Staying Focused on a Great Strategy

Strategy is an overused and often misunderstood word. Yet a strategy, when properly understood and implemented, focuses the team on a core problem and gives you a framework to prioritise limited resources.

Think of when you are hammering a nail: when you hit the nail on its head, you focus all the force of the hammer’s swing onto a single point – the sharp end of the nail. This small surface area between the sharp end and the wood results in a great deal of pressure, driving in the nail.

By focusing on fewer things, you reduce the surface area where your forces (money and people) are applied, creating greater pressure without needing more resources. That’s how high performing niche teams compete with the Goliaths of their industry, having a disproportionate impact in a resource-constrained world.

The origin story of most great companies clearly shows this power of focus. Think of how Amazon mastered the business of selling books before selling nearly everything and Apple mastered the personal computer long before the iPhone.

Yet what seems obvious in theory, that a strategy that focuses is helpful, is hard to implement in practice. Developing and implementing a strategy means battling our natural tendencies to say “yes” to everything, denying the very real appeal of being a generalist. It requires constant iteration and willpower to remain focused on the goals and vision of the organisation. As you develop your own strategy to focus your resources, a few questions to keep in mind:

1. What problem are you solving?

Richard Rumelt, author of Good Strategy Bad Strategy, recommends that a strategy has three parts: a specific problem to solve, a coordinated approach to solve that problem, and action steps to implement it. All good strategies start with a specific problem and an actual obstacle you help to remove for your clients or customers. What’s yours?

2. Once you’ve set your strategy, are you prioritising your forces (money and people) accordingly?

Every decision you make and every resource you allocate should be pushing the strategy forward. If not, you’re missing the key benefit of focus that strategies produce. Take an honest look at where you and your team is focusing. Is it aligned with the strategy?

3. Are you saying “No” enough?

Prioritising the actions that push your strategy forward means saying “no” to a multitude of other opportunities. Implementing a strategy is a contact sport. You will hurt feelings and be told that you are missing great opportunities. Be firm in saying no, but when you do so, explain to your teams why focus is so important to your shared success.

4. When was the last time you reassessed your strategy?

No matter how fast you run, you’ll never win the race if you’re running in the wrong direction. The world changes around us, and our strategies should, too. Be open to new information and circumstances.

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