It just happened again. I had a conversation with a CEO who expressed his frustration with pursuing too many initiatives and not making meaningful progress on any of them. I reminded him of the old African proverb that says if you focus on chasing two rabbits, they'll both escape! He said he wasn't sure about rabbits, but his entire team feels like it's running in a pool of sticky bubble gum. They're just not getting the traction they want to, and need to. We discussed an approach to engage his senior team that will enable the business to ascend to a higher performance level that we both know it's capable of. Here's a look so you also can take your performance up a notch (or two).
The Four Steps to Elevating Performance
- Rediscover the power of focus - Every team has people, energy, and resources. But successful teams are the ones that aim right, hold steady, and possess the ability to focus with intensity. In their mind's eye, they imagine the concentration power of a magnifying glass burning paper or a laser cutting through steel. They relentlessly align on the critical few priorities that everyone agrees will be most impactful to the strategy's success. They go beyond just a superficial alignment of words by agreeing on the criteria to carefully evaluate both the top priorities and the necessary resources to be successful. They often have a rule that adding a priority also requires taking one off! Focus means focus.
- Own the whole before your piece on resourcing - The genesis of the bubble gum pool includes picking too many priorities, which means your magnifying glass keeps jumping around the paper and won't start a fire. The even bigger issue, however, is resources are spread so thin that everything is slow, drags along, starts and stops, and isn't set up for success. Owning the whole before your piece on resourcing means resources are purposefully directed to the top priorities. Some leaders will have to let go of their individual top priorities and not only accept, but lead the charge of removing resources from those priorities so the top few get what they need. This means that when high-performing teams align on the critical few.
- Stopping is more important than you think - "No" is the most important word in a great strategy. Someone once asked the late Peter Drucker how he would quickly evaluate the talent of a leader. He replied, "I would ask them what they stopped doing in the last two months." This includes stopping the time, attention, and money spent on marginal initiatives, projects, customers, meetings, and investments. Ask what can, and what should, be stopped so you can redirect the focus toward the critical few priorities everyone agrees matter the most. Pruning is a high-performance growth routine.
- Prevent priority creep - One challenge of staying focused is that an initiative or priority overload can sneak up on you. Make sure you're not lulled to sleep by a new distraction. It likely won't appear as a new idea, but will be rationalized as part of an existing idea. Consider it the team's role to rigorously guard the focus on time, talent, and resources.
What's your number one tip for creating and maintaining focus? How do you use your magnifying glass to start the fire of top performance?