FOCUS: Are you keeping your eye on the prize?


The more family businesses and owners I coach around strategy, the more I’m reminded that building an effective strategic plan is very similar to raising kids – focus on a few things, repeat yourself often and be consistent.
Maintaining focus as a leadership team is a challenge many companies wrestle with and why it’s made my list of 8 Steps to Overcoming the BIG 5 Frustrations of business owners.  The challenge is that teams get caught up trying to balance all of the competing interests, and then get stymied with too many unknowns. 
Jack Welch, former CEO for GE, believes that strategy is "a living, breathing, totally dynamic game." In Winning, he says the key to success is, "Pick a general direction and implement like hell."
In the book, Welch shows the three steps of his strategy technique:

  1. Come up with a big A-HA for your business – a smart, realistic, relatively fast way to gain sustainable competitive advantage.
  2. Put the right people in the right jobs to drive the big A-HA forward.
  3. Relentlessly seek out the best practices to achieve your big A-HA, whether inside or out, adapt them, and continually improve them.

At its simplest, strategy is merely resource allocation. Welch says, "Strategy means making clear-cut choices about how to compete. You cannot be everything to everybody, no matter what the size of your business or how deep its pockets."  We all have three limited resources – time, money, people.  Moral to the story…FOCUS and allocate wisely. 
That's all well and good, but how do you get to the Big A-HA?
By debating and grappling with the tough stuff as a leadership team.  Strategy is about focusing on a problem or an opportunity facing the company.  It’s not just a long list of action items.  Challenge your team to identify the strategic objectives the company needs to focus on. What will create your competitive advantage and drive growth, profits and cash flow?
 Here are five questions that will help your team identify the challenges and opportunities. 
1.  What does the playing field look like now?  Who are our competitors?  Where is the growth curve?  What are the drivers of profitability? 
2.  What has the competition been up to?  What has each competitor done in the past year to change the playing field?  Has anyone introduced game-changing new products, new technologies, or a new distribution channel? Are there any new entrants, and what have they been up to in the past year?
3.  What have you been up to?  What have you done in the past year to change the competitive playing field?  Have you bought a company, introduced a new product, stolen a competitor's key salesperson, or licensed a new technology from a startup?

Have you lost any competitive advantages that you once had—a great salesperson, a special product, a proprietary technology?
4.  What's around the corner?   What scares you most in the year ahead—what one or two things could a competitor do to nail you?  What new products or technologies could your competitors launch that might change the game?  What M&A deals would knock you off your feet?
5.  What's your winning move?  What can you do to change the playing field—is it an acquisition, a new product, globalization?  What can you do to make customers stick to you more than ever before and more than to anyone else?
After you've answered these questions, Welch says an integral step in formulating your strategy is surveying the best practices in the field - from your industry and others.  Borrow ideas from other industries with applicable problems and opportunities.
The fifth step is where the strategic direction is developed. At Gazelles, we refer to this as your 3-year key thrusts and capabilities – what do you need to develop/acquire/become in order to continue your march towards your vision (or BHAG® – Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in Gazelles vernacular.  From here you start to identify the priority initiatives that help you accomplish these key thrusts and capabilities.  This becomes your FOCUS meter.  Everything you do should be linked back to these 3-year key thrusts and capabilities.  Maintain the focus.  One thing at a time!
By the time you've finished this set of questions, the effectiveness of your strategy should be pretty clear. Your big A-HA is either winning or it needs to change. Even if you didn't have a strategy before, this process should help you get one.
Don’t let this hard work go to waste.  It’s time for execution.  Develop a rhythm to review progress, troubleshoot challenges and roadblocks, and develop new initiatives as you accomplish existing ones.  DO NOT MOVE ONTO SOMETHING ELSE UNTIL YOU COMPLETE WHAT YOU COMMITTED TO.  
Remember…Focuson a handful of things, repeat often and be consistent. Channel your best “parenting” skills and apply them to your company.