What do we tell those who seem to have lost their way? Some version of, “Focus on what’s most important” or “Focus on what will get you back on track”. Easy to say, and with good intention, but many times hard to put into action. Not because those people don’t understand what we’re saying but because they don’t know what to focus on to remedy the situation.
A friend and colleague of mine likes to say, “Assume you have 100 nails to drive…which three do you drive in first?” I like that because the implication is that there is a seemingly endless list of things to do, and you need to start somewhere. The questions are, where to start and why?
In my experience, focus is an incredibly valuable capability. People who can focus and move forward have an advantage. The clarity and speed with which they make decisions mitigates analysis paralysis and enables progress. However, being able to focus doesn’t guarantee success. I’ve made plenty of decisions with clarity and speed only to realize suboptimal results. My learning is that focus requires the ability to prioritize and sequence actions, combined with knowledge of the human and financial resource ‘cost’.
Human & Financial Resources
In any organization most activity has a human resource and / or financial resource cost. And the human and financial resources an organization has available to spend are finite. My definition here of human resources includes both the number of resources available and the skills, knowledge and capabilities of those resources.
Knowing the type and amount of resources available at all times is key. If an organization (i.e. it’s leadership) has the ability to focus, it must also have the resources or be able to acquire the resources required to execute on the direction of focus. Without this resourcing, the value to be derived from any effort is diminished.
Prioritize & Sequence
In addition to having adequate resourcing, an organization must be able to prioritize and sequence the tasks and activities needed to choose which three of those 100 nails to drive in first (for example), and justify why. Many times organizations prioritize tasks as high, medium and low, but don’t put as much rigor into sequencing them correctly, which is just as important.
Focus allows an organization to optimally sequence prioritized tasks. This sounds a lot like project management and change management. That’s because those disciplines are required in order to carry out and deliver what senior leadership has decided to focus the organization on. Some may view the words 'strategy' and 'focus' as interchangeable in this context, but I believe strategy is a result of focus and therefore not the same.
Focus isn’t just spending resources on activities and tasks for the sake of doing something rather than nothing. The result of proper focus is the synergy achieved when strategy and execution are aligned.
Special thanks to Dr. Pat Draves, whose ability to assess the landscape of her organization, then prioritize and sequence focus on those areas most in need is the definition of leadership, and to Cal Closson, who helps his clients focus on optimizing the areas of their businesses that can be automated.