Are You Afraid to Focus?

by Holly G Green

The business world moves so rapidly these days it’s a wonder anyone can keep up. While this create stress, it also opens up a host of opportunities for those with the vision and passion to pursue them. However, like a kid in a candy store with only a few dollars to spend, it can be very difficult to sort through all the opportunities and choose the right one.

So it’s not surprising that one the biggest fears among today’s leaders is that focusing too much on one opportunity will cause us to lose out on others. What if we focus on the wrong opportunity? What if a competitor comes up with “the next big thing” in our industry and we miss it because we’re doing something else? What if we wait on a great idea because we don’t know whether the timing is right and it passes us by?

If these questions are keeping you awake at night, take heart. Things are not as dire as they may seem.

Keep in mind that very rarely do companies only have one good idea or way to move forward. In most cases, you can choose from multiple options. Your job as a leader is to choose the best option, based on what you know at that time, and then focus on bringing that option to life. If necessary, you can always shift your direction along the way. But focusing on what is best for your organization/team and pursuing it with intention greatly increases the odds of achieving success.

If you come up with too many ideas to implement at one time, no worries. Simply write them down and put them in a “good idea” box. Then revisit the box on a quarterly basis. This alleviates any fears about forgetting your best ideas. It forces you to review your ideas with intention. And it gives you time to see whether the ideas still make sense (a lot can change in three months!).

When evaluating ideas and opportunities, it helps to have a formal set of decision criteria to balance them against. This assists in determining the feasibility of an idea, and also helps to rank them in order of priority when more than one passes the litmus test. Start by evaluating the following categories:

  • Strategic. What impact will the idea/opportunity have on achieving your core strategies?
  • Revenue. How will it contribute, directly or indirectly, to revenues?
  • Margin. How will it impact profit margins, short- and long-term?
  • End-user focus. Will it help your organization further define and penetrate key market segments and targeted end users?
  • Emerging markets. Does it enable entry into new or emerging markets?
  • Operational efficiency. Does it contribute to achieving operational efficiencies? Is it necessary for ongoing business operations?
  • Brand equity. How does it build, support or expand your brand equity?

You may identify other criteria categories based on your organization’s strategic goals. The key is to develop a set of questions that provide structure and consistency when evaluating ideas.  For example, when evaluating an opportunity’s impact on strategy, you might ask:

  • Does it enhance or support our current strategy?
  • Is it necessary for long-term growth?
  • Can we easily determine project requirements, such as costs, outputs, and ROI?
  • Do we have solid data to support a clear customer need or desire for the product or service?

For a market/end-user perspective, you might ask:

  • Does the opportunity directly address an identified customer need?
  • Will it expand the current market/customer base?
  • Does it involve entry into a new market?
  • If so, is the new market clearly defined?
  • What is the size of the potential market?
  • How will it affect customer acquisition and retention?

Your decision criteria can also help evaluate whether a current opportunity still makes sense. One of the hardest things for organizations to do is terminate existing projects, even when the data shows they no longer support the strategic objectives. Once the people and resources are committed, it can be difficult to pull the plug. But if we don’t, we can easily lose focus when new opportunities come along.

Because today’s markets change so quickly, I recommend a quarterly check-in for every major strategic initiative under way. Use your evaluation criteria to explore your assumptions at the time you made the choice and question whether they’re still valid or if something significant has changed.

Like the kid in the candy store, sooner or later you have to make a decision or lose out completely. A criteria-based evaluation process will help ensure you make the best one while calming any fears of missing the next big thing.

Call to action: Pick an opportunity you are currently considering and develop a set of decision criteria for it.

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Holly G GreenHolly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking. Follow Holly @HollyGGreen

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