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Simplify Decision-Making with Focus Filters

Every one of us makes choices throughout our lives. If you’re reading this, you’re likely a founder, and one of the choices you’ve made is to build/scale a company. And, if you’re an ambitious founder, you know that one of the most important things you have to do is create and maintain an environment that attracts and retains pretty damn good talent.

As I’ve shared with hundreds of leaders over the years, what it takes to build a decent, if not great, company is not that complicated. I’m not saying the journey isn’t hard. It is full of challenges, but what it takes to build a great company is super clear.

Your first priority is to succinctly explain the things any reasonably intelligent potential team member will want to understand. This isn’t just necessary for building out your Senior Leadership Team but also for everyone who is a part of, or who is interested in joining, your company.

At Ninety, we refer to these things as Focus Filters. Focus Filters provide everyone in your company with what could be thought of as a Northern Constellation that helps guide each member of your team, every single day, as you collectively build, run, and scale the business. 

What Are Focus Filters?

Focus Filters are a relatively short and succinct collection of five definitive positions we take regarding:

  1. Who we serve: our Ideal Customer
  2. How we serve: our Unique Value Proposition, or UVP (what we prefer to refer to as our Compelling Offer)
  3. Why we do it: our Compelling Why (aka purpose, passion, and/or just cause)
  4. Who we are: our Core Values
  5. Our level of ambition: our Compelling and Audacious Goals (CAGs)

At Ninety, we call these stances our Forever Agreements. By that, we mean that these five big ideas serve as the foundation for everything we do.

In addition to our Forever Agreements, our Focus Filters also include a big picture summary of our plans — specifically, our 3-Year, 1-Year, and 90-Day Goals — for getting from here to our CAGs and beyond. That’s why they’re framed as Forever Agreements.

Think of Focus Filters as the criteria that help you prioritize your actions and decisions based on what is truly important for your company. At Ninety, we identify six essential Focus Filters:

  1. Industry and Niche: These describe what kind of business you're in (Industry) and what you provide to your industry's market (Niche). Industry and Niche are the products and/or services you offer, or your big “whats.” Being crystal clear about what you do helps you pinpoint your target market.
  2. Ideal Customer: As your “who,” this describes the customers who represent the crucial mix of traits (geographic, demographic, and psychographic) you want to do business with. Understanding who you’re selling to allows you to tailor your products and/or services to meet their specific needs, enhance their satisfaction, and increase the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.
  3. Unique Value Proposition: Your UVP is your company’s promise to your Ideal Customers — your "how." This usually leans into leading your market in one of the following: being the lowest cost provider, being the most innovative, providing outstanding customer service, or meeting your customers' need for status.
  4. Purpose, Passion, and/or Just Cause: Also known as your Compelling Why, nailing this down provides internal alignment and motivation across your teams while helping to attract and retain Ideal Stakeholders who believe in how you make the world a better place.
  5. Core Values: These guiding principles communicate the behaviors essential for your team members to work well together. As the heart of your company, your Core Values allow you to create a healthy, high-trust culture where everyone can focus, align, and thrive.
  6. Goals: From your most Compelling and Audacious Goals to your quarterly Rocks, all your goals help drive your organization and keep it on course toward making your Vision a reality.

Let's explore how Focus Filters can guide you toward sustainable growth and success. Just as a Northern Constellation can act as a navigational tool to help you find your way, Focus Filters help you journey through the complexities of growing your business, ensuring you stay aligned with your team as your organization moves forward, grows, and evolves. 

Why Are Focus Filters So Important?

I’m a huge fan of the power of compounding. Einstein called compound interest the eighth wonder of the world. Focus Filters help you leverage the power of compounding up and down and across your organization. When genuinely agreed to and passionately embraced, Focus Filters make it significantly easier for your business to focus, learn, and grow.

Here’s one of my strongly held opinions: It's incredibly difficult to attract and retain decent, if not great, talent if people don’t believe the company will flourish. You must also provide team members with a good environment for doing meaningful Work (with a capital W) as well as an opportunity for growth.

So how do you make sure your current and prospective team members see your company as a great place to work and grow? Focus Filters.

Once you have a team that is focused, aligned, and excited about the journey ahead, we must center on one guiding principle: turning this into a company that thrives independently of the founder. This means we’ve collectively built something we can one day sell or pass on to the next group of leaders, leaving a lasting legacy.

In my experience, great Focus Filters simplify decision-making and effectively align our teams and resources around our most pressing priorities. As the foundation for our Vision, these filters ensure that all aspects of our company fit together harmoniously, much like a Northern Constellation, to help us collectively achieve our goals.

Create a Company You’ll Love Forever

Your small set of Forever Agreements helps every one of your Ideal Stakeholders focus, align, and thrive. Once crystal clear, they reduce the typical friction associated with everyone not being on the same page regarding who you are, what you do, why you do it, and where you’re going. When your Forever Agreements are set, your goals provide a clear road map that outlines how you’re going to turn your CAGs into reality as well as the path and pace associated with getting from here to there. Collectively, your Focus Filters guide your strategic decision-making, ensuring your team is confident about and focused on what matters most. Here are some ways Focus Filters can help you build a company you’ll love forever.

Stay Focused

Focus Filters help you collectively stay true to your Vision and avoid straying from it with each new trend or shiny object that comes along. For example, suppose your Ideal Customers are eco-conscious millennials living in urban areas. When presented with a partnership opportunity, you can refer to your Focus Filters to quickly assess whether the opportunity aligns with your Ideal Customers’ values and preferences. This clarity allows you to make confident decisions in terms of how to build and sustain high-trust relationships with all your Ideal Customers.

Allocate Your Resources

Time, energy, and capital are finite resources for any organization. Consider them as fuel for those ambitious founders who are aiming to build a Stage Five Company or beyond. Focus Filters ensure you deploy these crucial resources effectively, funneling them into initiatives that propel your business further and jettisoning those that don't align with your Vision. You can prioritize your investments more wisely by consistently assessing your decisions and actions against your Focus Filters. This approach allows you to use every resource to effectively boost impact where it truly counts.

Unify Your Team

Maintaining focus and alignment across your team becomes more challenging as your business grows because there are more layers to your organizational structure, making communication more complex. Focus Filters improve communication between teams because they create a shared understanding of what matters most. For example, if your UVP includes leading the industry in customer service, ensure that every team member understands how their work contributes to delivering an exceptional customer experience. By using Focus Filters as a common framework, you foster collaboration and a shared sense of priorities.

Establish Your Vision (and Stick to It)

A clear and compelling Vision serves as a set of guiding lights for your company’s growth. When faced with new opportunities or challenges, your Vision should be the cornerstone of your decision-making process. On this basis, Focus Filters provide a framework for assessing and navigating major changes in strategy or direction. For example, consider this UVP: "We aim to continuously provide the logistics industry’s small and mid-sized players with the industry’s most user-friendly and efficient project management software." When a new AI program emerges that can potentially enhance user experience by automatically prioritizing tasks, the company should evaluate this opportunity through the lens of its Focus Filters. This process may involve asking a series of questions, such as:

  1. Does this AI program align with our Vision of providing our Ideal Customers with the most user-friendly software?
  2. Will integrating this technology improve efficiency for our users?
  3. How will this move affect our long-term strategic goals?

By carefully assessing opportunities through the lens of your Focus Filters, you ensure your company’s growth remains aligned with your purpose, passion, and/or just cause — your Compelling Why. This approach helps you avoid distractions and provides a clear lens for making strategic decisions that support your long-term goals and drive your company’s success.

Become a Stage Five Company

Building a Stage Five Company requires focus, discipline, and a clear sense of direction. To achieve this, you must define your Focus Filters and use them consistently to guide your decision-making process. Here are some key challenges companies face and how Focus Filters can help solve them:

  • Challenge: Lack of clarity and direction can lead to inconsistent decision-making and hinder growth.
    Solution: Clearly define your Focus Filters: your Core Values, Ideal Customer, UVP, Compelling Why, and long-term goals. Then, continuously share them with your entire organization. Make them a core part of everyone’s decision-making lens.
  • Challenge: Pursuing misaligned opportunities can waste resources and derail progress toward your goals.
    Solution: Evaluate every opportunity through the lens of your Focus Filters to ensure it aligns with your Vision.
  • Challenge: Misalignment among team members can lead to confusion, conflict, and reduced productivity.
    Solution: Consistently communicate your Focus Filters to your team for increased focus, better alignment, and a shared sense of purpose.
  • Challenge: Failing to lock in a crystal clear and embraced set of Focus Filters will hinder your team’s ability to respond quickly to everyday decisions that are relatively easy to make when everyone is aligned around what matters.
    Solution: Establish Focus Filters that you’re confident will endure. This clarity will enable your entire organization to take advantage of the power of compounding as your company grows and evolves. Tweak them thoughtfully if, and only when, necessary to reflect significant changes in your business, industry, or long-term objectives. They should align with your current reality and future goals while still staying true to your overall Vision.

Why should you care about Focus Filters? Just as the Northern Constellation gave seafaring travelers the navigation aids they needed to reach their destination, well-defined Focus Filters light the path for how to effectively and efficiently turn your Vision into reality.

By consistently assessing opportunities based on your Focus Filters, you and your entire organization will excel at making confident decisions on how to best steer you toward consistent company growth. They offer the alignment and adaptability needed to make informed decisions, unify your team, and overcome challenges that threaten your progress. By viewing every decision and action through the lens of your Focus Filters, they’ll lead you to an extraordinarily productive, humane, and resilient organization you’ll love forever.

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