Keep Your Eye on
Holly G. Green
Whether it’s a batter standing in at the plate to face a
95-mph fastball or a fleet-footed receiver racing downfield to make
a game-winning catch, great athletes know that their on-the-field
success will be largely determined by how well they focus on the
task at hand.
Business leaders face the same challenge. Only in addition
to keeping their own eyes on the ball, they have to act as the
coach, making sure that everyone else in the organization maintains
focus as well. Keeping a workplace full of employees with
different wants, needs and expectations aligned and working together
is hard enough during good times. During turbulent times, it can
seem nearly impossible. So it’s no surprise that the question I
hear most often from business leaders these days is, “How do I stay
focused when everything around me is constantly changing?”
My short answer, as noted above, is simple: keep your eye
on the ball! My long answer offers some concrete advice.
Get clear on what
winning looks like for your organization. In order to keep your eye on the ball, you first
have to define the ball. In other words, define what winning means
for your organization. In sports, defining winning is simple
- run faster, jump higher or score more points than the other team.
In business, what constitutes winning is not always so clear-cut.
But as a general rule I recommend that your definition at least
include the following:
processes and metrics used to measure progress
The tools and
systems necessary to accomplish what needs to get done
beliefs and operating practices that serve you well
that will deliver maximum value and growth in the short term
What your brand
stands for or means to others
I also recommend you create a profile of your best and most
profitable customers and devise strategies to retain them and/or get
more share of their wallet. It also helps to identify your greatest
competitive threat and come up with a plan to neutralize or mitigate
Gaining clarity and focus requires doing less, not more. Review all
your strategic initiatives (the projects or efforts taking most of
the resources in your organization) and decide which ones you should
continue doing and, more important, which ones you should stop
doing. Evaluate each initiative based on how well it supports your
definition of winning, determine its strategic value. Don’t make
decision just on how much it costs or who thinks it’s a good idea.
clarity and morale.
In times of uncertainty, many companies cut back on communicating
with employees for fear of harming morale with constant bad news.
In reality, employees want and need to know more. If you don’t keep
them informed, employees will fill the information gap by making
things up, and most of what they make up is not good! To keep
employees from getting angry, anxious and distracted, constantly
communicate about your organization’s key initiatives. Let people
know that you have a plan for getting through the uncertain times.
Tell them why you will still win.
When surrounded by
chaos, the last thing you need is high turnover. Your employees
know better than anyone else what needs to be changed to make your
company better, so tap into them as a resource and learn to do more
of the right things versus doing a lot of things. Listen more and
keep employees vested in everyone’s success. Encourage teamwork and
build morale by offering low-cost incentives like potluck lunches,
lunch-and-learn sessions, stock grants (for private companies), and
opportunities to work on retaining customers or doing sales.
Show some love.
To your customers, that is. It costs a lot less to retain existing
customers than it does to acquire new ones, so even small
investments in building deeper customer relationships will have big
payoffs. Assign a senior executive to your top accounts and give
them extra attention. Talk to all of your current customers more,
but listen more than you talk. Ask questions like, “What has
changed for you in the past six to 12 months? How can we better
meet your new needs? What else can we do for you?”
These offer some good ideas for the organization. But what
are you doing to stay focused? Start by paying attention to
what you pay attention to throughout the day. Identify what will
have the biggest impact on your organization a year from now, and
start putting the information and people in front of you that will
lead to getting those things done.
Humans are highly visual creatures, so make your goals and
objectives visible throughout the day. Stick them on your computer
screen or carry them in your notebook. Set up task reminders to
ping yourself, write them on your whiteboard, post them in the lobby
of your office or on a mirror at home - whatever works to stage your
field of vision and set yourself up for success.
Put a damper on unwanted interruptions by limiting your
responses to emails, PDAs and twitters to certain times of the day.
Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from vital tasks by the
endless “technology chatter” coming at you from all directions.
Finally, it’s always easier to stay focused when you take the
time to clarify your destination. So do it now! When you finish
reading this article, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine
what it looks like when you get to where you want to go. Then take
out a pencil and paper and write it down. Consider the steps you
will need to take in order to get there and how you will know if you
are making progress. Write those down as well.
As you go through your busy day, pause from time to time and
ask, “Of all the things I need to do today, what will make the most
difference a year from now? Am I working on that now? If not, what
is getting in the way?” Maintaining focus is a learned behavior.
Get clear on where you want to go. Surround yourself visually with
what will help you get there. And remember to keep your eye on the
ball. You’ll be amazed at how much of what you think you need to do
actually requires none of your attention if you just leave it alone
and stay focused.
Read other articles and learn more about
Holly G. Green.
[Contact the author for permission to republish or reuse this article.]