We show up every day, anticipating what the day will bring. Our entire team has their calendars, complete with scheduled meetings and deadlines, syncing directly to their phones. But, even with all these measures, how do we know that our focus is on what’s important?
Some days, no matter how spelled-out the calendar is, the workday feels more like firefighting. When we don’t take time to determine our priorities for the day, other people decide for us. And we quickly find that where we redirect our time and energy is not what’s most important at that moment. These tasks tend to be whatever is most urgent to whoever’s asking, their priorities or makes them feel overwhelmed. And yet, often, these tasks can and should wait. Yes, they keep us busy and eventually need to be done. But, they interrupt what is priority and decrease our productivity.
Our agenda, when set by others, leads us to fall victim to Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands to occupy the time available to finish it.” For example, if you plan five days to complete a report that should take two hours, you will complete it in five days. This is because when we think we have more time, we fall into procrastination habits, including spending too much time answering emails or following online feeds. We also are more likely to say yes to things we should be saying no.
Your Business Needs Attention, Too!
“Simply put, focus involves the ability to pay attention to things that will help and avoid distractions that will hurt your work efforts.” -Dr. Jim Taylor in his article Focus Is the Gateway to Business Success.
Today, success in business demands that you focus on your business. Every day, you need to set aside uninterrupted time to work on your business, not for your business. This means working to improve and grow your business. And if what you’re working on doesn’t attend to one of Dr. Jim Taylor’s four P’s (Performance, Progress, Present, or Productivity), it can wait.
Consider: if everything is important, then nothing is. Jeffrey Hayzlett, VIP Contributor to Entrepreneur, asserts that business leaders who neglect their own business are more likely to fall short of their intended impact. By focusing on actionable steps to pursue operational excellence, innovate your products, and foster customer intimacy, you set yourself up for success.
Pursue Operational Excellence
Based on performance and process, operational excellence is “a philosophy that embraces problem solving and leadership as the key to continuous improvement.” In other words, organizations that pursue operational excellence refine their internal processes, resulting in sustainable solutions and organizational growth. Organizations achieve operational excellence when it sees and delivers consistent value to their customers. Operational excellence needs to be a central concern for your business because as difficult as it is to achieve, it is easy to lose.
Innovate Your Products
At its best, product innovation is a symptom of being present. You can innovate at the product, process, or business model level. But product innovation is arguably the most important for attracting and engaging your customers. This does not necessarily mean that you invent something new every time, but that you develop new features and benefits that further engage your customers.
Alternatively, you can innovate your processes by updating your equipment, software, or quality control systems. These innovations are often invisible to your customers, even though they should still improve their experience or decrease their expenses. Or, you can innovate your business model, devising new ways to conduct business in your industry. For example, how Airbnb rethought how we book a place to stay. Regardless of what you innovate, it must provide measurable value to your customers.
Foster Customer Intimacy
How much value do you bring to your customers? According to the Harvard Business Review, you need to develop a redefined value for your customers, building a cohesive business model that exceeds customer expectations and outreach to the competition. This starts by encouraging everyone (from the founder to the janitor) to look at every business aspect through your customer’s lens.
Yes, profits are necessary, and often, what determines success. But if customers don’t find that your product offers more value than what it costs, they will go elsewhere, costing you profit. To avoid this, focus on nurturing customer intimacy, investing the necessary resources to help every customer solve their problem. This starts with speaking directly to your customers to empathize with their pain points and establish brand loyalty.
Checkpoint: Are you focusing on the right things?
- What is one thing you can do to improve your business?
- What is the behavior (both internally and externally) that you want to drive?
- Why are you doing what you’re doing?
- If the answer to every one of these questions is anything other than creating and delivering outstanding customer value, should it be a focus?
So, What Is Priority?
When addressing this question, I found that Entrepreneur and Angel Investor Alan Hall nails down what aspects of your business translate to operational excellence, product innovation, and customer intimacy. From his list, here are Raine’s top five, no exception priorities that should never leave your team’s focus:
- Your Customers. Customers are essential to the success of any business. They provide the cash flow that keeps your team working. Their feedback, concerns, and pain points concerning your product and the ones they want you to provide are essential. And when you take the time to listen to your customers, you show your customers that you care. If you don’t, they’ll find another business that will.
- Your Solution. Solutions, also known as your product innovations, demonstrate that you listened to and considered your customers’ wants, desires, and concerns. They are how you create and deliver value to your customers. Regardless of what you sell, anything you have to offer that changes their life for the better will bring value to them, and keep them coming back.
- Your People. Your team, if aligned with your priorities, should be experts that you trust will do what is right for your customers and your brand. As a test for whether you have achieved organizational excellence yet, ask if hiring motivated and capable people who fit with your culture is automatic and not a source of stress. If no, take a thorough look at your business’s culture and processes to pinpoint why that is.
- Your Processes. Specifically, how you improve them is vital. Having the leadership team that can navigate the complexities of running your business while innovating your product and fostering customer intimacy will help ensure that your processes reflect best practices to create and deliver value to the customers.
- Money. This focus comes with caution, however. Yes, money is essential. It’s how you pay your operating expenses, payroll, and taxes, and as a business leader, you should always be aware of your revenue and cash flow. But obsessing over it or making it your primary focus can be detrimental to your success. To continue to improve your organization means upgrading your marketing and accounting practices whenever possible, but only if it allows you to provide your customers with more value. In turn, this will keep your business profitable and running.
Focusing on operational excellence, product innovation, and customer intimacy will propel your organization forward. Your customers will know that everything you do is to provide value to them. And this should always be your top priority.