The Business-Building Power of Focus

Sharon Dye uses her nearly three decades of consulting experience to help Insperity’s clients determine the steps to ensure business success. During her talk at AngelMD’s Alpha Conference 2018, Sharon explained the power of focus when it comes to building a business.

Based upon four quadrants of success, Sharon urges companies to appreciate the impact that their culture can have. This understanding changes every step of the business, from the interview process to the exit.

Good Morning. I was not going to use the word culture, but I don’t know where our last speaker went to sit down, but he opened the door, so I’m going to go right on through it, and through this talk, use that word, and I’ll define it in just a second.

But mostly what I want to talk to you about today, I’ve got about 15 minutes, and I want to talk to you about the power of focus and what happens when focus doesn’t exist.

One of the major things that I, 30 years now, have seen be impactful and help organizations, entrepreneurs, and businesses actually accomplish what they want to accomplish is when they give focus the full weight that it deserves.

But, we should start off with a story that will describe everything I’m going to try to describe better than I’ll be able to describe it.

A dear friend of mine was vacationing with her husband in the Midwest, a small little town, and every morning, she … That is not her, by the way. I wouldn’t betray her by using her actual photo, which you’ll understand that a little more as the story goes on. She would wake up every morning and go jogging, and it would always end in this coffee shop/ice cream shop/store because she was going to get an ice cream cone as the reward for jogging in the morning.

So, she gets to the store every morning, and she says hello to the guy that works there, and over the several days, they developed a nice little friendship. She gets her ice cream cone, and she slowly walks home, enjoying her ice cream cone. Great morning. She goes to the ice cream shop one morning, and she walks in, and there’s one customer inside, sitting off the left, and it’s Paul Newman, and everything solid in her goes to liquid. She is … There he is, and she’s trying really hard not to faint dead away, and she’s swooning and doing all of that, and she decides, “I’m going to be a mature adult woman that is not going to bother this man and let him know that I’m swooning. I’m going to pretend that he doesn’t even exist and carry on and get my ice cream cone.”
Sharon Dye: She goes up. She orders her ice cream cone, pays for it. Puts the change in her purse, and goes to walk out to the car, and is very proud of herself that she maintained decorum, and did not bother Paul Newman.
Sharon Dye: She gets to the car. Goes to get in, and she doesn’t have her ice cream cone. So, she decides, “Fine. I’m going to face the music and go back and get my ice cream cone.” She walks back inside and looks at the counter where the holder is, where you’d put the ice cream cone, and it’s not there.
Sharon Dye: She goes up to the counter. The kid that works there has gone to the back. She’s looking all around. Doesn’t know what to do and decides, “I walk of shame back out to the car. I don’t know what happened.” And as she turns, and she’s going to walk out, of course, she catches his eye, and he smiles and says, “You put it in your purse.” There it was. Upside down, in the purse. That’s the great power of focus when it meets distraction, and Paul Newman being pretty distracting.
Sharon Dye: So, power of focus. Let’s talk a little more about that. It’s a little word that has a massive impact on return on investment, a massive impact. I’ll let you read that for yourself. The point to this slide, the point to all of it is, if you own a business, if you’re thinking of investing in a business and you want to say, “What’s the one thing I should pay attention to everyday, all day, what is it I should use to vet for? Do I invest in this business or this business?” I would proffer to you that you should vet for, and if you’re running a business, you should pay attention to, are we actively, constantly paying attention to what it is we’re focused on doing. Is it the ice cream cone, or have we gotten distracted by Paul Newman? It will make all the difference in the world of how long it takes you to get to your success marker, if you hit your success marker, and what’s kept you from hitting it.
Sharon Dye: All right. So, if I were you, I would be asking the question, “Well, if I’m going to pay attention to focus, what do we focus on?” And I’m going to take 30 seconds and describe you a model that we developed by a gentleman named Dr. William Schneider. Bill lives in Denver. He’s been doing research around the impact of culture to business success. He’s been doing his research for the better part of 40 years now. I won’t go into all the research that’s he’s come up with behind it. I’ll just ask you, just believe that it’s important, and we’ll go on from there.
Sharon Dye: What he developed was a four-quadrant perspective of what to focus on. So we’re going to fill in the four quadrants and go from there.
Sharon Dye: This axis is measuring and is intended to describe what is the organization, what is the enterprise relationship to time? If it’s an actuality relationship, it means that you are doing something that’s more present-oriented. So think months/year. It’s a pretty quick, I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m making a product, or I’m delivering a service, but what we’re doing is more about the present than it is long distant future. Long distance future is if you have a possibility orientation to time.
Sharon Dye: So, we’re doing what we’re doing as a company for the long term future. This is the decades/generations. Is the distinction clear? Good enough? Okay.
Sharon Dye: Now we’re going to add a horizontal axis, and we’re going to talk about what is the organization? What are the enterprises? Where does it go for information? What kind of information does it trust when it wants to make a decision? Does it trust personal information? That would be on Yelp, all of the reviews. Personal. It doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet. It’s anecdotal personal information. Or, does it trust impersonal information? So, that would be the stars on Yelp. 4.5 out of 5. Two very important kinds of information, but distinct from one another. Clear enough? Okay.
Sharon Dye: Okay, so now we have obviously two axes that have created four quadrants, and I want to … The last thing I want to point out here is that the lines are dashed. They’re not solid. This is intended to say, one of these quadrants for your enterprise is where you start your focus, and the other three is going to support that. But make sure that you’re always paying attention to the quadrant where you would start for our enterprise, and let the other three be supportive. The minute you tilt off that, now you’ve diffused focus. Now you’ve introduced Paul Newman into the situation. Okay.
Sharon Dye: All right. So, Bill plotted around those four quadrant’s descriptions of what an enterprise would focus on if we took an actuality time orientation. That’s more present focused, and we said, “You’re probably going to rely personal information to make your decisions.” He described that as an organization that has a focus of what Bill called cenergy.
Sharon Dye: So, you interact with your consumer, your customer, your client. You interact in a way in which you co-create what it is, the solution you need to create. Think about a real estate person. We want to buy this building, and we sit down with a real estate agent, and we’re going to co-come up with, what do we offer for the building. I, as the purchaser, am going to bring my budget. I’m going to bring why I want the building, what I’m going to do with it, all of my own information. Real estate agent is going to bring the comps for neighboring buildings, etc, etc, and together, we’re going to walk through and escrow process and co-create, a long the way, all the solutions and answers that we need to. And that’s what Bill describes as a cenergy focus.
Sharon Dye: If we stay on the top, and we move to the right, Bill called that a certainty focus, and that is saying we’re still in a present orientation of time, but we’re going to rely on impersonal information.
Sharon Dye: So, if we go up to that red quadrant there, we could easily plot in that kind of box Walmart, very commodity-like businesses. We would put military, law enforcement. They’re going to rely on information that sits in a spreadsheet as their first place to go when making a decision, and again, very commodity-like, it’s a present orientation. Not looking to change the world decades from now. We’re just going to keep doing what we do in a present orientation.
Sharon Dye: All right, now let’s go down to the bottom. We’ll stay on the impersonal side, and we’ll go to the blue, and this is an enterprise and organization that has as its focus what Bill called superiority, and that says we do what we do for the longterm future. We could take 10 or 15 years to develop the tool, the model, the service, the whatever we’re doing. We could take 10 or 15 years to do it, but when we get it to the market place, we will reset the standard. Tesla. We’re going to reset what it means to drive a car. That’s what this organization is doing, and again, it could take 10 to 15 years to get it done. That’s fine. They don’t need to be first, but when their product, their service hits the marketplace, it resets the standard, resets the bar. Obviously Apple, etc. would fit there.
Sharon Dye: All right, now let’s go to the last one, and that’s the enrichment focus, and that is an organization and enterprise that says our focus is we are here to change the world. We want to elevate the human spirit. We’re in this for the long haul. We want to make sure that there are no people in the world … There are no children without shoes. Tom’s shoes, for example. Non profits could certainly fit there, but not exclusively, and we exist, our focus, and if you want to join us as an enterprise, our focus is that we’re doing something, whatever our cause is, so that we ultimately eradicate that problem. Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers. On and on. You can plot several of them there.
Sharon Dye: So those were the four that Bill came up with through his research that were four core focuses, and again, going back to what I said at the beginning, the point here is, that you start with one. You have one that is at the very, very center for you, and what is it at the core of your enterprise that you are saying, “If you come do business with us, consumer, this is what we’re promising you.” And the other three become in support of that, of delivering that.
Sharon Dye: Now I’m going to introduce the culture word. Bill defines culture as the way you do everything. Please take the word everything literally, and what we’re describing here is what you’re promising your customer, which is outward focusing, and then inward focus is culture, and once you determine what you’re promising your customer, it tells you how you need to organize yourself internally to make sure that you deliver on that customer promise better than your competition.
Sharon Dye: And one of the things you have to answer is, who is our customer? It’s astonishing to sit in board rooms and executive tables and say, “Who’s your customer?” And I get a list of six people. And it isn’t the six people. You have a customer, and everyone rallies with focus around doing what we need to do to make sure we deliver to that customer what it is we’re promising we’re going to deliver.
Sharon Dye: I had a client who was a retired five-star general in the Marine Corp, so a rather intense fellow, and he had come from the world that was in the upper quadrant, I’m sure you can imagine, and he understood life that way. And he retired, and he decided to take some of his money, and he wanted to own some franchises, and for lots of reasons, he decided to buy, franchise Kinder Care, the preschool chain. So, he bought a few Kinder Care. Natural, natural fit. No problems there whatsoever. None.
Sharon Dye: So it was before I met him, and he decided to buy Kinder Care, and when I met him, it was basically anarchy was going on amongst those that were running the Kinder Cares and him. It was pretty ugly, and really nice preschool women were using language that they never, ever, every thought they would use. No Sunday School teachers were allowed to be present at several of the meetings.
Sharon Dye: So, he came in, and as you can imagine, one of the first things he did, having the focus that he had, which was putting himself as the customer. How does this serve and make sure it does what I want it to do.
Sharon Dye: So, walked in the door, looking at Paul Newman, and not the ice cream. So he walked in to find out where they can be operationally efficient. Of course he would. Right? Yeah. So he finds out what they’re spending on milk and crayons, and he decides that Johnny gets a glass of milk, and if he wants more, that they pour the milk, and then they put water in it so it dilutes. “We don’t buy new boxes of crayons here. You just keep using the broken ones and the nubs.” And then, this is true, then he decided that discipline can’t start too early. So, he decided what would be great is after nap time, if they learned how to fold their blanket and put it neatly in the cubby, and they had drills about how to do that.
Sharon Dye: So it didn’t take too long ’til Mom’s picking up Mary and Johnny, and “How did it go today?” And Johnny’s crying and saying, “Miss Mary is going to leave, and I love Miss Mary, and she’s not going to be here, and I didn’t fold my blanket right today.” So Mom hears this for a couple of days, and she’s thinking, “What’s going on here?” And so she comes back in and stops and sits down and has a little talk with those that are running it, and they start telling her, “So we’ve instilled this program that we do every day after nap time and fold the blanket, etc, etc.” So, Mom has a very easy solution to this problem. She sends Johnny here to be hugged and nurtured and told that he can do and be supported and have an ugly finger painted thing that’s just put up on the wall and framed. That’s why she sent him there. So, it’s a simple solution. They’ve lost focused. She hasn’t. She just goes down the road to the place that has focus. And out go Johnny and Mary and Sally and Suzy. And he can’t figure out why people aren’t going here.
Sharon Dye: So, we had a conversation. He wanted me to fix the people. Fix Miss Mary. I said, “You don’t have a people problem. You have a focus problem. You have a focus problem. You lost sight of what you’re here for. Your reason for existing is all about that lower left. That’s why you’re here. You want to enrich Johnny and Mary and Sally and Suzy. You have a focus problem. If you fix the focus problem, the people problem is done.”
Sharon Dye: And he needed to make sure that costs were contained. Of course he did. But that wasn’t the focus.
Sharon Dye: I loved in JJ’s presentation yesterday, he put up the letter from Stanford, and I quickly read ahead in the first paragraph, and my soul cringed. He has a focus problem that’s about to create a really big people problem, but it won’t happen overnight. It always happens gradually, and all of a sudden, the people he wants to work there won’t work there anymore, and he’ll be left with those that are mediocre and those that are down at the bottom, and that’s who he’ll get, and he’ll say he has a people problem, and he doesn’t have a people problem. He has a focus problem.
Sharon Dye: My friend who went to get an ice cream cone, her problem wasn’t her problem. She had a focus problem. Who wouldn’t? Sorry gentlemen. I don’t … Insert what woman here. It’s Paul Newman for us, but she had a focus problem.
Sharon Dye: So, I started with saying that in all of the research that Bill did, and we’re not doing it justice, I admit right up front, 40 years in 15 minutes isn’t quite doing it justice, but having said that, it really can be boiled down to if you want to know how to organize things internally, [inaudible 00:18:04], first answer what is it at the core your entity is promising your customer. Take as long as you need to figure out who your customer is. You get one. It’s not six people. It’s not the investors. It’s not this. It’s not that. It’s one. Stay focused there, and everything will get organized around that, and you have a decision-making tree you now have organically created because of focus. You know how to interview people. You tell them what you’re focused on, and you watch their body language and their face, and you ask them, “How would you help us deliver this?” Does their last six matters really matter? Not as much as we think.
Sharon Dye: What matters is, here’s what we’re doing. How could you help us do this? What would you bring to the table, and you have an entirely different interview process, and then you stay out of the people problem business ’cause you have a focus-success business, and you have a ecosystem that operates together, singularly-focused on getting the ice cream cone.
Sharon Dye: I have one minute left, and I want to know if there are any questions or thoughts or comments. Yes, please.
Speaker 2: I always thought that in healthcare, we have three customers. We have the patients who is the beneficiary which [inaudible 00:19:23], but we need to have the buy-in of the healthcare professionals, and we need to have the buy-in of the insurance companies. Would you agree that in healthcare we have three customers, not one?
Sharon Dye: No. I think you have one customer, and you have people that you need to be in that ecosystem, helping ensure that the customer you have gets what they need because everybody else upstream and downstream will get what they need as well.
Speaker 2: So you think the patient is the customer?
Sharon Dye: Yes. I do.
Sharon Dye: Anything else? Thank you all very much. Thank you.

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