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Focus to Succeed

Focus to Succeed – One of the main reasons strategic initiatives fail is a lack of focus. There is a growing problem in today’s working environment.  And it is not that people are being distracted by things that are unrelated to their work, it is quite the opposite.  With the plethora of tools available to ‘help’ people, they now have too many options to consider. With so many things that ‘could’ be done, it has become difficult to focus on the things that ‘need’, to be done. It has been estimated that around 35% of employees time in the workplace is spent on unplanned activities, firefighting or dealing with unplanned requests.  This is exacerbated by the time it take to re-focus on the original activity (prior to the interruption) before once again becoming productive.

More often than not the problem originates with senior management who do not know, or worse still, have not bought into, an organisations strategic priorities. Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Chairman of the Board Project Management Institute and author of The Focused Organisation conducted an experiment to examine this.  He has facilitated more than 30 workshops with senior managers where he asked them to write down on a flip-chart the organisations top 3 strategic initiatives.  Most of the participants wrote down many more than 3 initiatives and many wrote down their own initiatives (not the organisations).  Nieto-Rodriguez purpose was to demonstrate that if the senior managers did not know what they should be focusing on, then how could they expect their staff to focus?  Nieto-Rodriguez further concluded that this lack of focus could be explained by the pressure CEO’s put on management to show results quickly by investing in multiple small initiatives believing that doing lots of things would increase their chance of success.

Unfortunately being focused does not come naturally to human beings. A study by research psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University showed that on average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. (Wandering mind not a happy mind) This figure surprised the researchers. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert said. This, of course, is a big problem in the work place.  Unhappy employees are less effective than happy ones and a lack of focus simply reinforces our natural desire to to have a wandering mind.

Being focused is difficult. It requires discipline and order, often imposed order.  When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 one of the first things he did was to cancel over 300 projects. In the organisation at the time there were projects on top of projects.  Nothing was being cancelled. Jobs believed that Apple needed to become a highly focused company.  His strategy worked. And it tends to work for all companies that become highly focused. Focus is closed aligned to the law of diminishing returns and can be expressed like this: if we focus on one thing we will achieve one thing; if we focus on three things, we might achieve one or two; if we focus on ten things, we will achieve nothing. Are you going to focus to succeed?