leaders must learn : strategy about saying “NO”
August 22, 2012
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Strategy sounds like a complex subject.  It isn’t.  It boils down to one word – no.

Strategy is about saying “no” to things that will distract you from reaching your destination.  Too often we become enamored with the latest cool new idea when it would actually be best to say no to pursuing it.  Why?  Resources (including focus and energy) are limited.  If you go chasing every new initiative you can think of, the core of your work is likely to suffer unless you’re adding resources to continue running that piece of your business well.

You can avoid the distraction trap though.  It’s merely a question of focus and will power.  Allow me to illustrate.

I have a lot of wonderful contacts in my contact list.  I try to be pretty rigorous about staying in touch with them on a regular basis.  Sometimes I’m not always successful and the interval between conversations is longer than I would like it to be.

Recently I arranged a bunch of calls with people I hadn’t spoken with in a while (many of them clients or prospects).  During the opening introductions on every call, there are the compulsories: “How are you?  What’s new?  What have you been working on?”  After I listened to all the new events in their lives since we last spoke, I found myself saying something oddly similar to everyone:


“I’m just working on the same things as I was when we last spoke.”

After about the fifth call where I said this, I noticed the pattern and questioned it.  Was I not cool?  Was my strategy stale?  Was I not innovating?  Why was I still doing the same things (teaching classes, promoting my book, growing the blog) as I was when I spoke to someone a year earlier?  I pondered this question for a while and could only come up with one good answer: strategy.  We’re simply very focused on the core right now.

Given the state my business is at, focus and consistency is the right answer for us right now.  We have a core set of course offerings that are well proven.  We have a solid client base (but that’s where all the growth potential for us resides).  We have a deep instructor pool.  We have some successful books.  Given the focus for us is growing the business (as it is for everyone), I’ve been making a deliberate choice to focus on one aspect of our business (adding new clients/expanding relationships with existing ones).  That’s where the most consistent, predictable growth comes from.

To do so, it’s not about launching cool new courses, translating our courses into wickedawesome new online tools and formats, digitizing and productizing our stuff, or offering new services like consulting services.  No.  We have a proven formula – outstanding training courses delivered onsite by experienced instructors.  It works.  We nail it.  Every time.  If I begin investing effort and money into all these newfangled ideas or services, invariably those efforts will detract from the successful core business.  Those distractions could lead to weaker performance, loss of clients, or simply missed opportunities.

This is a case where saying “no” makes absolute sense.  Our strategy for growing our business is working.  The best decision I can make at present is to not change anything.  Anyone remember what happened when Coke launched New Coke?  Um, yeah.  That.

There’s nothing at all wrong with focus.  Sometimes there’s everything right with it.  What you have to ensure is you’re making a deliberate decision to focus on your core business versus succumbing to organizational inertia, the fear of change, a lack of innovation capabilities, or flat out fear of doing something new.  If you are comfortable with your choice to stay the course on your current strategy and you’re positive it’s not an excuse to get away with some of those aforementioned dysfunctional behaviors, then stay the course and execute like mad.

Too often we become seduced by the notion that the new product or innovative idea is the one that will transform our business to an overnight success.  Yes, sometimes that does happen.  And sometimes people win the progressive jackpot in Vegas…

More often than not, the successful organizations are the ones who clearly define their strategy (vision, mission, goals, guiding principles, and strategic filters for evaluating new opportunities) then execute near-flawlessly against that chosen path.  Organizations that pursue a flavor of the week strategy tend to make little progress on many fronts.  Strategically successful organizations, on the other hand, make a great deal of progress on a very small number of fronts.  That’s why they win – because they’re better than everyone else in their chosen field of endeavor.

How focused is your strategy?  Are you proud of telling someone you’re doing the same old thing and it’s working out smashingly or do you instead find yourself talking about a ton of cool new innovations that all lack substantive progress?

Don’t write off the strategy of “doing more of the same” if “the same” happens to be something that’s highly successful…

About author

Dr Shailesh Thaker

Dr. Shailesh Thaker is a world-renowned management thinker and trainer on organizational behavior and development. He is the CLO of Knowledge Plus Inc., a highly reputed training firm based in Ahmedabad, India, helping organizations to achieve international benchmarks in management practices.

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