The documentary Becoming Warren Buffett is must-watch TV. It's the story of a man who pinched pennies his whole life only to amass a fortune of over $80 billion, most of which he has pledged to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other charities.
Gates and Buffett have become mega-wealthy BFFs. As told in the documentary, Gates's father once asked them both to write down a single word to describe their success. They both wrote the same word: focus.
Having been an adviser to over a hundred entrepreneurs, I can confirm unequivocally that focus separates the pretenders from the game-changers. Those who move the needle in this world have a maniacal focus on something.
What specifically should you focus on? Start with these four things:
Our raging talent war is only magnifying the mantra that people should come first. Why is recruiting and retention so problematic in so many companies? Because HR is completely broken and too many employers do not focus enough energy on fixing it.
In many environments, HR does the recruiting, only to have managers jump in at the end for an hour or two here and there to conduct one-hour interviews where they assess people based on their ability to answer a few questions.
These issues go much deeper. Employers are moving from formal performance reviews to feedback loops. This is in part because they need to be more agile in providing younger workers with regular feedback.
It's also because managers rationalize that they don't have time for performance reviews. Can you think of a better use of your time than to sit down with an employee--a person who provides you leverage--and talk to them about how they can get better?
Does excusing away performance reviews sound like focus on people? I think not.
It's not hard to separate the companies that truly invest in human capital from fakers that make claims about being employers of choice. A CEO I work with does all the interviewing in his company because he isn't going to hire someone who doesn't align with his values. That is focus on people.
Great product developers get it right because they invest the time and resources to ensure they are building best-in-breed solutions. This thinking applies for service companies as well. They are not happy with products that work; they seek out ones that provide users with newfound utility, simplicity, and lower cost.
Focusing on a very limited product offering is counterintuitive to most. Our company only does one thing (strategic planning), but we do it really well.
By keeping our scope narrow, we are able to position as experts, drive thought leadership, and garner referrals from others that aren't threatened by us because we don't infringe on what they do. We create repeatable processes that improve our execution.
In my experience, most companies try to participate in too many markets. In most businesses, providers can deliver more value by servicing fewer markets and having extensive offerings within them. As our economy moves toward more vertical integration, companies are providing more end-to-end solutions.
Providing a comprehensive solution in a narrow (niche) market keeps larger competitors at bay. Only after achieving enough scale to matter--perhaps 20 percent share or penetration--should a company expend the considerable resources to move to new ones. It's more costly to enter a new market than to build in one you're already in.
To scale requires that companies find ways to institutionalize their processes. The old-school method was to write standard operating procedures, often in soullessly thick binders. Today, companies are embedding their processes at the point of use. For example, our company recently instituted a new project management system and our work instructions are included within online tasks.
Workforce automation is also offering ways for tasks that were once manual to be computerized in some fashion. Many CRMs include marketing automation tools that streamline the processes executed by humans.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are the second- and third-wealthiest men in the world for a reason (Jeff Bezos is first). Their focus on what's important has been the key to their success, and it can be for you too. If you are a business owner, prioritize a few things to focus on and delegate the rest to others.