The biggest mistake people make is equating “doing more” with “achieving more”
Once upon a time, back when I used to have what my mother calls ‘a real job’, we’d sit in our Monday meetings poring over the previous week’s sales; sometimes pleased that we were beating target, other times frustrated we were missing it. Occasionally the trend righted itself; more often it didn’t, and at some point ‘the call’ would go out.
“Give me your top three ideas for driving sales” would be the question that we knew would open the next meeting.
We’d crash the team’s diaries, trawl the market data, dust off ideas that didn’t make the cut last time and call up our best suppliers to come up with new ideas that would put a few percentage points onto the income line. A couple of weeks later, stores across the country would fill with red shelf-edge tickets offering a smorgasbord of lower prices, free gifts and multi-buy deals. The focus, time and effort everyone put in over those weeks would be breathtaking. The returns would often be pretty small, and three months later we’d probably have to do it again, but nobody could say we hadn’t put everything into it.
Until somebody did.
I’d love to say it was me that called a halt to the merry-go-round of frenetic activity, but actually it was the new CEO. In his second month he asked me to review all of the promotional activity we did across the entire business. I had to do it twice because I didn’t believe what it said. Almost 80% of what we did either made virtually nothing, or lost us money. It fundamentally changed the way we worked and taught me a lesson that has stayed with me to this day.
Instead of adding more activity, chasing more “quick-wins” and “low hanging fruit”, we started to focus unwaveringly on the few big things we believed would make a real, meaningful difference. Once we saw the results, there was no going back.
Less really is more, and not just for delivering sales growth, but for achieving any important goal, be that public awareness, social impact, financial performance or systemic change.
When Michelangelo was asked how he carved his most magnificent statue from a block of marble, he’s said to have simply replied “I removed everything that wasn’t David”.
Whatever your goal, make it clear and explicit. Challenge yourself and your team to find a handful of big things that could really move the dial, then pick just one or two to focus all of your efforts on. Then try to remove everything from the agenda that isn’t one of those two things.
It’s time to discover what you can achieve when you really put everything into it.