Shawn Parr: How To Use The F Word In Business To Deliver Better Results

Focus is a key word to keep in mind when determining the purpose of a new initiative, why it matters, and how it connects to the mission of a business.

I’ve seen the curse of the “whack-a-mole” raise its ugly head more frequently than normal in recent months. While it’s the perfect game for a little stress relief, it’s a distracting behavior that senior executives often adopt without realizing it—and more importantly—understanding the disruptive spin cycle it can create company-wide. The curse of one-off tactical initiatives and the search for the new sliver bullet can put an unnecessary drain on the performance of an entire organization. The challenge we often see is that there’s little thought put into how initiatives strategically ladder to the purpose of the business, how they build the brand over time or how they impact the operational teams and their ability to execute their current imperatives.

One of the biggest challenges we see working closely with senior teams on brand turnarounds, product innovation and the mobilization of people is how easily senior teams can be distracted by a competitor’s move, the latest business book espousing a newfound philosophy or a newly surfaced trend. While it’s critical to understand and respect the competition and to be agile to relevant emerging trends, it’s easy to overlook how these must-do-now initiatives disrupt the flow of strategic business.

That’s where the F word comes in. Focus for goodness sakes. The simple act of asking, “What is the focus of this new initiative? Why does it matter? And how does it connect to the mission of the business?” helps to eradicate the whack-a-mole syndrome and validate the time and resources invested in it. How does the initiative tie into the brand’s purpose and business strategy? Every executive and leader in the company should understand the focus and purpose of the initiatives they’re leading.

Sony is a beautiful brand with a history of being a category-creating innovator—The Walkman, the Trinitron and the PlayStation, to name a few. Their founders are famous for saying; “You never ask the consumer what they want because they don’t know until you show it to them.” Steve Jobs admired Sony greatly for their design and disruptive thinking–so much so that it was rumored he wanted to buy Sony at one point. Fast forward to today… Sony’s electronics business has been in steady decline over the past 10 years because leadership has had their focus on the wrong things. They’ve spent too much time worrying about the competition instead of focusing on what made them Sony. Bold innovation, beauty, function and form were all part of their magical formula, yet their culture got in their way and allowed upstarts like GoPro, Beats and Vizio and majors like Samsung and Apple to give them a painful run for their money. Not using the F word got Sony into trouble.

While I realize this is an oversimplification, the Sony culture has put their admired brand very close to the edge, and their leadership’s inability to focus on the right things could fuel the brand’s demise in the electronics business. If they are going to make a comeback, it’s time for them to focus on being Sony.

Here are a few Uncommon Sense suggestions for putting the F word to work in your everyday operations:

1. FANATICALLY FRAME THE PROBLEM OR THE OPPORTUNITY YOU’RE CHASING

How much time is wasted before the problem you’re trying to solve is clearly and succinctly stated? Ask yourself and your team to put this question front and center: What’s the problem we’re trying to solve or what’s the opportunity we’re trying to discover?

2. WHAT’S YOUR FOCUS? 

This may seem like an elementary question, but in the context of the problem or opportunity identified, it’s imperative to revisit and restate what business you’re in. It puts clarity and context around the initiative. Ask: What businesses are we in, and are we clear how this initiative supports our mission?

3. FIX YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE 

Defining the potential impact to the business at the start of the initiative is an important step that’s often overlooked. And, while it’s not always easy to quantify financial impact, understanding what success looks like and designing the path to deliver on that is a grounding step. Ask: What does success look like? What does the outcome look like?

4. FIRE UP THE RIGHT TEAM

People solve problems, and the right people find opportunity in any situation. Carefully selecting who’s on your project team and knowing why you have selected them is a key step. Ask: Have I picked the best team for the job? What’s the role of each person on the team? Does each person understand how this initiative ties to our business purpose?

5. FRAME THE PROJECT PATH

Spontaneity is the spice of life; however, mapping a deliberate project path is a basic step that must not be overlooked with must-do-now initiatives. Ask: What’s the project path the team is going to follow to the finish line? Does each person understand the path we’re going to follow?

Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Sony, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, Kashi, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.

[Image: Flickr user Mark Krajnak]

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