Always stay focused on what you do well
June 1, 2012
Sometimes the world gives you little reminders about one of the most important things in business – focus. These little reminders are in front of us but we may not be interpreting them in that way if we aren’t looking for those commonalities.
The first example is the recent decision by Postmedia News to eliminate the Sunday editions of its newspapers, including the Calgary Herald. It was finding that advertising support was weaker on that day, and that the Sunday paper, very likely, had become a distraction from its core business, which is the prime reading days, Monday to Saturday. I can tell you that, knowing the leadership at the Calgary Herald the way I do, this decision did not come lightly and that they took tremendous analysis and care to make it. But in the end it boiled down to focus. A focus that would make the entire paper and chain stronger.
The second example is Research in Motion. Canada, sadly, seems quite adept at taking tech successes and making them vanish. Nortel did. Now RIM seems on the cusp of a similar fate. Why? They lost focus. They figured they had a product that was unbeatable and had the smart phone market locked down. They didn’t focus on the competitive landscape to see the prevalence of more simple systems and apps that were being created by Apple and Google.
The final example is another book I finished reading – Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (a great read if you haven’t already). He tells the story of how Jobs would have his leadership go on annual retreats where they would come up with a long list of things that Apple could do. Jobs would draw a line after number three and say that is all they could do. You can’t do it all. You have to focus on doing a few things really well.
Doing a few things really well is perhaps one of the best business mantras to follow. Sure some global conglomerates can be successful across a wide variety of businesses but that is their strategy. Most companies have to be successful by doing one or a few things really well. By focusing.
The story of Southwest Airlines from Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers recounts how their focus – to be THE low cost airline – served as that screen, that filter for evaluating decisions in the company. The book spoke of an employee who took customer suggestions about adding food to the flights and charging more. The CEO simply asked “will this help make us THE low cost airline?” When you have a focus, it is easy to see whether you should or shouldn’t do something.
But having a focus and decision filter doesn’t make the decisions any easier. One of the most difficult aspects of business and leadership is to stay on focus, and to say “no.” Not everyone likes the focus. They want something more, newer, how it was before. Leaders will hear from the unhappy. But to stay successful, to ensure sustainability of the organization into the future and to preserve its brand, you have to say “no” sometimes. For you can jeopardize your focus and success by getting good at making unhappy customers a little less unhappy, or you can stay true to your focus, create opportunity and customer loyalty by being excellent at your focus.
These reminders strike a chord with me because at the Calgary Chamber we have recently undergone a transformation that is very much about focus. We have made a decision that our focus is the success of our members. That is it. We are there to help them solve their business challenges. As a result we have made some difficult decisions including closing our food and beverage operation, no longer renting rooms, and selling our building. When we looked at the business it became clear that over the years, slowly, we had lost focus on what we should be doing – making our members successful. Owning a building and running a restaurant wasn’t helping to make our members more successful. So now we are refocusing, on creating programs, network opportunities and influencing government decisions that are all about the success of our members and the major business challenges they face every day.
In business today, there are a lot of shiny pennies out there and lots of people coming and saying “hey, you should do this.” Even more so with social media. But looking to examples of successful companies that have built their brands and balance sheets shows that a path to success is a sharp focus on focus.
President and CEO
This blog is part of a monthly op-ed column Adam writes for the Calgary Herald.