Strategic Focus

Strategic Focus by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

The Moroccan tiles outside Rabat were colorful. … When you looked at ‘em through the water, it was mesmerizing. Exactly WHY they caught my attention escapes me, but I took a picture and still admire their beauty.

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to really notice details while others focus on the big picture? Rare people can do both, but it’s the exception. I’m fascinated by the way people process information. Details. Big picture. Tactical. Strategic.

There’s a story about a study that was conducted as using coins. Coins from all over the world were laid out on a table. One by one people came in and were asked to describe what they saw. Most people said things like: some coins are big, some are small, some are silver, some are copper, some have images of flowers while others have images of animals, buildings, etc.. A smaller number of people said things like: they’re all made of metal, they could all fit in your pocket, they all have economic value somewhere in the world, etc..

Some people are more wired to notice differences while others are more wired to notice similarities. Neither perspective is more right than the other. Nor is one necessarily more valuable. That said, there may be times when you need someone with a given perspective. It’s situational. For example, looking for similarities might come in handy when negotiating a difficult contract or treaty. Looking for differences might be valuable when working on a space exploration program and you need every detail to be perfect (and you want some people on the team who can notice minute differences; things that are “out of place”).

The question is not so much about the data but what you DO with it. Do you notice all the minute things that are wrong? Do you get so focused on them that you lose sight of the big picture? On the flip side, do you keep so focused on the strategic issues that you never address key details?

World-class leadership requires us to process (filter) a lot of data, determine what is important, and focus on it while keeping an eye on the big picture, the strategic issues and game plan.

It’s a balancing act between tactical and strategic. It’s “both and” not “either or.” Organizations and leaders need to fix problems, close gaps, make steady improvement AND take performance to the next level. This is a tough challenge. If you get STUCK looking at, and trying to solve/improve, every little problem, you’ll never get anywhere. The ROI doesn’t always justify solving every issue. Deming said that all variation is a loss to society. Philosophically I agree, though when you do an ROI calculation, not all variation is worth fixing/reducing.

  1. Recognize people see the world (and data) differently.
  2. Take advantage of these unique perspectives (optimizing based on the situation)
  3. Keep an eye on the strategy (this helps establish the criteria for #4)
  4. Prioritize and focus on the critical few
  5. Solve the mission-critical issues (improving performance and going to the next level)

How do YOU balance the strategic and the tactical? How do YOU sort through enormous amounts of data to focus on the critical few that are truly mission-critical?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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