Planning Magic: The Hocus Pocus of Focus

As a CEO, you strive to stay focused on your core business—key to the solid execution of a business plan. But as a business matures, you discover that macro and micro forces are constantly at play. They distract your focus, presenting opportunities and challenges even as they more urgently prompt you to protect the core. This is the hocus pocus of focus.  

 

Straddling both—seeing what’s on the horizon while also keeping your eye on what’s in front of you—is a huge challenge for any leader. Here are some tips to help you lead and plan, as you look down the hood as well as down the road, and even across the street.

 

  • Before you start driving toward your objectives, create a near-term outlook, which guides what you do every week and month, as well as a longer-term outlook which never loses sight of ultimate goals. Together, they force you to pay attention to every milestone along the way, so that each move you make is in anticipation of the next. 
  • Beyond this dual depth of field, you need both narrow-angle and wide-angle vision. The narrow angle zooms in on your target, and the wide angle takes in the periphery. Draw a picture factoring in market, economic, competitive, and other drivers. A self-prescribed safety-net of sorts, this can help you detect elusive opportunities and threats. Regularly discuss what is on the periphery with your team; if nothing else to acknowledge that it’s still there and may or may not impact your business. 
  • Ask yourself what’s missing. Look beyond basic explanations and instead find what is not there. It might be that nugget that distinguishes what may be great from what is merely good. 
  • Encourage your leaders to play devil’s advocate with each other’s ideas. Collectively, you will make sure those ideas truly make sense and are in the best interest of the company. Practice asking open-ended questions, as opposed to yes or no types of questions. For example, asking “when does this product not work well” may give you more insight than “does this product work in all applications?” 
  • Run plans by those who aren’t involved in planning or strategy at all. Consult with employees and advisors, and study the research your people give you. 
  • Learn how to handle multiple issues unfolding simultaneously. What do they have in common? What is the sequence? Who can help and what can wait? Use systems to help you compartmentalize, sequence and process multiple issues in parallel.

 

Great leadership is making the right decisions, hopefully at the right time, based on reality. Every decision is therefore a function of numerous factors orbiting around, always changing in real time. Navigating, managing, and processing that reality is magic, both art and science, requiring different tools and techniques—all arrows in the leader’s quiver.

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