Better Business on Purpose
Episode 3: How to Use Strategy – Focus & Prioritization
This podcast is presented by Mission & Fields, consulting and coaching to take your business to the next level. The “Better Business on Purpose” podcast exists to spur you on in pursuing the deeper questions related to leading a business, questions that require the interaction of strategy and identity.
Yates – Hello, this is Yates Jarvis. I’m here with co-host Butler Stoudenmire. Butler, how you smellin’ today?
Butler – Pretty fresh, Yates. I think I’m smellin’ pretty good.
Yates – T.M.I., but I brought that on myself. Okay, we are in a series for understanding how we can use strategy to grow our businesses. We’ve talked about planning versus reacting. Maybe that’s a false dichotomy in some senses. We’ve talked about targets. That one was a good one, less funny than the feral cats but still good, and today, you had some other agenda. What’d you want to dig into today?
Butler – Yeah, so we’re going to get pretty focused today and we’re going to talk about focus and prioritization. Oh yeah. So, talking about focus and prioritization, Yates, any instances recently that come to mind that might be a good anecdote to talk about?
Yates – Good question. So, you know, by the nature of what I do, I work with many different clients over many different verticals or different types of industry. Most of them are B2C. But yeah, I mean, I’m running into the issue of focus and prioritization as a key tool for guiding an organization to health, to accomplishing its strategy, and to being a better organization all the time. And this is really, you know, back to the planning versus reacting, when you have focus and you have a sense of prioritization, this is where the rubber meets the road on how it plays out. As I try to think of a good example to explain it a little bit more, I’m not thinking of anything good that I would be able to share with some of the clients right now. However, this is unfortunate for everyone listening and for you, Butler, but the best example I can think of, or at least a fun one, would be my most recent family trip to a indoor waterpark in North Carolina, nearby.
Butler – Tell us about that.
Yates – Well, I dreaded it. I didn’t, I love my kids, but you know, it was going to be a rigamarole, which means up and back fast. What were you saying?
Butler – I was going to say indoor waterpark, of course you were dreading it.
Yates – Right, right. I mean, first of all, all of America is going to be in there, in America, and I’m trying to imagine how that’s going to be clean. The bodies everywhere, you know? Lukewarm water, ’cause they don’t want ya chilly, so that’s festering something. And I don’t think I’m OCD about this. Maybe I’m proving myself wrong right now, but I’m just trying to imagine that soup of a situation and me swimming through it. I definitely wanted to keep my mouth shut the entire time. I dared my brother-in-law to just walk around for 10 minutes with his mouth wide open, but I think if he won or lost that challenge, he was going to get sick either way. But yeah, you know, looking at that, we had a day-ish to get up and back in there because we had booked a bunch of stuff in life around it. We were trying to be up there to visit my nephew, my two sons’ cousin, for his birthday, and so we did have to have a strategy of how to get in and out of there and have a good time within just a quick day. We were up there for a half day the first day and a half day the next, and then, boom, back to Charleston. We did, my wife and I talked about it. Oftentimes we do not form a strategy, and she would hate it if I used this type of language in our marriage and everyday life. Honey, let’s book a meeting to talk about the strategy for the waterpark. But unfortunately, I can’t say that I have not done that, like I definitely have done that before, and I apologize if she’s listening to this. I am so sorry. But you married me, and I’m sorry about that, too. I’m working on it. But yeah, we got together, we’re like, okay, we want to have a good time. We want this to be loose and fun. We want the kids to have memories from this, et cetera. This is their thing. Let’s try to maximize how much fun they had, so we basically had a strategy of going in there, getting the lay of the land, seeing what there was to do, and helping the boys have the best time that they could doing it.
Butler – Did you execute it well? Was it a good trip, or did you feel like the assumption going in proved true?
Yates – Well, see, that’s a good question. So, right off the bat, when we got there, everything started to change, so this is like actual strategy and focus and prioritization. So, you think you know all the factors involved, like you think you know what you are prioritizing, so when you set a strategy, like we’re going to do this, not that, and it seems very obvious and very simple. So, when we do this, good. When we do that, bad. When that occurs, avoid it. Do this instead. So, you kind of, you’ve isolated what the key questions are, and you know what direction you want to head in, and you know why. That’s when you’re doing it well. But then, when things start playing out, you start to realize, maybe we haven’t considered all of the factors that are going to be thrown at me to test my sense of focus and prioritization. You know, an example, right when we got there, I guess my mom and dad had decided to come on this trip, and so they drove from however many hours away, so clearly, this was going to be like an important moment for them to be with the grandkids, so now there’s this other factor, you know? There’s what we want to do and our goals, and now there’s what they want to do and their goals, and they’re family, so it’s important to us what those are. Now, we didn’t sync up on those beforehand, of course, so we’re running our train, and we get there and get the boys in and we’re ready to execute on the strategy and just take a look around and asses what there is to do and plan it out so we can just milk the time that we have well. And my mom runs up and grabs one of my kids and says, “Hey, his cousin is waiting for him “over on this other ride. “I’m going to take him over there. “I’ll see you in a little bit. “I’m going to be right back.” And then, we’re like sans kids. I’m looking at my wife, she and I are staring at each other, feeling a little overwhelmed. Like this place is big, what are we going to do? What do we do? Do we need clothes on? I mean, we did have clothes on, but it was like a bad dream, you’re naked. No, but we’re looking, you know, what do we do now? And we quickly realized this is going to be different than we thought it was, you know? I think that’s an emotion that leaders feel all the time. They go in, they’re going to run a meeting this way. They go, “This is different than what I thought it was.” You know? Sometimes for the good, sometimes it’s more difficult. But anyway, yeah, so what became very apparent was we needed to be able to pivot, and one of the things that’s so important about focus and prioritization, is that there’s purpose behind it. Just focusing or prioritizing without good whys expose you to the limitation of your purpose when a pivot potential comes up in front of you, a fork in the road, so if you have focus, I’m going to do this, or prioritization, I’m going to do this over this, and you’re committed to it but you don’t know why you’re committed to it, your ability to head in the same direction when things get mixed up is significantly limited. Have you experienced anything like that at your current gig?
Butler – Well, I was thinking, you know, it also enables you to pivot, because you know what you’re pivoting from and what you’re pivoting to, as opposed to if you haven’t focused and you’re not prioritized. You’re just swimming around in that wave pool soup, and you don’t know that you are pivoting.
Yates – Yeah, so wave pool soup, that’s a good jump-off point. So, basically, we started to realize that one of the things that changed, so we mentioned the mom factor, the parent factor, that happened. Beyond that, though, we started to realize this place has more to do, different things to do, than we thought it did, so we had assessed it. We had looked on the website, we had read brochures, your business is the same way. You do the best assessment you can, and oftentimes, one of the most painful things about strategy is that it requires your limited resources and your limited time to make an assessment that feels concrete. That’s why people, one of the reasons why people, do not like working with strategy or doing it, because it feels like you’re making these big statements and these big commitments when you don’t have enough time or information to make them, but that’s what everybody’s working with. Now, you can improve that by getting better information. I know that’s something that we’ve talked about with your business before, Butler, but in this case, we were experiencing new information being thrown at us as we tried to execute the strategy. So, an example of one is we found out that there is this big ride there and that the adults can go on it. I kind of didn’t imagine me going on any of these. I’m 6’5, trying to imagine me fitting in any of this or really enjoying it. Didn’t mind getting in the water. I quickly realized this stuff is coated with, life would never live in this water. You know, you could smell it in the air, so it didn’t smell gross. It just smelt scientific. But I wasn’t expecting to dive in and be a partaker in the fun. You know, maybe swim around, throw the kid up in the air, get him sprayed with water, that sort of thing, but he brought a huge inner tube up and say, “Hey, I just did this ride, “but when I was up there, “they have one that four people can get in. “Can you and Mom do it with me and my brother?” I was like, “Sure,” so we ran up in line and waited, and I started to get excited, and I really wasn’t expecting to feel that way. It’s kind of a trip I wanted to get through, maybe enjoy it by watching them have fun, but as I loaded my 6’5 frame into this inner tube and stared down this long, plastic tube in front of me, not knowing what it was going to be like, I thought, “Well, this is changing.” So, we went down it. It was insane. Of course, I didn’t want to go down backwards, but I’m the heaviest one, so that stinkin’ tube flipped around with my weight, so I was like the bullet at the end of the gun going down this thing. You know, all I’m thinking is, “I hope they’ve made this for someone like me “to be doing this to the tube, “because if we’re going to break the speed limits or something “I don’t want to like flip this thing.” Way too analytical. So, we’re going down. It was a huge blast. I was surprised at how fun it was. It wasn’t just a little kiddie ride thing. It was actually really fun. I probably did it another time or four after that, but quickly, as you start to implement strategy, you realize not only could things be worse than you thought, but they could be better than you thought. And an important part is with your executive team, in this case, my wife, being able to have communication in place and relationship in place to discuss what changes, when it changes, and what we’re going to do about it, and that is a key capability missing from so many businesses. They put their neck out with the targets. They try to do strategy in a full and meaningful way, but then the conversation for when things change gets muddied. One of the reasons that happens is because it’s hard to differentiate between a whistle for change from somebody within the organization, and a whistleblower, someone that’s just just blowing that whistle. You learn, like maybe I need to ignore that. We can’t react to that every time. Maybe this isn’t a pivot. Maybe this is just a little thing, and we don’t know. That’s the hard thing about strategy and pivots and having these conversations. When do you have them? When don’t you have them? When is it really important? When’s it not? It’s like trying to watch the stock market, be a day trader, you know? Has this threshold been broken? Is it going to keep plummeting? It is going to go back up? We don’t really know. We’ve got financial models and different models to try to show, okay, here’s what could play out. Here’s what’s played out over the past, but none of that is a complete predictor of what is about to happen.
Butler – Yep, and it highlights a point with strategic planning and focus and prioritization, which is you do the work to figure out what it is that you need to do, but you need to know why you’re wanting to do it, because we can say this is what we need to do today, but who knows, six months from now, if that what is still the same thing? You make the best judgment that you can and barring other changes, sure, what you’ve decided will help you to get to your why, but circumstances change, and sometimes you do have to pivot. Sometimes you have to say yes to other things, as opposed to just saying, “Nope, “this is what we decided to do six months ago. “This is what we decided to do three years ago. “We have to stick to it.”
Yates – Yeah, and a great example of that is saying yes to my folks and saying yes to having fun myself. At the end of the day, the mission was the same. Have a blast with the kids and help maximize how much fun they had in a day. It felt a little bit more out of control going with the flow of that, but because our mission was the same and we knew what we were trying to accomplish, that why you’re talking about, we were able to look at each other and know, hey, this is in line with what we’re trying to do. Us jumping in is in line, and ultimately, we added my parents and their experience into our why. You know, for better or for worse, maybe we weren’t thoughtful enough to have kind of pre-thought that out. We hadn’t really even envisioned them being there, but very quickly, you realize you have to reassess that why and sometimes add to it, sometimes tweak it, and being able to do that in line with your identity of who you are as a business is really important to enjoying the path along the way. Thank you again for listening to the “Better Business on Purpose” podcast. We hope that this content is going to help you take a better look at your business, and to answer some questions for your business that could help it improve. In the next episode, we’ll be discussing shared vision and how shared vision is a key part of executing on your strategy. If you have any questions, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to talking again soon. Goodbye now.