Business Leader Phaneesh Murthy on the Importance of Focus

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Why do so many businesses built on great ideas still fracture and fail? This question has been asked in countless post-mortems. While mourning founders often discuss bottom lines, economies of scale, and culture clashes, the real reason may derive from a more general lack (or loss) of focus on a company’s core competencies.

This is what entrepreneur and tech guru Phaneesh Murthy believes.

“Focus is one of the most important elements in the success of an organization,” he said.

In a recent interview, he discussed the importance of focus in boardrooms and start-ups—and how a loss of focus can result in a gradual loss of value delivered to the customer.

What does “focus” mean in an entrepreneurial context and why is it such a make-or-break part of every company’s growth journey? Phaneesh Murthy shares his insights below.

What is “Focus” in Business?

Just like a chess champion, a toddler, or a goldfish, businesses have the ability to focus on concepts—and lose focus of them. A company often defines its focus via a mission statement, a business plan, or a set of goals.

According to Phaneesh Murthy, a company’s main focus should be rooted in its core competency—a combination of the value provided to the consumer and a competitive advantage.

A company’s core competency enables it to survive and thrive in the market.

When brands maintain focus on their core competency, they are able to grow and adapt to the needs of their customers. When they lose focus, they may put themselves at the mercy of competitors or alienate their customers.

How to Promote Focus

Maintaining focus company-wide can be difficult because companies are made of individuals. Getting one person to focus on a goal is hard enough—aligning an entire organization’s focus requires constant attention.

Phaneesh Murthy has held numerous leadership positions at major companies for over 30 years, including CEO, Global Head of Sales, Founder, and Board Member. He’s learned first-hand how to promote focus at organizations large and small—and how to pull a struggling company back into focus. He recommends the following tips to promote focus.

  • Aligned Leadership: A company’s leadership team has the most power to affect change, so a loss of focus at this level can quickly cause problems. Murthy recommends building a leadership team around a common work culture and performance—and not friendship. He also recommends clear and constant communication to ensure the leadership team and their respective departments are consistently aligned around common goals.
  • A Strong Work Culture: As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This means that a weak company culture or a poor cultural mix among staff will derail strategic aims (also known as focus). Positive leadership, clear communication, and careful hiring will foster a like-minded team with focused ambition.
  • Staying Customer-centric: Losing focus on the customer is one of the most damaging things a company can do, though it’s quite common. Changing markets and the lure of cutting costs can quickly result in a loss of value and plummeting revenues. Focus should always be rooted in a company’s core competency, which is based on the value offered to customers.

Make-or-Break: When to Define Your Focus

According to Phaneesh Murthy, maintaining focus is a bit like walking on a tightrope. Businesses need to be constantly mindful not to stray too far to the left or right of their core competency. But there are a few moments during the life of an organization that are especially critical.

The first is the early phase of planning when an organizational structure hasn’t yet been developed. Even if investment has been secured, erratic personalities and poor planning can turn a valuable idea into a dud.

“When you start small, there are tendencies to scatter all over the place and spray around with a machine gun,” Phaneesh Murthy said.

Careful planning is required at the beginning of a company’s life not only to maintain focus on a core competency but to develop it in the first place.

The other period when focus is most important is during a transformation. Phaneesh Murthy has guided multiple global companies through major digital transformations, and he now helps others do the same as the CEO and founder of the advisory firm, Primentor, Inc.

During a transformation, focus often needs to shift. However, not all members of the organization may shift their focus in the same direction or at the same time. This can cause inefficiencies or prevent goals from being achieved entirely. Leaders must be especially careful to communicate and manage change during transformative periods.

Focus is a Collective Effort

Maintaining focus is not as simple as creating a mission statement or developing a strategy. That’s because a business entity can’t really focus on anything. It’s the people who make up the business that must share common aims even in turbulent and quickly changing markets. Focus is a collective effort, which is why it’s so hard to maintain.

As Phaneesh Murthy says, everyone needs to focus on on something, and managing the focus of each employee is a tough job. Basing decisions around your core competency and staying customer-centric will provide a focal point for your business. Good communication and positive work culture will align staff and leadership on a track to efficiency and growth.

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