Moving from Chaos to Focus Without Starting from Scratch

160719-Georgex2In some of his wildest moments, my Labradoodle, George, will remove each of his toys from his toy bin, gallop around the house with them, leap from couch to couch and then scatter them all over the rug. He then pounces from one to the next, flipping them in the air and rolling around with them in his mouth. It is both endearing and quite chaotic. In contrast, some of George’s calmest moments occur when he’s lying on the rug, chewing contentedly on a single carefully-selected and curated bone. He’s focused and at ease – and so are we, free to watch TV or eat dinner without the distraction of a chaotic dog-play session.

It struck me while observing one of George’s sessions that sometimes our teams and organizations can operate like the chaotic George – adopting the “more is better” approach, pulling every single strategy and idea out of the bin and scattering them all over the floor. There are many reasons why our teams can move towards strategic chaos – a need for more organizational focus, a tendency to be activity-driven vs. outcomes-driven, or even difficulty synthesizing a plethora of great ideas and strategic options. The reality, however, is that the more is better approach can lead a team to confusion and exhaustion. In this environment, everyone stays extremely busy with activity, but it’s oftentimes unclear whether or not all of the strategies are adding up to what is truly desired – meaningful outcomes and real impact.

How can a leader move a team from a place of chaotic activity to focused impact? While a dedicated strategic planning process can be an ideal time to tackle this, you don’t have to start over to strengthen your organization’s focus. All it requires is slowing down, being intentional and focusing on outcomes instead of activities. Here are a few things to consider when moving your team towards focus:

Start with what matters most

What is it that your team is ultimately working to achieve? What is the impact you are striving to make? Who are your customers and/or clients and how do you seek to serve them? Ensuring alignment around these vision-oriented questions provides a critical foundation and a source of clarity for you and your team.

Define how you’ll know if you’re successful

An inspiring vision is great, but it doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t know whether you’re achieving it. How will you know, concretely, whether you are making progress toward the impact you want to have? How will you know if you are serving your customers effectively? What will you measure and how will you measure it? Can you use existing metrics or will you need to build new ones? Don’t choose every possible metric – commit to the ones that matter the most. (You can and should track other metrics, but these top-level ones should be your true indicators of success and progress).

Identify the key priorities & actions you’ll take to get there

Now that you’re aligned around a vision and how you’re measuring impact, you can start to align your strategies and priorities. The strategies you select should have a direct impact on one or more of the metrics you selected. Use that as a filter for whether or not to adopt a new strategy, keep an existing one around, or stop pursuing one altogether.

Evaluate and adjust along the way

Once you’ve achieved alignment with vision, metrics and strategies you can truly assess whether your strategies are getting you where you need to go. Build in time quarterly and annually to step back and assess progress and adjust along the way. This will provide opportunities for cross-functional dialogue and help keep your team focused on the ultimate objective.

While all of the above can seem straightforward, it is not an exact science. It requires stepping back, taking an honest assessment of your team and then maintaining your renewed focus with persistence and consistency. The benefits are immense because a calm and focused team will get results.