The challenge of strategic focus
Time and time again, organisations struggle to focus on a select few priorities. Unfortunately, since you simply can’t be remarkable at everything, the inevitable result is mediocrity across many things.
Sure, we all start with good intentions. Setting a vision and strategy. Identifying the top 3 things you need to get right. Applying the 80/20 principle. Defining realistic and time-bound goals. And so on…
But somewhere along the line things go awry – you spread yourself too thin, lose focus on what really counts, and get sucked into a maelstrom of well-intentioned but ultimately counter-productive activities.
Why is focus so hard?
I think the reason for poor strategic focus is human nature – we simply find it hard to say ‘no’ to a good opportunity, even if it is outside our focus area. Below are some common justifications:
- Fear of missing out: "What if someone else grabs it first? Better to go for it now, rather than risk having nothing"
- Fear of criticism: "What if our boss or someone else asks why we didn’t go after it? If we have a go and it doesn’t work out, well at least we tried."
- Overconfidence: "Sure, we can do that new opportunity, as well as everything else. It’s not that much extra work…"
- Lure of the New: "This new opportunity is exciting and it’s really where the future is at. Plus I’d much rather work on it than the same old stuff."
Strategy is saying ‘no’
If you’re not saying ‘no’ to opportunities, you don’t have a strategy – you’re just being opportunistic. It feels much riskier to say ‘no’, but it’s actually lower risk than saying ‘yes’ to too many things.
In the real world of limited resources and imperfect coordination, it all comes down to tradeoffs. Ideally you’re saying no to some very good opportunities so that you can focus on a few exceptional ones instead.
Are there other explanations for why it is so hard to focus? What has been your experience? Any advice you would you give others to help them achieve remarkable results through a stronger focus on their top priorities?