Above All Else, Do This!

Many organizations are very good at strategy development and planning. However, we know that far fewer are anything better than average when it comes to execution. There are some specific things to be done in order to improve on execution. Many books by some great authors have been published in this regard. Therefore, I wish to focus your attention on only one item I’ve found to be most commonly shared by these authors yet I find most commonly overlooked in organizations. In addition, I will shed some additional light on why this piece is so critical. This critical item is Organizational Focus!

Businessman aiming bow and arrow

Organizational Focus is often described as a mission, target, goal, or other such terms. Others accurately stress its importance by referring to it as a BHAG – Big Harry Audacious Goal (Collins & Porras, 1994) or WIG – Wildly Important Goal (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012). However, I am choosing to refer to it as Organizational Focus in order to help us understand why it is so critical; why I believe organizations so frequently fail to realize the role that it plays within the organization. Without Organizational Focus, none of the other execution activities achieve more than mediocre results.

First, a quick look at what other authors have said about Organizational Focus:

  • Having a target condition is so important that Toyota will usually not try to improve before a target condition is defined (Rother, 2010)
  • The leadership of a top-20% organization does a better job of clearly defining the outcomes the organization must accomplish (Bremer & McKibben, 2011)
  • The first discipline is to focus your effort on the one or two goals that will make all the difference, instead of giving mediocre effort to dozens of goals (McChesney, Covey, & Huling, 2012)

Clearly, there is agreement that Organizational Focus is important. Now let’s look at why this is so important. It is not only because too many goals or targets can become confusing, overwhelming, or competing in priority. It is because the human brain is incapable of focusing on more than one activity at time. This is particularly important when we seek to create change because until a change is complete and becomes “second nature”, we require a significant amount of focus on the changing process. When attempting to accomplish many goals at once, we are forced to sacrifice our focus, thus limiting our ability to succeed in changing.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that we don’t try to do more than one thing at a time. We seem naturally inclined to want to solve all of our problems at once. Many people pride themselves as good multi-taskers. However, humans are inherently terrible at it and it is precisely the reason that many jurisdictions have implemented distracted driving laws. A very famous demonstration of this can be experienced in this brief “awareness test” video from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris. Typically, about half of viewers will fail the test.

Another astonishing demonstration can be seen in this brief video (full screen recommended).


What these two examples demonstrate is that our brain does a lot of work for us, such as deciding what information, visual or otherwise, is not critical. In other words, if we are not focusing directly on something, we often lose sight of it without even knowing.

Our brain works in this manner all day every day! If we are faced with multiple goals, we will be faced with numerous metrics and related data. We become reliant on switch-tasking and will typically fail to accomplish our best on any one of the goals. However, if we commit to narrowing our Organizational Focus to only one item at a time, we are then using our brain’s natural and intense focusing capability to our advantage. Not only will we accomplish greater results, we will often accomplish them in a shorter period of time.

finish line

What is the single most important thing that will ensure that your organization achieves something truly great; something beyond your peers, beyond industry average? The best thing you can do for your organization is to provide a clear and singular focus. Focus intently on that critical goal and ensure that your organization’s leadership systems support a coordinated effort to attack that goal. Just like driving a car or riding a snowboard, you will end up in the direction you are looking. You will naturally travel toward that which you are focused on.

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