For years, management gurus have touted the power of focus. In 1937, Napoleon Hill admonished readers of Think and Grow Rich to “Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.” Stephen Covey’s time management quadrants emphasize the importance of focusing on the non-urgent, important tasks to succeed. It’s clear: focus is critical to success.
But how do you turn focus into meaningful business growth? What should you focus on? What should you ignore? Today’s fastest growing startups, like Airbnb and Reddit, have learned that a singular focus on growth–at the expense of nearly all else–is the key to tapping into breakout success for business.
Here are three simple and powerful ways to steal a page from these high-flying companies and turn focus into your secret weapon for growth–unleashing a new wave of opportunity for your business.
Get Focused on the Right Thing
If you’ve found yourself overly focused on a Sudoku puzzle or your Instagram feed, you know that focus alone doesn’t create growth—you have focus on what truly matters. As a business owner, there’s a lot to manage, including hiring, sales, operations and HR. Where should you focus?
To answer that, let’s dive into the culture of Y Combinator, the fabled Silicon Valley idea factory that turns out startup hits such as Dropbox and Zenefits with startling regularity. The incubator’s founder, Paul Graham, is notorious for his insistence that all companies accepted into the program focus on just one thing while at “YC”: a 7% week over week growth rate.
These brand new companies have endless challenges: hiring, defining and building products, marketing and more. Graham and his team tell founders to forget it all and focus instead on growth and growth only. “We usually advise startups to pick a growth rate they think they can hit, and then just try to hit it every week. If they decide to grow at 7% a week and they hit that number, they’re successful for that week. There’s nothing more they need to do. But if they don’t hit it, they’ve failed in the only thing that mattered, and should be correspondingly alarmed,” says Graham.
As a founder, the first thing you need to do is to make a focus on growth the team’s number one priority. Develop a tangible, easy-to-understand growth goal that your team can buy into and rally around it. This must be more than just a nice idea—the growth goal must be an organizational imperative.
Accelerate Decision Making
Setting the team’s sights on a lofty, yet achievable, goal puts the focus clearly on growth. With this shared understanding, the process of realigning resources, making decisions and executing on projects that move the needle becomes easier and faster.
The secret is in the speed at which the entire organization can make decisions with confidence. The litmus test for an idea is easy—just ask “Will it help us hit our growth goal this week?” If the answer is no, don’t do it.
In Graham’s words, “Focusing on hitting a growth rate reduces the otherwise bewilderingly multifarious problem of starting a startup to a single problem. You can use that target growth rate to make all your decisions for you; anything that gets you the growth you need is ipso facto right. Should you spend two days at a conference? Should you hire another programmer? …Whatever gets you your target growth rate.”
The growth focus becomes a forcing function to eliminate the indecision that holds up your team, accelerating execution time tables. While there will always be decisions that require more consideration, most hesitation is centered on issues that ultimately have little impact on growth. Eliminate hand-wringing and unlock more growth.
Creating a High Tempo Team
By focusing on the growth, you empower your team to act now, speeding up the organizational metabolism. It’s just easier for people to prioritize and act on what matters each and every day. This action-bias creates a powerful cadence that becomes a drumbeat of inevitable progress.
With your growth engine gaining momentum, it’s up to you to provide fuel to your team. Do this by making it easy for everyone to contribute to the effort. Growth ideas come from HR as well as marketing. Don’t choke out your growth engine with a lack of actionable ideas. Create a framework that makes it easy for teams to ideate, implement, learn and report back on what’s working and what’s not.
As the teams build velocity through this loop, empower them to cut out what isn’t working, enabling them to invest more time into the activities that produce results. This optimization further compounds wins, capitalizing on the ideas that deliver the best returns.
Unleashing Your Secret Growth Weapon
With a clear focus on growth and a rapid decision-making process, you’ll move faster toward your objectives. By creating a continuous cycle of iterative improvement, you’ll make it easy for your team to find wins and reinvest in what works, compounding their output and gains.
This powerful trio of speed, focus and compounding wins is your secret weapon to creating growth momentum. If you’re ready to breakout, take a page from Y Combinator, and kick your business into high gear with a laser-like focus on what matters most: growth.
If you’re ready to dive in and rapidly grow your business, check out our next article on how to determine your market growth rate.
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