Less is More

Less is More. The Importance of Focus. 

The general manager of a manufacturing company contacted me to facilitate their strategic planning. He said they traditionally conduct strategic planning at the end of the financial year and come up with a list of things they want to do in the coming year.

He showed me the current plan which contained upwards of 20 key projects that were assigned to various individuals, with due dates sprinkled throughout the year. He said their problem was that they seldom got many of the items on their plans completed in previous years and the board of directors was getting frustrated with their lack of focus and results. He asked for my advice.

Goals are not strategy.

First of all, I explained that a long list of ‘things to do’ is not a strategy. It is just a list of things to do. Such lists usually grow out of planning meetings in which a wide variety of stakeholders suggest things they would like to see accomplished. Rather than focus on a few important strategic projects, the group sweeps the whole day’s collection into a document they erroneously call a strategic plan. A list of goals is not strategy.

I explained that strategic planning requires a thorough understanding of how your industry is likely to play out, and getting very clear on the few, pivotal strategic moves your company needs to make in order to position yourself for future success.

Strategy requires trade-offs.

Secondly, I explained that they are trying to do far too much. There are lots of things you could do, but you can’t do everything. Strategy is about making choices. Strategy is about making trade-offs. The essence of strategy is choosing what you are NOT going to do.

I often say to clients, “If you are not making any trade-offs, then you don’t have a strategy”.

I recommended they would be better served by focusing on no more than 3 Strategic Projects to work on each quarter and then meet to review and update their priorities every quarter as part of an accelerated cadence of strategy execution.

It is said that Steve Jobs used to take his managers for off-site planning retreats to identify and rank the top ten strategic priorities for Apple. Members of the group competed intensely to get their ideas on the top ten list. Once they had ranked them in order of priority, Jobs would then take a marker and cross out the bottom seven. “We can only do three,” he would announce.

Business author Jim Collins echoes this sentiment, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any priorities”.

Less is more. It is better to do less and do it well than to take on too many things and spread yourself too thin. Your mantra for success should be: “Focus on less to achieve more

In summary, strategic planning is not about setting goals and coming up with a long to-do list. Rather, it is about going through a disciplined process to identify the small handful of Strategic Projects that will have the biggest impact on your future success and focusing on those projects to the exclusion of everything else.

I think you get the picture. Less is more.

Have you clearly identified your top 3 Strategic Projects? Are you willing to forgo working on everything else and solely focus on these projects?

And remember, “If you are not making any trade-offs, then you don’t have a strategy”.

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Until next time…
Stephen

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