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Feeling overwhelmed? Get yourself focused in 2020

Michael Back

Business is more hectic than ever before. Throw some industry challenges onto your ever-growing to-do list and for many advisers, things feel pretty overwhelming. It’s hard to know what to focus on next.

But the success (or not) that you enjoy in future years will be a direct reflection of what you choose to focus on now. If you want 2020 to be a successful year, you and your team’s focus is non-negotiable.

Clarity is power

Having too many priorities means you have no priorities. It’s far better directing your limited energy to one or a few focal points rather than making little or no progress towards a long list of ideas and tasks.

Not only is limiting your focus more effective, but it also creates energy. It’s empowering to see things getting complete, progress being made and results achieved. Equally, slow progress and ineffectiveness are demoralising.

If you want to say yes to the right tasks and no the rest, I have just the tool for you.

Introducing the ‘OKR System’


Made famous by John Doerr in his work at Google, the OKR (‘Objectives and Key Results’) system is a way for businesses to choose their priorities, break them into actions and measure their impact. The system was so wildly successful at Google that it is now used within other market-dominating businesses such as Spotify, LinkedIn, and Airbnb.

I use this exact system with many financial advice businesses and industry service providers and they love how simple it is to use and how accountable it makes their teams to the right actions. You don’t need any complex software, specific skills or massive amounts of time. The OKR framework helps businesses of all sizes articulate and decide on their priorities, break them into executable tasks and ultimately, head in the direction they choose.

My favourite part though? It shifts your business from a culture of reactivity to proactivity, giving your entire team an ‘on the business’ focus. Your team will not only know what direction your business is heading, but they will be active participants in creating it.

I’m consistently astounded by the quality of ideas that come from all levels of my client businesses. Successful businesses need an avenue for their team’s ideas, and the OKR system is just that avenue.

How does it work?

Objectives are bigger picture, lofty visions for each area of your business e.g. ‘Create a world-class client experience’. They are deliberately not measurable or necessarily achievable, but they need to be EXCITING. You should have no more than three objectives in your business at any one time and they should include a mix of the most important bigger picture priorities and operational imperatives.

Key Results are where measurement comes in. Break each objective down into three or less 12-month targets that will have the biggest impact on achieving your objective. In the example above, some Key Results may be ‘ideal client attrition of less than 5 per cent’ or ‘50 per cent of our clients have referred us to a family member or friend’.

Actions are the specific tasks and activities that you and your team will be focusing on for the next 90 days in order to hit your Key Results and start achieving your Objectives. Some possible actions based on our client experience example above may include ‘launch a simple survey for clients before each review meeting’ or ‘build a weekly email update into our implementation process’.

How to launch OKRs in your business

  1. The first thing the OKR System needs is ‘buy-in’ from the top. If the leaders aren’t committed, it simply won’t work.
  2. Once you have this commitment, agree on your Objectives and Key Results at a senior level. Bounce the Key Results off important team members.
  3. Hold a half-day ‘brainstorming session’ with your team to develop a list of actions for each OKR, shortlisting the best ones (this is a great ‘team offsite’ activity). Cull your list, and then cull it again. You don’t want to set your team up for failure.
  4. Document your OKRs and actions in a spreadsheet. Each month, update your numbers, discuss your progress and reset your actions for the next month.
  5. Repeat step three every 90 days. Repeat steps one and two every year.

Don’t let the next few months (and years) slip away; now is a prime opportunity to align your team towards a more controlled and successful 12 months.

When your team are back at their desks in February, will they be feeling overwhelmed or excited? Will your business be at the start of a slow meander towards an inevitable future, or working at a strong and consistent pace towards a successful year?

Choose a clearer, calmer and more focused path for the new year. It’s time for you and your team to create a 2020 vision.

Michael Back runs a coaching business, Human to Human, helping advice businesses stay relevant and grow through better relationships with prospects and clients. Michael was named as the Marketing Consultant of the Year at the 2019 ifa Excellence Awards.