We all know and live with the distractions that pull us from our true priorities. From the personal issues that tug at us while we’re striving to work and live, to the endless number of workplace distractions, focus often seems like an abstract concept.
A bit of daily extra effort by you to reinforce focus and help people and teams regularly recalibrate (and deal with life issues) will contribute to noticeably stronger performance over time.
5 Ideas to Help Your Team Find and Keep Focus:
1. Anchor goals, initiatives and projects with strategy. Move strategy from abstract to concrete to strengthen focus and improve performance. While I repeat this fairly frequently (OK, ad nauseum) in this forum, it’s something I trip across in organizations large and small on a regular basis. Strategy is too often an abstract concept, and as a result, every good idea seems like a…well, a good idea. The outcome is invariably too many unfiltered initiatives in play, stressing resources and straining management.
Senior leaders have an obligation to help ensure connectivity to strategy for everyone in the organization. If it’s not clear to you why something is important or how it impacts your firm’s/department’s ability to move the needle on strategy, it’s time to check in and ask the boss. Connectivity to strategy helps people and teams keep track of true priorities, and importantly, it creates legitimacy for saying “no” to distractions.
2. Assume priority drift will occur and strive to course correct on the fly. This is one place where paranoia truly pays. People and teams invariably lose focus if there’s not someone or some process to help them calibrate on what’s important and what’s not. Effective leaders use every encounter with teams and individuals to ask questions and strive to identify points of disconnect from true priorities. Another approach is to kick off status meetings with a reminder of the importance of an initiative to supporting the firm’s strategies.
3. Beware recurring meetings that lose their reason for being. These are daily or weekly distractions that dull the senses and waste time. Too many of our status and operating meetings shift from meaningful to autopilot. We all know when that happens, and yet people grow comfortable with the regularity. Encourage your team leaders and functional heads to regularly purge the system of meetings that are no longer relevant.
4. Increase the value of “Round the Table” updates. You know the type…they start at one end and continue all the way around the table and people share what they are doing. While interesting, strive to improve the effectiveness of these meetings by reviewing key strategy and scorecard measures and on aligning around customer and market-facing issues and sharing new insights and lessons learned through strategy execution activities. Make these meetings part of the overall organizational learning process.
5. Give people latitude to deal with life’s issues. I’m grateful for those leaders I’ve worked around who get this. Give someone an opportunity to resolve the personal issue that can only be handled during working hours, and you’ll gain their commitment and additional effort ten-fold. If not, you’ve got the wrong people. Loosen up, trust people, let them take care of the issues in their lives and if they kick you in the teeth by abusing this, get new people.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
Focus, progress and performance are earned every day, one step and one encounter at a time. While there are no silver bullets for keeping people engaged, a few simple behavioral shifts on your part coupled with an active defense against time-wasting meetings will go a long way to supporting the cause.
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An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.