I love spending time with young entrepreneurs. I enjoy hearing their stories and seeing first hand the passion and enthusiasm they have for growing their businesses.
When I have the opportunity to meet with these young men and women, the conversations are typically similar. We discuss their business models, and the products and services they offer. We talk about the challenges they are facing – whether it’s funding and cash flow, hiring qualified staff, the need to gain new customers, or the difficulty meeting customer expectations and requirements. They usually mention long hours, high levels of stress, and how they spend lots of time worrying about both the present and the future.
Unfortunately, no entrepreneur will ever escape these challenges and difficulties. It’s all part of the process. But the area that young entrepreneurs in particular seem to struggle with, often without realizing it, is the ability to maintain strategic focus on the overall goals and direction of their business.
Lack of strategic focus is one of the most common concerns I find when talking with both young entrepreneurs and young professionals. Their passion is strong. They see boundless opportunity and yearn for success. They have countless ideas for new markets, improved services and increased business. However, when passion, opportunity and ideas constantly collide, it becomes difficult to stay on a steady course.
But strategic focus is a necessary ingredient for success. Every great company and business leader understands this concept. They don’t allow markets, competitors or trendy ideas to determine how they will spend their time or resources. Instead, they remain steadfast in achieving the goals outlined in their developed strategy, regardless of internal and external influences.
The ability to maintain a strategic focus is a learned skill. It is also a skill that must be constantly monitored, developed and nurtured. In order to develop and maintain a strong sense of focus on your career or your business, I suggest the following.
Develop an overall strategy or specific goals based on what is ultimately desired.
Whether it’s a five-year plan, a career milestone or a defined business plan, there needs to be a marker upon which to focus. For an entrepreneurial business, it could the development of a specific service or product and getting it to market. For an established business, it could be accomplishing sales or profit goals. For a young manager, it may be achieving a specific position or pay scale. Regardless of the goal or strategy, it should be defined, specific, and achievable within a stated time period. For example, a new marketing business should understand exactly what marketing services it will provide for its targeted customer base. A retail clothing establishment must know who will encompass its customer base before it orders the new season of fashions. A young professional must be aware of where they want to go within their company as they embark on their career goals. Once a specific strategy or goal is defined and developed, then your efforts can be channeled and focused on its accomplishment.
Understand the necessary steps and actions to accomplish goals and strategies.
A goal or strategy is nothing but a wish without knowing the required actions to make it a reality. Strategic focus is not possible when there is no path or roadmap to accomplishment. When an entrepreneur says they want to start a business manufacturing a product, I ask them a host of questions: how will you access manufacturers, monitor quality, market your business, distribute your product or maintain a supply chain? When a young person says they want to manage a team, I ask what management training they have received, how they motivate others, and what tools they will use to train and develop their staff. Worthwhile goals and strategies require a number of difficult, time-consuming and resource-demanding steps and actions to make them into a reality. Further, each of these also requires constant focus to accomplish. In order to maintain a strategic focus on the overall goal or strategy, it is necessary to have a solid understanding of each action necessary for success.
Resist efforts or temptations to constantly evaluate and modify your strategy and goals.
In the classic business book, “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins talks constantly about the importance of discipline, and how great companies maintain a culture of discipline in who they hire, what they do, and how they operate. Discipline is the necessary ingredient, and also the most difficult aspect, to maintaining a strategic focus. It is a sign that disciplined focus is lacking when a new entrepreneur starts discussing significant growth, new product lines or additional services when they are just starting to see their business take off. Similarly, a young professional should not be making it a short-term goal to become part of the C-suite for a corporation when they have yet to achieve the level of middle-management. Certainly, circumstances will require adjustments and modifications to goals and strategies. But these changes should come after thoughtful consideration, not as a result of bold new ideas or whims.
Focus is a universal challenge for young business professionals, whether they are an entrepreneur or a rising employee. Faced with ever-changing situations, multiple challenges on a daily basis, and ever-increasing opportunities, it is easy to lose focus on what is important and necessary at that moment.
If the strategy and goals are properly developed at the onset of a new business or new career challenge, and the necessary steps and actions to achieve those are identified and understood, then it becomes possible to maintain a disciplined focus on accomplishment. If the focus can then be maintained, and you are not distracted by all the other internal and external forces competing against it, the opportunity for success will increase dramatically.
Brian T. King is the founder of multiple businesses encompassing design, construction, real estate and manufacturing. A well-respected construction industry CEO, Brian enjoys offering guidance to young professionals, rising managers and entrepreneurs on a variety of topics – from personal and professional growth, to work/life balance – through his blog, CEO Perspectives series, national podcasts, and speaking engagements around the country.