Focus has two sides -- what you're going to focus on and what you are not going to focus on. People generally do a better job of picking what to do than they do in picking what not to do.
The trouble is that resources are limited and you need to put less time, effort or money into something to free up the resources required to invest in your most important priorities. The key is understanding that some things are not going to be done as well as others and accepting that as the right overall choice.
Be Better At Something
As my old boss, Sergio Zyman, used to drum into our heads, "There is no value in sameness." You must be different before you can be better. And you must be better to stay out of the death-spiral of commodity price competition. Figure out the few things that you're going to do that are going to give you a sustainable competitive advantage and invest in them.
- Apple invests in innovation.
- Coca-Cola invests in manufacturing and delivery.
- The Ritz-Carlton invests in superior service.
Be Good Enough At Everything Else
Once you've figured out what you're going to be better at, downplay everything else. Not to the point of its getting in the way. But everything else is a distraction and a drain. Any moment you spend on the less important things is a moment you're not spending on what really matters.
By de-emphasizing, delegating or outsourcing.
De-emphasize the things that you must do yourself, but don't have to do well.
Expense reports are often a good example of these. If you do your own expense reports, you have to do them well enough. If you leave out things, you lose money. If you put in things that don't belong, you get fired. So failing to do expense reports right is costly.
But there's no upside to investing all sorts of extra time to make them great. No one ever got a raise or a promotion because their expense reports were more aesthetically pleasing or entertaining than anyone else's. So, create the minimally viable product - a piece of work that satisfies everyone's needs with the least amount of effort.
In the Art of Delegating I suggest six levels of delegation:
- Do well yourself
- Do yourself, but just well enough
- Delegate and supervise
- Delegate and ignore
- Do later
- Do never
Let's focus on levels 3 and 4. The difference is that you care more about the outcomes of level 3 issues. So, you'll give a shorter leash to those responsible for these, checking in with them periodically and providing counsel to them. For level 4 items you care less. Give them to someone and stay away so you can spend all that time on something else.
Outsourcing is delegating to someone outside your organization. Could be an agency. Could be a consultant. Could be another firm that has an expertise you neither have nor choose to build. The argument is simple. Don't do yourself what others can do better than you. Any moment you spend trying to build a new capability that will not be best in the world is a moment you're not spending strengthening your core competitive advantages.
Procter & Gamble is the best in class developer and marketer of consumer products. Its human resource functions were also world class. Reread those two sentences to make sure you understand the difference. "Best in class" means superiority - better than anyone else. "World class" means parity - as good as others.
There's no value in parity. So Procter & Gamble choose to outsource its entire human resource function. It hired another firm on a contract basis to run its human resources so it could focus on improving its superiority in product development and marketing.
If all your initiatives are "A" priorities, "A" means average. The only place where all the children are above average is Lake Wobegon.