Tennis champion Paul McNamee won 24 doubles titles in his career, including Wimbledon, and achieved a great deal of success turning the Australian Open into the high-profile, world-class event we know today. He was also the co-founder of the successful Hopman Cup which began as a humble exhibition. He attributes his success to one simple phrase: “One eye on the ball, one eye on the summit.”

Paul believes too many businesses focus on the things they are doing now and lose focus on where they want to be heading. It is hard to see the forest when you are too busy focusing on the trees. 

Alternatively, many businesses spend too much time looking at the summit (where they want to go) and therefore find it difficult to concentrate on the key actions and projects that will enable them to achieve their ambitions.

So how do you get the balance right? What does good look like when it comes to future and current focus?

Well, as much as I'd love to give you a one-size-fits-all answer, I think there are a few important variables to consider. Each organisation and industry is different, with its own unique set of strategic circumstances. For example, a mining company may have a different need to balance future and current focus than a fast-moving consumer goods company. Changing market needs, size of capital investment and the rate of industry change are just 3 determinants which will affect the optimum focal balance point.

I’ve found there are 3 great questions that can help determine whether you are getting the balance right.

  1. Do you have a compelling strategy for the future and a detailed plan for implementation? The quality of both the strategy and plan are key enablers towards a balanced view over the short and longer term. Quality thinking time around the big strategic issues helps set a strong foundation in the planning process.
  2. Are you doing the right things? This points to effectiveness and examines whether you are making the right strategic choices. Critical thinking, analysis and involving the right people in discussions enable better choices to emerge.
  3. Are you doing things right? This question focuses on efficiency that links to whether current focus and implementation of the plan are going well.

The answers to these 3 questions are equally valuable within different business units, functions and teams across an organisation.

But what about the past? Surely, there is value in focusing on past performance for a balanced view? Absolutely! When driving a car, there is a good reason why the windscreen is so large and the rear view mirror is so small. We need to understand what has got us to where we are today and learn from it to enable better results tomorrow. However, too much focus on how things used to be can be a death warrant to future performance. Why? Many businesses find that what got them to where they are today won’t get them to where they want to go. A change of focus and new ways of working are often required to ensure ongoing success.

Our experience suggests that most companies spend too much time fighting fires, which creates a bias toward short-term results. Regardless of where your business is at in terms of focus, there is always room for improvement. Getting a balanced view when answering the 3 questions will give you a guide to where the biases might lie. Keep one eye on the ball, and one eye on the summit, and you will give your business every chance of success, both in the short and long term.