. By ‘Laser like’ I mean maybe not to the total exclusion of everything else, but just very nearly! The question that has to be asked almost constantly is ‘does this move us closer towards achieving our objective’. The ones where there is a clear ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer are easy to deal with, it’s the ‘Maybe’ ones that pose the challenge.

Learn to use the word ‘No’ – because strategy is just as much about what you choose not to do as what you choose to do!

When my own business started to enjoy a little success I noticed something interesting, a small but steady stream of people started to beat a path to my door with outwardly interesting business propositions. They usually took the general form of ‘Wow, you guys are doing some great stuff, but if you could just tweak your product/offering/process to do x then we could work with you and address a great opportunity together’.

The offers were often quite tempting, and flattering. A couple of times I did get distracted by them until I spotted the error of my ways. Eventually I learnt to use a really useful word – ‘No’.  Sometimes it was hard to say no, but what I learnt is that strategy, or more accurately the sound execution of a strategy, can be as much about what you choose not to do as what you choose to do. Doing any of these things that were not going to move us towards our objective would have been a bad move for us, it would have required a change of strategy and the business was best served by keeping a laser like focus on the target and not letting ourselves get distracted.

Avoiding ‘Strategy du jour’

By not having that laser like focus you run the risk of jumping to the other end of the scale and having a strategy that is constantly changing. This is something myself and other advisors sometimes half-jokingly refer to as ‘Strategy du jour’ or ‘Strategy of the day’.  OK, maybe it does not quite change daily, but it can change so frequently it can feel like it changes daily. Some years ago I shared an office with a mate who was running a startup, he had a team of 12 or so attacking a competitive market. After a while I noticed a pattern, about every three or four weeks he would come bounding into the office, usually on a Monday morning, urgently gather the team around him and explain that he had been thinking over the weekend and he had identified what was wrong with the current strategy and here was the new plan. The instruction was always that they had to stop what they were doing now and implement the new plan with immediate effect. Some may recognize this phenomena, it’s also common after a founder has just come back from an overseas trip and has had too long sitting on a plane to think about things. That is Strategy du jour.

Now just to be clear, I am not advocating never altering strategy or objectives. Yes, you have to listen to your market and alter what you do in response to it.  Yes, it is sometimes necessary to change direction and ‘pivot’ as the current terminology has it. What I am warning against is the usually destructive constant realignment of strategy, objectives and targets. When you start to hear things talked of in terms of ‘the latest great idea’ then you may well have a case of strategy du jour on your hands.

Stay focused

Strategic clarity and focus on clear objectives is one of the keys to sound execution, and as anybody who had been around in business will tell you, it’s the ability to execute that generally sorts the winners from the rest of the pack. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked, politely but firmly turn away those that hold up bright shiny attractive looking things that might distract you. Keep a laser like focus on the objective.

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