Where the Focus Goes, the Business Goes


I’ll venture to guess that a book narrated by a talking dog named Enzo isn’t on your list of go-to business books.

I won’t even argue that it should be. But there is one important lesson to be gained from Garth Stein‘s novel about a rising-star race car driver, The Art of Racing in the Rain.

The lesson is this:

Where the eyes go, the car goes.

This is a fitting metaphor for business, wouldn’t you say? Your results are a direct result of your focus.

Keep it Between the Ditches

We’ve learned some variation of this lesson first-hand, every one of us. We set grand goals for our businesses, we lay a course to achieving them, we even get the right people on the bus.

And somewhere along the way we get lost and, worse yet, find our plans hurtling full speed ahead toward the ditch.  Out of breath we ask ourselves, “What just happened?”

Where the focus goes, the business goes.

Pick a Lane

Let me share a few examples of what happens when leaders “pick the wrong lane” in driving their businesses.

Example One: Lost Focus

Car in DitchFor several years my firm worked with a large corporation whose senior executive team passed down a series of ill-fated decisions. Each decision was, in all likelihood, considered and made in the business’ best interest. But on the whole the decisions appeared reactive and impulsive.

Worse yet, they lacked follow-through; decisions with serious organizational implications were announced and subsequently left unimplemented for months.

Programs launched with grand fanfare and died quietly.

During that period our firm collected employee engagement data that demonstrated a serious lack of confidence in leadership. Also during the period, profits fell despite deep and ongoing cost cutting efforts.

The two results are not coincidental. The executive team’s focus on quick fixes drained the business. Not until they settled down and drove with focus on longer-term solutions would their business turn around.

Example Two: Lost Messaging

Beggars Can't Be ChoosersA colleague leads a nonprofit organization who, like so many organizations like it, struggled to build a base of volunteers sufficient enough to achieve its work.

Their communications team, he told me, began to sound like beggars on the street corner.

“We need help! Please help. Every little bit of your time helps. Please? Pretty please?”

They needed to drive in a different direction to get to a different place. They needed to stop communicating like beggars and refine their messaging to something that would work effectively with their audience. They needed to refocus the message.

“We needed to quit begging and start talking about everything we accomplished with the blessings we already had.”

Once they focused on their successes — you guessed it — they got more volunteers. People want to be a part of a winning organization, not a struggling one. Perspective, internal and external, really is everything.

Life in the Leadership Fast Lane

There are four immediate steps you can take to identify the distractions drawing focus from your goals.

  1. Like any agency or law firm, track the time you spend on specific tasks. Do this for the next week or two. To do so takes nothing more technical than a spreadsheet. Be specific and be honest.
  2. Assess the gap between your activities and your goals. If you’re not spending the majority of your work day on tasks directly related to your business goals, you’re out of focus.
  3. Identify the culprits that steal your productivity and results. And be honest in doing so. It’s easy to blame distractions on others, particularly our direct managers. But how many tasks did you take on that you should have or could have pushed back on in favor of work directly supporting your business goals?
  4. Use your data to manage up. Once you’ve gathered real data on where your time is going, engage in a discussion with your direct manager about the implications of your focus. If your leadership truly supports your business goals, together you will find a way to allocate appropriate time to achieving them. If not, engage in a discussion about how to rewrite your business goals appropriately. In other words, de-clutter your focus and get buy-in in of doing so.

Where has your focus been lately? Where has that focus gotten you? Are you on the right road? Are you in the correct lane? Are you going in the right direction. And how has your business responded? We’d love to hear from you!

Gretchen Anthony is the President and founder of Tilt Consulting
She helps with communication planning, development & change communications

Image Sources: us.123rf.com, idano.net

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