Focus on What Works

Concentrate on the things you do best.

What you need to do in times of economic crisis is concentrate on your “core competencies,” these things you do best. That means you have to change your mindset from thinking of “what could work” or “what I would like to work” to thinking about what actually does work. It may not be sexy, it may not be the stuff that dreams are made of, but it is real and it can keep you afloat during the tough times.

When you focus on what works, you are making a decision to be guided by experience rather than opinion, belief or ideology. This is important, since it demands a great deal in terms of discipline. There will be times when what you want will not coincide with what works. Perhaps you need to cut staff, but the job you know needs to be cut is held by someone you are close to. The last thing you want to do is fire that person, but from the point of view of your business, would keeping them work? If the answer is “no” then your options are limited. On the other hand, you could find a position for them within your organization that does work with the strategy you have in place.

Just as focusing on what works applies to employment decisions, it applies to all business decisions. What parts of your marketing and advertising efforts are working and what parts are not. How about your product mix? Get rid of the dead wood. Just look at the automakers. Part of their reorganization includes selling off subsidiaries like Saturn and Saab. Daimler made the same decision when it broke with Chrysler. If it isn’t performing to expectations, it has to go for the good of the company. Find what is not working and fix it, the same goes for any other part of your business. Strengthen what does work, fix or eliminate what does not.

To focus on what works ultimately means to focus on your core business, to get back to fundamentals like a martial artist who drills the basics knowing that they are the basis for everything else he knows. From that point of view, simplicity takes on added importance. If you have a process that takes too long to explain, or needs a whole meeting for people to understand, then it is too complex and distracts from the ideal of concentrating on what really works.

You can also work from the experiences of others. We know from that experience that simplicity is better than complexity, that solid customer service is a winner that sets a business apart, that a good business plan is a necessity, that being open and honest with your employees is better than being closed and unapproachable, that you have to work to retain good people just like you have to work to retain good customers; all the little cliches that have come down through the years. The funny thing is that cliches last as long as they do because, in general, they are true. We are tired of listening to them—that is why they are cliches—but that does not lessen their value.

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