“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the 100 other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” Steve Jobs
It occurred to me the other day how important strategy is to focus.
Time spent talking about the mid and long term is at the cost of doing things today right? Surely even having the conversations will cause people to lose focus in the short term?
In fact, the inverse is true.
Unless you spend the time having these conversations, there will always be confusion about what the priorities are at any time. And nothing hurts short-term execution more than that.
If you think about strategy as three buckets – short, mid and long term.
It’s not the case that projects get simply ordered by potential impact. In fact, often due to dependencies or the sheer size and complexity of high potential projects, they can end up sitting in mid or long term buckets.
Unless you have a conversation about strategy and agree which projects sit in each of the three buckets, the projects that need to sit in the mid and long term buckets will continue to distract from short term execution. The fact that they are juicy and high impact, just compounds the issue.
They will creep into conversations. People will start to question why they aren’t being started ASAP. How exactly will they be done? In the case where you have large teams, you might find people actually start to work on them instead of what actually needs to get done now.
Therefore, to be able to fully focus on short term priorities and execution, you have to get these conversations out the way and agree on what fits into the short, mid and long term.
Once you do this, you can forget about the stuff in the mid and long term, whilst you focus on the short term. It’s not that they are unimportant, it’s just that there is a time and a place for everything and you can only do so much at any one time.
Perhaps the most useful thing you can do as a leader is build strategy (collaboratively), get buy in (upwards and downwards) and ensure everyone is 100% clear on this and where projects fall into the mix.
You’ll still need to work hard at keeping everyone focused on the right priorities, but it will be a hell of a lot easier if you do the above well.