Lesson 7: Achieving focus

Written by PROFIT staff

Chances are your team is leaner than it was a year ago. There’s far too much on everyone’s plate for you to dodge the tough choices about which things your company should focus on — and which things it should not. David Allen, the Ojai, Calif.-based author of Getting Things Done, says the downturn has thrust companies into “a constant game of needing to recalibrate and refocus.” You need to learn how to determine your critical priorities, ingrain them in your company’s culture and stay ruthlessly focused on them.

5 ways to stay on track

The hardest part isn’t setting priorities; it’s sticking to them. Here’s how to keep the main thing the main thing:

  1. Don’t wing it. Line up the talent and tools you’ll need before you start a key project. This avoids the sometimes fatal loss of momentum that can occur if you have to put the project on hold while you, say, make a key hire needed to complete it.
  2. Create a workback schedule with periodic reviews of your firm’s progress toward the goal. Assign responsibility for each step to a specific team member. This responsibility would include recommending how to get back on track after a missed deadline.
  3. Clearly communicate corpo- rate goals. Most staff have little or no idea of their employer’s key objectives. Your people can’t stay focused on your priorities if they don’t know what they are.
  4. Don’t let the project stall because you’re trying to do everything yourself. Even a highly competent glutton for work (i.e., you) isn’t good at everything. Stick to the tasks you’re best at, and delegate the rest.
  5. Ensure that your people focus on the right things by rewarding work toward stated goals and, perhaps, punishing (gently) work toward non-goals.

Put your priorities to the test

  1. Where are we now, and where do we need to be? Outline how each strategy on your long list would help your firm achieve its key long-term goals.
  2. Is it aligned with my company’s values? If one of these is outstanding customer service, put the strategies most likely to deliver this at the top of your priority list.
  3. Can we realistically accomplish this in the expected time frame? Don’t let your excitement about a potential strategy stray into wishful thinking about whether your firm can execute it.
  4. Do I have solid research indicating that there’s a demand for the new direction? Base your strategies on hard intelligence, not guesswork.
  5. Does it leverage our core competencies? Figure out what you have that your competitors wish they could steal from you. Then play to those strengths.
Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com