I have been around business for a long time, between my corporate life and as an entrepreneur, and have made loads of mistakes and learned a lot on the way. I have invested in businesses that I shouldn’t have, I have hired people I should not have and have fired others I shouldn’t! But, none of mistakes have been fatal to the business – more out of luck, if I am to be perfectly honest.

As I said, along that road I have learned so many lessons, but if I had to pick out one right now that, I believe, is absolutely fatal in any business and for leaders in particular, what do you think it would be?

The biggest mistake for leaders, and their people, is: focusing on the wrong things!

This may seem so obvious but, I guarantee you, it is a huge issue and the consequences are enormous. It is a flaw that I have seen in businesses of all sizes – major corporations to one person enterprises. I have witnessed many great planning processes put in place, with the outcome magnificently detailed with action plans, projects, deliverables etc. – all what one would expect from any professional business.

Then the business gets into reaction mode – reacting to what is in front of them, and the strategies and plans become sidelined.

The other thing that happens is that everyone dives back into their silo and starts focusing on things that are important to their department! We get back in the bunker and neither love nor money will attract us out! We are focused uniquely and totally on our little bit of the world.

Take a litmus test in your business today! I challenge you to do this – and then do something about what you discover! Go around and check with a random selection of your people and ask them this question:

What are the key goals this company must deliver in the next 12 months?

Go on, be brave! Many times I face reluctance when I suggest this – and do you know why? They know what the answer will be and it is not palatable!

It is critical – whether you are a large corporation or a small start-up – that there is great clarity on what is important, but I would argue that it can be more fatal, and quicker to become so, if it is a small and evolving business. Large corporations tend to have the resources to carry them through – smaller businesses do not!

So, the exercise is clear. Ask your people the following question:

What are the top 3 things we must deliver in next 12 months that will ensure we have a viable business? And what are they in order of priority?

This seems like a very simple question, but my experience is that it is hard to get it answered in a clear and concise way. At the end of this conversation I will confirm the top 3 priorities.

I will then ask if they know why they are the top 3. This kicks off a great discussion and really helps to cement the rationale behind the selection of these 3 key goals. Having identified what they are, then it is to agree the priority they are in. Again, this gives a fantastic opportunity to discuss the goals and restate their importance to the business. One attribute that all successful companies and entrepreneurs have in common is that they are absolutely crystal clear about their priorities.

The next stage is to have the same discussion with your leadership team. If you don’t then everyone works in their own silos, focused on their own agendas and are then surprised when the total output of all their efforts has not delivered what the business needs.

Once the leadership team is clear, the next stage is to ensure that these priorities are now cascaded throughout the business – and it matters not whether you have 5000 employees or 5! It is exactly the same. Alignment to these goals is fundamental to success. This is not a quick email or town hall speech. It takes continuous effort all along the journey!

Once that alignment has been achieved the next challenge is to ask everyone:

How much of your time is being spent on the delivery of these key goals?

If the time that is actually being spent is not consistent with the 3 key goals, then you need to really look at what you, and your people, are spending their time doing.

So, right here and right now – what are your top 3 and what is their order of priority? Is today’s diary reflective of those 3? If not, what are you going to do? Are your top 3 the same as your teams? If not, what are you going to do?

The really successful companies get this right!

READ MORE: What Makes Up a Successful Manager?

About John Murphy

John Murphy is founder of JohnMurphyInternational, a specialist online coaching business. John specializes in advising and mentoring entrepreneurs and senior executives on how to build their business and be effective as a leader and manager. Get helpful information and tips from John by clicking HERE.

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