Streetwise: Fine Tune Your Focus During COVID

November 13, 2020

From our friends at Eure Consulting:

Throughout this pandemic, it’s been easy for business owners to lose their focus. It doesn’t mean you don’t know what to do, you’ve simply been overwhelmed, overloaded and overly frustrated. All normal reactions to a global crisis.

But as we’ve said before, COVID is not an excuse for letting your business stall out. There are some fundamental items that you as a business owner need to put in place to help you and your company get focused and stay focused. I call them Focus Areas. These are areas that you need to revisit and reinforce when your focus begins to slide, or gets hazy, or completely blurs the business horizon – leaving you stranded, unsure, confused, frustrated – you name it. A business that has lost their focus is lost, period.

Here are the three Focus Areas:

Focus Area #1: Vision – I can’t think of a single thing more important for a business owner than to truly understand, envision and believe strongly in what they are trying to build. I will play this card every time I run into a business owner who is losing money, has a team that is disengaged or has a client base that is eroding.

A lack of a clear and articulated vision will take its toll on a business. And this is particularly true during a crisis. According to Keith McFarland in his book Breakthrough Companies, “When breakthrough companies are considering making a bet, they fanatically return to the vision they have for the firm and to their strategy for accomplishing it. A bold vision is what fuels a company’s appetite for big bets.” And that bold vision and big bet might be the one thing that gets your organization through this pandemic.

A vision serves to unify your entire company around one common goal. It ensures that everyone is in the same boat and rowing in the same direction. A lack of clarity in direction leads to mistakes, politics, and poor performance overall. You can help yourself, your team, and your company stay focused if you have a clearly defined vision.

Articulate your vision. What is the impact your company will have on the world?

Focus Area #2: Values – clearly defined values can bring a business back to center even faster than the vision. Your values define you and therefore they define your company. Actually acting upon these values is what defines a company’s character.

When a company is small these values are shared by osmosis. People learn how to behave directly from the owner/CEO by working closely with them every day. But as your company grows, you have to be extremely intentional about writing down, sharing, and reinforcing these core values.

A business owner who is expanding their business beyond their direct control, meaning they are hiring employees and need those employees to ‘do what’s right’ when dealing with coworkers, clients, and vendors, needs to articulate those values to help drive the behaviors that make the company what it is.

I seldom quote Buddha but I love how the following quote clearly defines how you turn the development of strong values into the development of a company’s character: “The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit broadens into character.” Ask yourself, do you have defined company values and are you acting upon them daily?

Articulate your values. What are your core beliefs – what has driven your own behavior? These are 3 – 7 words that describe what you care about the most. If you have articulated your values, find incidents where those values drive behavior you like – track and reward those behaviors.

Focus Area #3: Communicate clear expectations – to bring focus back to your organization, make the time to communicate clear expectations. When your company is not in sync, people are scattered, conflict is high, cooperation is low and you start to see an erosion of profits or customer satisfaction, have one-on-one conversations with your direct reports and make sure everyone in your organization knows what’s expected of them and, equally important, what they can expect from you.

Setting clear expectations serves a dual purpose. First, it lets each and every employee know exactly what you expect from them. They have a clear path to being successful in their role. They don’t need to second guess if they are focused on the right priorities or try to read your mind about what you want. They can come to work every day with a clear plan of action to move towards their goals.

Second, by clearly defining expectations you are also clearly defining what the finish line looks like. This gives you the opportunity to know when you’ve reached your goal. Most companies don’t take enough time to celebrate the wins. But those small celebrations make a big difference, especially right now when the world doesn’t have much to celebrate. Make sure you use your new found clarity of what success looks like to take the time to celebrate with your team when you reach a new milestone. No matter how small it may seem. Everyone could use a little more levity in their lives right now.

Start with what you expect from yourself and then what you expect from employees. If you have a business partner, what do you expect from him or her? Don’t stop at sharing your expectations though, ask your team to share what they expect from you.

None of these three areas are all that time intensive. They shouldn’t take you months to create. But you do need to make sure that you’re being intentional and realistic with each of them.

Your vision, values, and expectations will not have the desired impact if they are not well thought out and true to your organization. You shouldn’t be trying to recreate a Fortune 500 company, you should be further cementing who you are as a company, and what makes you unique. Don’t get too aspirational or try to be too gimmicky about it. Simply write down what you want your company to achieve, how you want your employees to behave, and what you need your employees to do to reach your vision.

If you don’t have your vision articulated, you haven’t written down your values, and you haven’t communicated clear expectations, you need to get started right now. And if you have taken care of these three areas, share them with the entire company again. And again. You can’t share them enough.