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Sunday, 12 November 2017

Can You Identify The Real Issue? Cut Through The Stuff And Focus!

One of the most important features of any meeting of a Vistage CEO peer group is the executive session where members’ issues are discussed, analysed and receive opinions as to a possible solution.

The real crux of the presentation of an issue to the group is that of focus; the ability to explain the significance of the issue in as few well chosen words as possible without resorting to an overabundance of evidence.

I recall that a very good friend of mine decamped from his accountancy career, pleading justifiable sanity, and set up a business offering advice and consultancy in the dark art of networking at which he was (and is) very proficient.

Nowadays if you haven’t been “Kintished” (www.kintish.co.uk) then you are missing a trick.

When he decided to break out on his own we discussed the matter and he made it clear that he would not be doing his own financial accounting, he would not be doing any administration, he would be hiring very competent people to do all that for him.

He referred to those tasks as “stuff”, all of which he recognised were essential but at which he was not proficient.  Better that he should exploit what he considered his expertise and that was training people to network effectively.

That was more than ten years ago and he has been very successful without having to resort to doing “stuff.”

I had a new member of my Key Executive group who called me a couple of days before the meeting to ask if he could bring up an issue.  I, of course, agreed and asked for a resume of his problem. However, rather than discuss it on the telephone he sent me an email.

It was pages long, full of explanations and evidence and it took real effort to decide on the precise issue.

At the meeting he continued in this vein until I stopped him in full flow and asked if the issue was that the attitude and behaviour of a good member of his staff had suddenly and seriously deteriorated.

He thought for a minute and then said:

“Well yes, but that is very simplistic.”

Too right it was simplistic but isn’t that what we need to achieve if we are to focus on what is the real issue?

So many decisions in business are made while being cluttered with vast amounts of evidence that may well be relevant but are not significant when making the decision.

We can know too much about everything in the business and often seem to need the reassurance of every bit of information before making a considered decision.  Indeed a past member of my Vistage CEO group told me that while his Operations Director was highly competent he was unable to make a decision because he could never have enough information.

Business these days is a mass of complexities and the great leaders have the, perhaps inborn, ability to cut through all the “stuff’ and get to the crux of the matter.  It is called focus and those who have mastered it are really ahead of the game.

My business hero, the late Jim Slater, who incidentally was an accountant, would never allow more than twenty minutes for discussion of the accounts at a board meeting.   What was likely to happen and affect the business going forward was more important.

The accounts were an expression of the past and the more important attention must be given to what objectives we intended to achieve.

That is a great example of focus and a great lesson that we can all learn.

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