Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – If you want to grow fast, you have to focus. Decide where you are going, cut out the noise, and concentrate on the goal. Every day, there will be a dozen new things distracting you from the path you have chosen. You have to reject them and ignore them. Do not let them steal your focus.
I believe wholeheartedly in fast growth. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the most important principles that has driven my success. Understanding how to guide fast growth and create a fast-growth environment has enabled me to scale and evolve my organizations through every major economic recession over the past two decades as an executive. But, fast growth is not simple or ordinary. It requires committed attention and intention.
Now, I’m chasing fast growth again with my two-year-old firm, The Diversity Movement, which has already expanded from one simple idea for an online course about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to a multi million dollar organization that is helping hundreds of companies to integrate sustainable, transformative DEI strategies. In the midst of that rapid growth, I am repeatedly reminded why so many organizations fail to scale and what is really necessary for success. In one word, FOCUS.
On my office wall, I keep a short article from growth management expert Price Pritchett. It is one of the most foundational documents in my life and one that I return to over and over for inspiration. I’ve linked to it above so you can print it for your own office, but here are my three favorite parts:
- “Decide where your growth can make the biggest difference, then drive hard in that direction.”
- “Think few. Concentrate on the essentials. Figure out what to ignore.”
- “The fuel for fast growth comes when energy is contained…compressed…channeled. It’s simply a matter of giving yourself more fully on a more narrow front. Power accumulates quickly when there are fewer ways for it to escape.”
Two metaphors are helpful here. I like to think about pruning a plant so that it doesn’t waste energy on weak branches and can concentrate on sending focused resources for new, upward growth. The same can be said about weeding a garden so you can get the biggest possible yield. As Thoreau put it, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Don’t let yourself be distracted by too many options. Choose a direction and grow.
For leaders, that means two things. First, it means you have to outline your own personal strategic imperatives. What are the two or three things that only you can do, as a leader, to move the needle for your organization? What is the short list of tasks and responsibilities that give you the most productive impact on business growth? For me, they are obtaining investment, creating connections for business opportunities and defining my team’s priorities. If I have to miss a team standup meeting so that I can take a call with an interested investor, then so be it. Knowing where I make the biggest difference for growth helps me prioritize my daily schedule so I can be ruthlessly efficient with my time. Also, I share those priorities with my team so they know that if I’m missing a meeting, I’m likely on a call that stands to make a big growth impact.
Second, put things in order of importance for the organization as well. As leaders, we tend to think in terms of what our employees need to be more productive, but often what they really need is clear prioritization and the space to protect their time. Sometimes, leaders can be the biggest roadblock to their own employees’ productivity. If we shift people’s priorities all the time, we create a culture where they cannot focus and, therefore, cannot make the business grow.
Make sure you’re communicating to every team and to the organization at large which two or three things they can do to make the very biggest impact. Then, give people space and autonomy to push back on any potential reprioritization: to set boundaries around their own focus and limit potential intrusions or distractions. For instance, if your sales manager needs to miss a training session in order to finalize a pitch for a client, they know that’s ok. Because they know their own strategic priorities, they also know that, by saying no to the training, they are following your example for focus and impact.
Yet, even within a fast-growth environment, you cannot go fast all the time. Here are a few places where it’s absolutely critical that you take time to slow down.
Most importantly, fast growth cannot apply to communication. Slow down to get level-set with your team. Set the table with clear expectations around deliverables, process, performance and purpose. This means communicating the what, how and why for every project or assignment. When you delegate a task, give clear directions about what it is, when you expect it to be finished, who can help throughout the process and why this piece of work is strategically important to the organization.
Connect each project to the business goals and objectives, and define exactly how you expect to be involved in the execution. People feel micromanaged when leaders ask for unexpected updates, but not if they already know — from the start — that they are expected to deliver weekly progress reports or send a quick email after every major milestone.
Also, solicit frequent feedback, and take the time to listen to your team’s concerns. Be open to what you might learn in the process. Understanding your employees’ pain points and where they find satisfaction at work will help you get better and better at delegating, setting priorities, and communicating the “why” — the purpose and intention — in what you do.
Fast growth certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you want it, the skills to make it happen are right there at your fingertips. Define your intention, focus your attention, and set the table for a fast-growth environment where everyone on your team can do the same. Rapid development means we have to prune the weak ideas and branches that distract us so we can put every resource to best use for upward growth.
About the Author
Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, and executive coach, recently named one of “Forbes’ Next 1000: Upstart Entrepreneurs Redefining the American Dream.” He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. He is also a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports, a Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), and a thought leader on goal achievement and influencing company culture. You can connect with Donald on LinkedIn and at donaldthompson.com.