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Establishing Focus

Establishing Focus is the ability to develop and communicate goals in support of the business's mission.

An employee demonstrating this competency:

  • Acts to align own unit's goals with the strategic direction of the business.
  • Ensures that people in the unit understand how their work relates to the business's mission.
  • Ensures that everyone understands and identifies with the unit's mission.
  • Ensures that the unit develops goals and a plan to help fulfill the business's mission.

Importance of this Competency
This is a key leadership competency because it involves providing direction and meaning to people's work. By establishing focus, you can motivate your staff, establish teamwork, and maximize the chances of achieving your most important business goals.
General Considerations in Developing this Competency
To use this competency, you must first ensure that you have a clear understanding of the strategic direction and plans fo rthe overall organization and business. Then, with your staff, you ned to take a strategic view of your own unit. Who are its internal and external customers? What are its existing and potential strengths? What should its mission be? What does it need to do to support the strategic direction of the overall business? If you want your staff to support you, you will need to involve them in helping to answer these questions. Next, you will need to develop a plan for the unit that includes both short-term and longer-term goals. This should be done with the involvement and participation of people in your unit. Finally, you will need to communicate the plan clearly and repeatedly, to ensure that everyone in the unit understands it and is setting personal goals in alignment with it.

Developing this competency involves strategic thinking, planning skills, and communication skills. Because this competency is complex, it is important to develop a broad understanding of what you need to do and the various means for accomplishing it. The best way to learn this competency is to work with a leader or consultant who is using it. If this is not possible, consider learning from experts: leaders who have demonstrated this competency in yor own or another organization. It may also be useful to read books describing this process.

When you have an understanding of wht you want to do, consider obtaining some help. Ideally, consider hiring an internal or external consultant to work with your unit and facilitate the process. If this is not possible, seek feedback and suggestions from the most knowledgeable persons you can find, on what you plan to do, before doing it.
Practicing this Competency
  • Obtain and read documents about strategic direction of your organiztion, business and department.
  • Invite the management of the larger unit (e.g., organizations, business, plant, department) ot meet with your unit to discuss the larger units strategic direction and what your own unit can do in support of that strategic direction.
  • Interview your unit's internal customers or invite them to meet with the staff of your unit. Ask the internal customers to identify their goals and needs and ways your unit can support them.
  • Meet with your direct repors to review information about the business's strategic direction and decide what your unit needs to do to support that strategic direction. Consider what must be done in a new and different way. With what other groups should your unit be cooperating? Whose support do you need to obtain? Develop a plan with specific action steps, dates for their accomplishment, and persons accountable for each step.
  • Share your unit's plan with your management and ask for feedback and suggestions.
  • Commmunicate your unit's plan to everyone in the unit. Consider multiple vehicles for communication. Include a meeting(s) where people have a chance to voice their suggestions, questions, and concerns.
  • Keep a copy of your units plan available (e.g., on flip charts) and use every opportunity to explain decisions and actions by referring to the plan.
  • Periodically (at least quarterly) review and update the unit's plan.
Obtaining Feedback

After a unit meeting to establish focus or develop a plan, conduct an exercise to “pro/con” the meeting.  On a flip chart draw a vertical line and write “Pro” and “Con” at the top of each column.  First ask people what went well.  Capture responses in the “Pro” column.  Then ask what could have been done better.  Capture responses in the “Con” column.

Before a unit meeting to establish focus or develop a plan, review your agenda and planned process with someone whose judgment you respect.  Ask for suggestions.  After the meeting, ask a participant for feedback about your process and facilitation.

Learning from Experts

Interview someone who has successfully established focus for a business or organizational unit.  Consider people both inside and outside of your organization and company.  Ask that person to walk through the process.  How did he/she decide to approach the task?  Why?  What specifically did he/she do?  What would you have seen and heard if you had been present?  Obtain descriptions of what happened at key meetings.  What problems or issues arose?  How did the person deal with these problems or issues?  What, if anything, would the person do differently?

Coaching Suggestions for Managers

If you are coaching someone who is trying to develop this competency, you can:

• Model the process in your unit, so that the person you are managing can see how to go about this process.

• Arrange for the person to meet and talk with others in the organization who have established direction in their units.

• Meet with the person and the staff in his/her unit to explain the larger business goals and direction of your unit and provide your perspective on what the person’s unit needs to do to align itself with the direction of the larger unit.

• Help plan communications and provide your suggestions and feedback.

Sample Development Goals
By December 1, I will interview Mary Jones and Curt Morrow, to learn how they establish focus in their organizational units.

By November 15, I will read The Leadership Challenge, by james Kouzes and Barry Posner, and prepare a written list of ideas that I can implement in establishing my own unit.

By November 8, I will obtain and review the business's strategic plan and prepare a list of ideas about how my unit can specifically support the business's strategic plan.

By December 15, I will have my Plant Manager speak to my unit about the Plant's strategic direction and what our unit needs to do to support the Plant's strategic direction.

By February 1, I will hold a meeting with my direct reports, to develop a plan for the unit, with specific tasks, accountabilities and dates for their accomplishment.

By February 15, I will hold a meeting with all unit staff to present and review the unit plan.


Competitive Strategy, by Michael Porter. New York, NY: Free Press, 2004.

Facilitation Skills: Helping Groups Make Decisions: Simple Steps to Help Groups & Teams Focus on the Issue and Build Agreement on Solutions, by Gregory B. Putz. Bountiful, UT: Deep Space Technology Co., 2002.

Leadership: Theory and Practice, by Peter G. Northouse. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007.

Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions By Knowing What To Ask, by Michael J. Marquardt. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005. 

Managing Beyond the Quick Fix: Managing Five Tracks to Organizational Success, by Ralph Kilmann. Beard Books, 2003.

On Becoming a Leader: The Leadership Classic, by Warren Bennis. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

The Leadership Challenge: 3rd Edition, by J. M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003.   

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Ltd., 2005. (Especially Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind)

The Solutions Focus: The S.I.M.P.L.E Way to Positive Change, by Paul Z. Jackson & Mark McKergow. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2002.



Applied Strategic Planning and Operational Planning. Three days. UA Consulting & Training Services. Tel. 520 322-6700 http://www.universityassociates.com/ASOPFull.html

Contemporary Leadership Part I: Leading with Focus and Intention. Three days. Cornell University-ILR. Tel. 212 340-2894. www.ilr.cornell.edu/mgmtprog/catalog/MD303.html

Improving Your Managerial Effectiveness.  Three days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441. www.amanet.org/seminars/seminar.cfm?basesemno=2508

Leading With Results (Managing Performance – With Competence).  Three-four days. Workitect, Inc. Tel. 800 870-9490. http://www.workitect.com/pdf/MP-WC.pdf

Managing Chaos: Tools to Set Priorities and Make Decisions Under Pressure.  Two days. American Management Association. Tel. 877 566-9441 http://www.amanet.org/training/seminars/Managing-Chaos-Tools-to-Set-Priorities-and-Make-Decisions-Under-Pressure.aspx

Managing Multiple Projects, Objectives and Deadlines.  One day. SkillPath Seminars. Tel. 800 873-7545. www.skillpath.com/seminfo.html/st/MMPPD

Managing Multiple Priorities, Projects and Deadlines. One day. Fred Pryor Seminars.   Tel. 800 780-8476  http://www.pryor.com/mkt_info/seminars/desc/MM.asp?zip=33306


See Appendix