Let’s Get Focused

Could you strip down to just the essentials?

Back Commentary Aug 3, 2015 By Christine Calvin

What would it take for you to live in a tiny house? In this month’s cover story (“The Incredible Lightness of Shrinking,” page 54), writer Steven Yoder explores America’s growing fascination with micro-homes. Advocates say living in 200 square feet offers freedom to move around, the ability to own real estate outright without breaking the bank, and financial savings that go far beyond the price of the property.

According to the people who espouse the tiny-house lifestyle, shirking all that clutter can lead to quite a bit of clarity. But could you do it? Forget the question of whether you would want to do it. Could you strip down to just the essentials? Given the task, how easy would it be for you to identify the most necessary and vital items in your home? What about those in your business?

Over time, companies add weight — new projects, new markets, new features, new technologies — and all of that bulk can make it difficult to identify problems at the heart of the business. Stripping away the clutter and identifying the most crucial elements of your organization is vital for your long-term success. I meet dozens of business owners and nonprofit directors every month who are excited to talk about their next big idea, their branding efforts and their epic plan for market domination. But pressed to articulate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing their core competencies and staff, many balk.

Do you know how well your company is faring at its core? Do you know who your most valuable team members are? Your most critical vendors? If your first instinct is to point to the C-suite, you could be way off base. Quiet little Marcy in shipping might be far more valuable than you know.

Take this 30-second quiz: If the business apocalypse came and you could only save 25 percent of your team, who would you select to repopulate your company? Now, of the people you just named, how many of them are lacking support from you or the organization? How many of them have you personally engaged with in the past month, and what was the quality of that engagement?

If you are a small-business owner or organization leader who cannot clearly articulate the most critical steps your team takes each day to reach its goals, or if you are uncertain of who your key players are at every level of the organization, you are putting yourself at risk of losing valuable team members and sight of your mission.

This month, take some extra time to check in with these employees, and ask them to tell you more about any weaknesses or threats your core business might be facing. It’s typically the laborers — not the executives — who are most attuned to changes and trends at the ground level. Armed with that information, you can spend the autumn months reinforcing your most essential assets.