Attention Matrix: Distracted
Let’s start with the least desirable quadrant in our attention matrix: the distracted quadrant. Distraction comes from attempting to juggle too many things that carry little or no value for the organization or individual.
This quadrant would seem to be the least of our concerns. It’s obviously worthy of so little attention that both individuals and organizations should be able to easily avoid it. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. All too often, we find ourselves wondering how so many people get caught in the trap of distraction.
Let’s start with the choice of what to focus on: the value-production axis. Tasks of little importance also tend to be items of little risk. They spring up as the next bright, shiny object. They are easy to attain, project great promise, and tend to be easy to measure. They are, however, shallow and often provide misleading information.
At the risk of offending some organizations, allow us to paint a word picture using some all-too-common brush strokes: the management flavor of the month.
We’ve all heard about it before, usually laughingly and disparagingly, when the memo or e-mail arrives from the executive team about some new program. Last month it was total something and this month it’s holistic something else—always presented with glowing accolades amid the promise of improved morale, better results to present to Wall Street, and a smooth, painless path to execution. Until next month, when yet another bright, shiny program is rolled out.
It’s so common that most organizations have even adopted language to describe the reaction: the corporate immune system. There are two typical reactions in this phenomenon:
First, ignore it. Like everything else new, this, too, shall pass. Perhaps that’s not an altogether bad reaction. At least no harm is done to the organization.
Second, try to implement each and every bright, shiny object that is announced. The result, of course, is chaos. No program has time to gain traction. No focus is allowed. And no value accrues.
The net result is that performers turn their scarce attention to areas of performance that are unlikely to produce real value. The bright, shiny object becomes a surrogate, fooling the organization and luring it away from determining what really produces value and then developing measures that encourage the right focus, attention, and ultimately, behavior.
Organizations that are run like this spend their time fruitlessly bouncing from the HR initiative to the IT initiative to the sales initiative to no initiative at all. The frenzied pace distracts employees from customers and the core improvements that truly drive the business. And maybe worse, it burns out employees who, despite their best efforts, can’t seem to make sense of it all.
Next week we’ll look at what happens when we increase the attention focus but fail to first determine what’s important: the activity focus.
Question to ponder:
- What bright, shiny objects are distracting you or your organization?