Tennis is my thing. Playing or spectating; it’s all good. I play regularly and I am constantly striving to improve my game. I work with a coach, play in leagues, and hit the ball casually with friends. Still, the result is not always what I expect or hope. (Ardent golfers often tell a similar tale.)
Not long ago, I played a string of matches where little seemed to go as planned. Strokes, serve, agility, ball contact – everything was “off”. I made frequent adjustments; nothing helped. I could not pinpoint precisely what change or improvement might have the greatest impact on my performance. What to do?
Focus on the fundamentals.
Every tennis player learns basic techniques of footwork, stance, swing, and grip. Gradually, they learn how to apply these to different types of shots and varied situations. Players focus on the fundamentals. While critically important to success, these factors are broad; by themselves, they didn’t help me to shift results. Similarly, every business must attend to the fundamentals of cash flow, working capital, costs, revenue, and profitability. To accelerate performance, leaders must dig deeper to pinpoint specific contributors to (or detractors from) each category. Moreover, industry dynamics and your relative skill in managing these factors play a role.
Identify what matters most for your business.
Doing three things well make the difference for my tennis game: Racquet in front; Eye on the ball; Finish ‘up’. Keeping the racquet in front and upright – the ready position – helps me react quickly to the oncoming ball. My shots improve when I watch the ball continuously along its path, as it advances and hits the strings. Finishing ‘up’ – completing the groundstroke from low to high – adds top spin to keep the ball inbounds.
With your team, consider what most improves the likelihood of success for your business. For example:
What is the one thing that gives you the flexibility to shift gears quickly? This is your ready position.
How well do prospects, orders, projects, etc. move through your pipeline? Is a product backlog impeding customer satisfaction? Keep your eye on the pipeline.
What’s contributing most and least to cash flow? How stable is your working capital? Together, healthy cash flow and working capital maintain current operations and add a degree of freedom to deal with the unexpected.
These questions help you identify your fundamentals. In good times and bad, fundamentals are the two or three things you continually monitor, adjust, and improve to enhance performance. Master the fundamentals.