Focus on the Forest, Not the Trees: A New Perspective for the New Year

For 2016, let’s get out of the weeds and focus on the big picture view of business. Let’s focus on the forest, not the trees.

In the green industry, we hear that statement a lot, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” But what does it really mean? According to the Urban Dictionary, It means that if you look at things one at a time, you might not realize that a branch of separate “trees” go together to make a “forest.”

When you are too close to a situation you need to step back and get a little perspective. When you do, you will notice there was a whole forest you couldn’t see before because you were too close, and focusing on the trees. More simply that you have focused on the many details and have failed to see the overall view, impression or key point.

Whether we are planning, organizing, leading or controlling, we need to step back and take a deep breath, empower our employees to do their work and focus on the business as a whole. I know, it’s hard.

So many of us started in the field and are passionate about our craft. As wonderful as it is to have passion, it can also hold us back. Remember what I shared in my first STT column as one of the 20 principals of management: Hire Superstars. Many managers fear superstars because they don’t want to be outdone or challenged. Be secure enough to hire the best and never hire anyone unless they are as good as you or better than you in skills and/or potential.

Taking that first step back, not in progress, but in reflection, can be daunting. Let’s break it down to just a few key triggers and ideas. Start with your planning process. Define the why, how and what of your organization to provide employees with a big-picture view.

Employees typically focus on daily tasks without an understanding of the big picture—the core principles and goals that should unite and guide everyone. When employees understand how their daily activities align with the organization’s purpose, values and goals, then work becomes more meaningful. And when employees see the organization from this broad perspective, they focus on results that make a difference.

To gain a big-picture view of your company, look at the “why,” “how” and “what.”

The “why” of an organization defines its purpose and mission. Businesses exist to make a profit, but they also exist to make a difference or to provide a service or product that meets a need. Employees must understand how their daily activities help to achieve the purpose.

Once you and your employees have identified the “why,” communicate the purpose and live by it. Create a culture that illuminates it. Do the people who work for you genuinely care about the cause? Are their daily activities contributing to that purpose?

The “how” is the collection of values that inspire and guide behavior—the organization’s guiding principles. These layers of principles form your competitive advantage. We often refer to these principles in the “organizing” function of management.

The “how” creates the mind-set that influences attitudes, drives behavior, and thus characterizes the organization and its employees. It’s not just what you do in life that matters; it’s how you do it that can make the difference. We establish roles and procedures that keep us working toward common goals and quality service. Of course as managers we need to overlay management principals such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the equation to make sure we are utilizing the right keys for motivating employees and inspiring them to also focus on the forest.

The final ingredient of the big picture is the “what” of the organization—its vision and goals. Employees must align their actions with the vision and goals. A clear picture of the vision and goals establishes desired results. Employees must understand what actions will support the health of the organization.

The “what” provides quantifiable measures to gauge results. Employees must be able to make smart choices in how they spend their time. With a clear vision and goals—the “what”—expressed in ways that are descriptive and quantifiable, employees can construct individual objectives and gauge how well they are making a difference through their work.

Many times this will start with a SWOT analysis – where we evaluate the strengths, weaknesses opportunity and threats that exist not only inside the organization but outside in the environment as well. From this point we can start to formulate where we want to go as an organization and begin to focus on the forest.

Put the Picture Together. When employees have a passion for the “why,” live by the “how” and focus on accomplishing the “what” of the organization, then they see the big picture. Employees don’t need to be micromanaged. Motivated by “why,” guided by “how” and targeted to achieve “what,” they can evaluate their daily activities to determine what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

Just like our urban and community forests, the forest of our businesses need care. Caring for your business entails surrounding yourself with good people that will grow with you and lead your business into the future. Create ways to evaluate the progress and benchmark it. Revisit your plan often enough that you can make adjustments and decisions along the way that lead to success. Be careful to give autonomy and responsibility to your grove and allow them to grow. May the forest be with you in 2016.