Leaders face a tall task in planning for 2021. With hopeful light at what appears to be  the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, it’s going to be tempting to try to make up for traction lost in 2020 in an effort to get back to “normal.”

This temptation is likely to result in multiple “strategic” projects and extra-long to-do-lists.

And here’s the challenge: absent alignment around a single mission, you’re unlikely to make up any lost ground…much less, make progress on new strategic initiatives.

Meanwhile, Focus Wins

In an article for Fast Company written in conjunction with the publication of his best seller Good To Great, Jim Collins put it this way.

The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence. It requires clarity, not instant illumination. It demands each of us to focus on what is vital. — Jim Collins

At least part of the problem with many plans is that most of us — firms and individuals — simply aren’t great at multitasking on a strategic level. In his Life of Productivity blog, Chris Bailey points to the science indicating that it is difficult for the brain to focus on two tasks at once—it’s actually rapidly switching between them.

And though this is about an individual brain, experience indicates that you can say the same about the collective firm brain.

When the objectives of multiple efforts inevitably appear at times to be at odds, misalignment impacts decisions, actions and progress.

At the enterprise level, Collins points to focus as the key to greatness. Not just focus on anything; but focus on what is vital.

Especially in challenging times, this is about a laser focus on mission and core values. This focus provides a framework for every decision and the guiding principles that comprise a roadmap.

Leaders who invest time here are in a position to gaze into 2021 with clear eyes…and inspire the creation of a successful plan of action.

In his blog post last week, my friend Roger Hayse has this suggestion for law firm leaders:

…spend some time really wrestling with this question: “What one thing, if accomplished in 2021, will leave us a healthier, happier firm — better positioned to compete in the new year and beyond?”

Solid advice for leaders at every level — and not a bad exercise for individual professional service providers working on a plan for the months ahead.

My personal bias is that the one thing begins with crystal clarity around mission, vision and core values. Nailing this provides a framework for every strategic pursuit, and fosters the alignment of greatness.