What Will Move The Needle? - FP Advance

What Will Move The Needle?

BY brett

Are you efficient, or effective? Or both, or neither?

Earlier in my own business career, I was neither. Sure, I was doing my best but I had no clue about being focused, planned and organised.

Most business owners I know are still stuck in that place.

  • They’re too busy
  • They’ve got too many ‘important’ projects (at varying stages of completion)
  • And they’re unclear about:
    • What success looks like
    • The best team structure to achieve that success
    • The ‘few’ projects that will make most of the difference in getting there.

How to prioritise

When I’m speaking with a business owner or their leadership team it can often be a bit crazy. They’ll tell me everything and sundry about what’s going on in their business and how many urgent priorities there are.

The question I always ask is, “What one project would really move the needle in your business? What’s the one project that if you could complete it would make the most difference?”

As the leader in your business, it’s your job to provide clarity and focus to the rest of the team. Yet because business owners are typically the visionaries, they can flit from one ‘shiny thing’ to another, creating what Gino Wickman, author of Traction calls, “organisational whiplash”.

In small ambitious businesses, there’s a contradiction at play. The owner wants to grow and so they allow their ambition to create what seems (to them at least) good idea after good idea.

“We can do this, and do that. And we’ll change this and tweak that.” It all sounds amazing, and there’s nothing wrong with having great ideas… but it’s not possible to progress all of them at the same time.

And please don’t give me the stories about Steve Jobs and other famous entrepreneurs who bent the Universe to their will. It reads great in a book about their mythology, but what they actually did was focus; on the projects that moved the needle in their business.

The contradiction is this.

To achieve more, you need to focus on less.

Much less.

To prove the point about Steve Jobs, here’s what he said:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying “no” to 1,000 things.”
Steve Jobs

My next PFS Power webinar is called Grow Your Business Faster (Strategies and tactics) at 10:00 am on Thursday 20th April. I’ll be diving into some of the issues raised in this blog in much more depth. You can register here.

What it looks like in practice

On a call recently I was speaking with the Ops Manager in a very successful and ambitious financial planning firm. He was struggling because he’d been tasked with managing far too many projects; there was no focus.

The Ops Manager had tried getting the business owner to prioritise the multitude of projects on the go. However, the owner kept insisting that everything was pretty important, rating them as a 1 or a 2 on the priority scale.

My suggestion was to ask the owner which projects they felt would really move the needle and get them to prioritise them in order of impact from 1 through to 28 (I’m overstating it when I say they had 28 projects on the go, but that’s how the Ops Manager felt, it was a lot – way too many).

Once that was done, I suggested they look at only the top 5 projects and ask, of these five, which one is going to have the biggest impact.

And then make that the one they spent all their time completing.

Which meant there were a ton of other projects that were not going to get their attention right away.

And that’s the hard part.


But by not choosing what the real priority was, the owner of this business was preventing the rapid progress that they were seeking. By trying to do it all, they were creating their own chaos and holding the business and the team back.

Get your business plan right

Inevitably when I work on a new business plan with an owner or leadership team, I ask them to identify some goals or projects for the coming 12 months and for the next quarter.

My instructions are clear, “I only want to see 1 or 2, or at a pinch 3 objectives for the period.”

Inevitably they do two things wrong:

  1. They put in 4, 5 or 6 goals because they can’t choose what not to do.
  2. Many of the so-called goals are simply business-as-usual tasks they are working on. They are not projects that will move the needle.

Don’t do it to yourself.

Focus, focus, focus.

Less is more.

My definition of business hell is seven projects 98% complete. They make no difference to the business’s performance and create huge amounts of stress for you and your team.

Whereas one project 100% complete can change your life.

Short-term tactics generate short-term results. Medium and long-term strategic priorities fundamentally change the profit potential of your business.

The lesson?

You’ve got to identify the projects that will move the needle. That means they are input-focused goals that will lay a solid foundation for the future so that next year’s business performance can be at a higher level.

Let me know how you go.

My next PFS Power webinar is called Grow Your Business Faster (Strategies and tactics) at 10:00 am on Thursday 20th April. I’ll be diving into some of the issues raised in this blog in much more depth. You can register here.

My definition of business hell is seven projects 98% complete. Whereas one project 100% complete can change your life.

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ABOUT BRETT DAVIDSON When you work with FP Advance you work with me, Brett Davidson, directly. My motto is ‘advise better, live better’ and I practice what I preach. I’m straight talking and get to the heart of an issue quickly. There’s no beating about the bush, just a focus on helping things improve. Ask my clients – what I teach works.