How often at work do you hear, “that won’t be easy”, “that won’t be simple”, “this will be really complicated and hard”, “not sure we can juggle all the priority work”?
It’s often the first line of defence from the folks at work who are being loaded up with more to do. Really quite a typical response and at least some of the time a perfectly valid response. Why are these responses often pegged as being from someone who can’t cut it or who isn’t fully committed. I believe that it is more likely to be because the company really is trying to do way too much with its available resources.
For CEO’s, running the company guarantees you will be presented with “opportunities” to grow the business, add new products and markets, add territories and sign up with a new business partner that will deliver growth. The proposal to do more with existing resources is usually based on, “this is a logical extension of what we do and we can simply use all our existing resources”.
Sure, it may seem logical but this kind of thinking rarely fully considers the overall impact on company resources, starting with the CEO. Every time you add a product or market or a partner, you automatically add to the workload of the CEO, the senior team and in effect the whole company. You will have an additional volume of performance data to monitor and manage every day and every month end. More work for financial staff, more work for sales & marketing staff, more work for support staff and more expenses. The monthly company performance review now includes additional objectives, activities and deliverables and the pressure on staff continually grows.
If you are the CEO, then the first thing to consider when reviewing an product or market expansion proposal is how will this impact the focus of me and my senior team? If the answer is that it will defocus efforts away from proven products and markets then proceed with great caution. If the growth idea can’t be properly funded and resourced and will occur by “using our existing resources” then it needs very careful analysis.
There is a tendency, in smaller companies, to switch focus such that if you aren’t successful selling one new product or service then the chorus is “let’s try this other better idea”.
That method of operating is almost certainly a recipe for failure. I have seen first hand how damaging this way of operating a business can be. It has a tendency to greatly constrain the chances of growth and success. A company that has many products, services and markets, in effect confuses prospects and customers and it also confuses employees.
One of the simplest truths in business is that you do have to focus and specialise and to do that actually does take courage and conviction. It takes courage because you are in effect making a single bet that you can win by being focused, that you really do have something the market wants and will pay for and that you have the skills and teamwork to deliver.
I liken it to the analogy of placing a bet or buying a stock – you are making a decision to back you and your team – betting that you will deliver and succeed by being focused. To do this does take courage and the apparent easier path is to hedge on your bet. So, you feel you probably can succeed by focusing but just in case maybe you should broaden what you offer, just in case the main area of focus isn’t a success.
Focus doesn’t have to mean a single product or service, it may well mean that you focus in a specific vertical market and offer products/services that are complementary to each other and the vertical. I often work with companies that clearly are trying to do too much and others that do one very specific thing.
What is very noticeable to me is the difference in the work environments and demeanour of the staff. In companies doing too much there is clearly more stress, more constant puttingoutfires, more panicked reactions every day. This contrasts greatly with the single product/service company where staff know what they are focused on, staff feel in control, staff are confident where they are heading and portray their firm as one having a clear, explainable specialisation.
If you are in a business that has stagnated, be extremely careful not to fall for the “we can just use our existing resources” fallacy. This kind of situation is far more common in SMEs that have been in business for at least a few years but have not set the world on fire. They are doing OK or maybe just making a small profit each year and not enjoying real growth.
Take the time and do the research to ensure you have something a specific market needs and will pay for. Build your plan around a total focus such that you will find out in the shortest possible time whether the plan will work. Only after giving the original plan every chance of success should you consider changing focus and then the analysis process starts over. Don’t try and continue with the plan that isn’t working and add more activities to see what might work best.
Of course there is no point flogging a dead horse or, banging your head against a wall, simply because you developed a thorough plan and in the hope it should work eventually. Too many management teams feel they have all the knowledge and knowhow, and fail to appreciate the vital role an objective third party can play in the business planning and performance assessment process. There is simply no substitute for injecting some fresh, objective thinking into the process right from the getgo and at regular intervals.
To summarize my message on what is a very big and complex topic, I suggest follow this proven methodology to maintain focus –
1. Focus on a clear plan and plan to stay focused
2. Know how you will measure progress
3. Use third parties to regularly help you reassess the plan and progress 4. Celebrate every success, no matter how minor
5. Work hard to keep staff morale strong and,
6. Be transparent in sharing corporate data with staff
Oh yes, and don’t be distracted by anything or anyone but stay alert to clear signals the plan may not deliver. There’s always the chance for a pivot or two on the path to success.
Greg Twemlow has twenty five plus years of international achievements managing high value strategic sales, corporate change projects, business units and companies. Greg is expert in product development, sales/marketing, financial management, negotiating deals and defining contractual terms. Connect with me.
About the author:
For my work as a coach, I draw on 30 years in business, working with large corporates and pure startups, in Australia and all over the world including Asia. I've created companies, helped startups grow and I've helped people make the crucial decisions about their career direction.
Greg Twemlow is also the founder and director of SEVENmile Venture Lab, a for-purpose enterprise supporting the entrepreneurial community on Sydney’s northern beaches.