I Can See Clearly Now

When focus is sharp at the top, great results follow

By Doug Hall

Focus is fundamental to marketing, innovation, and sales success. Consider that products with a highly focused marketing message are 60% more likely to be successful in the marketplace than those with broader messages. That when an online grocer reduced the number of items it offered by 54%, sales actually jumped 11%. And consider that a clearly defined sales mission is nearly two and a half times more important than overall job satisfaction in limiting burnout among salespeople.

So how can your company become more focused? The secret lies in great leadership. Focus requires taking responsibility and making tough decisions—decisions about what you will and won't include in your marketing message, product lineup, and sales objectives.

I tell clients, "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." As leaders of our companies, our most important task is to make the right decisions about how to allocate our personal time, our people's time, and the energy of our business. I believe that the single best measure of leadership greatness is the courage to make real decisions. When there is clarity of focus, there is organizational effectiveness and efficiency.

Back when I led Procter & Gamble's (PG ) innovation team, we shipped nine new products or product improvements in 12 months. A study by our finance department found that, on average, our team shipped a new product in 16% of the time, at 10% of the cost, with 10% of the staffing as did comparable teams within the company. The secret to our success lay in making tough decisions. We eliminated wasteful work by defining our ideas clearly. Bold decisions early in the process resulted in higher-quality execution later.

In my opinion, the greatest barrier to real decision-making is a lack of deep thinking. In today's e-mail/text message/cell-phone/BlackBerry (RIM ) world, we're all so busy that we have no time or energy to think deeply about our real challenges. At bottom, we know we're not giving business decisions the level of thinking and focus they deserve. To compensate, we often consciously or subconsciously avoid making clear decisions, hoping to think more deeply about them later.

As a result, development efforts are scattershot. Energy is wasted. Effectiveness is diminished. Combine these factors, and you're left with stunningly poor execution. I believe most failures that are blamed on poor execution are in truth the result of poor leadership early in the process.

A lack of leadership creates a chain reaction of problems: Product lines are broad but not deep in quality, advertising is unfocused and unconvincing, sales teams are unhappy and unproductive.

When leaders are focused, the result is a good decision-making. When Domino's Pizza (DPZ ) founder Tom Monaghan simplified his company's menu, he found his stores could offer consistent 30-minute deliveries—a persuasive selling point. Leslie Wexner named his company The Limited (LTD ) because it only sold a small selection of sportswear. Sportswear had been his most profitable line, and, as he explained it, if you could make money selling chocolate ice cream, what was the point in selling other flavors? Wexner realized the power of doing one thing superbly, and the results showed it.

It's time for you to do the same. Dig out your marketing message, product listing, service options, and sales objectives, and try to look at them with fresh eyes. Then it's time to make some real decisions. Success will follow.

Doug Hall is the author of the Jump Start Your Business Brain book series. He's also founder and CEO of the Eureka! Ranch.

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