Focus is the Key to Strategy Execution


When companies point to their struggle with executing on their strategies, the first thing I often look for is where their focus lies. Often, the culprit is lack of a demand prioritization process, a disconnect from strategy, or both.

It's with that in mind that this article from Oliver Emberton caught my eye: If You Want to Follow Your Dreams, You Have to Say No to All the Alternatives. I think this works on both an individual level and an organizational level.

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In my book Napoleon on Project Management, I highlighted a few examples of this from 200 years ago (Nothing is new under the sun).

First, aside from his many military campaigns (mostly defensive in nature), Napoleon accomplished an incredible amount of administrative reforms in the areas of finance; education; healthcare; civil rights; and more. But he didn't do it all at once. Generally, these reforms were introduced piecemeal, focusing on one area at a time.

Likewise, when his 250,000-strong army was poised to cross the English Channel to preempt a pending British attack, he received news that the Austrians were coming from the east to invade France. Did he split his forces and send half to England and half to face the Austrians? No.

Instead, he turned his entire army around and marched across France at unprecedented speed. That was the more immediate threat. His well-coordinated army marched in seven columns across a hundred-mile front and looped around the Austrians, attacking them from behind. The battle was over before it had begun. 

Whether on the battlefield or in the boardroom, to try to take on too many battles is to dilute your efforts on all fronts. Yet organizations do this all the time, trying to take on every new idea that comes their way. I'll share a relevant quote from Emberton's article:

"Monomaniacal focus on a single goal is perhaps the ultimate success stratagem."

(Or as John Lennon sang, "How can I go forward when I don't know which way I'm facing?")

Emberton's statement of course is in the context of individual endeavors, but in an organization there's no doubt that a heavy focus on demand prioritization and alignment with strategy (in combination with reducing or eliminating lower value work) can exponentially increase the value you get from your most precious asset---your people. Allowing them to focus individually is equally important, which means avoiding multitasking like the plague, and encouraging them to have "downtime hours" where they can focus uninterrupted on what matters.

If there's one takeaway, pay heed to Star Wars creator George Lucas's advice: "Always remember, your focus determines your reality." 

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Jerry Manas is the bestselling author of The Resource Management and Capacity Planning Handbook, Napoleon on Project Management, and more. At PDWare, Jerry helps clients improve strategy execution through tools and processes that align people and work with organizational priorities. Connect with Jerry on Twitter and LinkedIn