Prioritize on the Most Important

In the last downturn in the early 2000’s, re-engineering was all the rage.  One of the books that defined re-engineering was Michael Hammer’s The Agenda: What Every Business Must Do to Dominate the Decade.   It is actually quite a good book (contact me if you would like a Cliff Notes version of the book).  Nevertheless, two years later in 2003 – 2004 as the economy began to pick up speed, the book and re-engineering in general came in for criticism as corporations were ill-prepared for growth and changing customer expectations.  Companies had focused too much on re-engineering in the previous few years.

As Mark Twain said: “History never repeats itself, it only rhymes.”

Today, there is a disturbing rhyme with companies focused on internal cost-cutting and efficiency initiatives.  A recent survey of businesses ranked business priorities in 2010 as follows:

Business Priorities 2010

1. Improving business processes

2. Cutting costs

3. Increasing the use of analytics

4. Improving enterprise effectiveness

5. Attracting new customers

6. Managing change initiatives

7. Innovation in products and services creation

8. More effective targeting

9. Consolidating business operations

10. Growing customer relationships

As you know, only the top few priorities will get the attention and energy that is needed to succeed.   Please note that I do not believe that improving business processes and cutting costs are unimportant; each and every initiative and/or program related to these priorities has merit.  However, the energy spent pursuing these programs crowds out and exhausts people and companies without solving the most important issue facing the company.

Focus and Prioritize on the Most Important

What is the most important issue facing most businesses today?  Please raise your hand if your business is on relatively stable footing and finding more customers and getting more customers is not the most important single issue that you are facing.  Hands?  Hands?  Anyone?  Bueller?

Yes, in today’s “New Normal”, for most financially stable companies, the single biggest issue they are facing is to increase sales, find new customers, and re-ignite growth. 

Why then, are companies focused internally?  I immediately can think of three reasons:

  1. The company just recovered from a near – death experience and is not going to let that happen again
  2. The leadership of the company comes from the operations and/or finance and that is what they know – cut costs and improve efficiency.  “To a hammer, everything looks like a …”
  3. The company has multiple initiatives (read: 10 – 20) and some include sales and they are sure that they can get them all done.


What To Do?

A recent contact of mine reminded me of a quote from Winston Churchill.  “It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what is required.”

Today, it is required to focus the time and effort of your company on the single most important issue – re-charging growth by servicing your current customers and developing new customers, products, and markets.  All other initiatives and priorities need to be subservient to that most important issue. 

“No!!! You cannot do it all!!!”  Doing it all means too many priorities which means no priorities which leads to initiative over-kill, bureaucracy, waste and slow corporate death.

So, kill kill kill all the useful, important and reasonable initiatives that have nothing to do with re-charging growth.  Instead, focus the company on the 1 – 3 initiatives that will help you win with current and new customers.

Next Week:  Things to Start Doing Today to Re-Charge Growth


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Perform / Execution. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Prioritize on the Most Important

  1. Doug Bruhnke says:

    Great post! One of the hardest things to do in business is to say “no”. An image that sticks with me from Stephen Covey is one where he tells us to imagine our precious time is a 55-gallon drum. Unchecked every day water and sand fill the drum until it is filled completely with sand. If we then try to put in stones – symbolizing the important things we should be doing – we can not. So get the stones in FIRST, ie first things first. Thanks David! Doug Bruhnke, Growth Nation

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