We’ve discussed each of the four quadrants in our attention matrix. We’ve given an idea of what characterizes people and organizations who find themselves in each quadrant, and we’ve outlined a bit of the results from being in that quadrant.
So as a recap, here are the four quadrants again:
|Distracted||Management’s flavor of the month with lots of constantly changing priorities||Frenzied workplace, little focus, no clear purpose|
|Activity Focus||Lots of energy and attention spent on activities that don’t really matter||People meeting or exceeding targets for goals that don’t have an impact on organizational success|
|Missed Opportunity||A few key people overtaxed and stretched too thin; relies on a talent-only strategy||Not enough capable talent producing at the levels needed for the organization to grow and thrive; development is ignored
|Outcome Focus||People know the critical outcomes they should produce and spend focused time producing them; coaching and organizational systems support production of the outcomes||Across the board positive shift in performance. Same cost yields more to the bottom line. Individual role excellence driving organizational and business success!|
Questions to ponder:
- Is your organization in the outcomes focused quadrant? If not, how do you begin the journey to get there?
Now we come to the fourth and final quadrant, the one that all companies should strive to be in: the outcome focus quadrant.
In the outcome focus quadrant, people concentrate on areas that are important to their success, managers support them through coaching, and measurements and reward systems are aligned to support the focused use of time. The net result, as you would expect, is to produce outcomes that benefit the organization and directly improve the desired returns. It all sounds so easy, but if it were, every company would be operating smoothly and efficiently. Unfortunately, getting to the outcome focus quadrant is actually quite a challenge.
In part, the challenge stems from the changing nature of work in organizations. In simpler times, work was essentially explicit and task based. What was important was evident. Whether the work being produced was to standard was easily evaluated. Alignment, focus, and attention to the tasks that mattered were practically self-evident.
The nature of work today, however, is mostly abstract. Though some explicit and valuable tasks still exist, the majority of work consists of mental activities such as analysis, planning, and synthesis. The best performers most likely have developed effective mental models that guide their use of time to focus on producing outcomes that add value to the roles they play—and ultimately to the success of the organization. In earlier times, teaching explicit tasks was important to developing the organization. Today, understanding and teaching successful mental models is the key to individual and organizational success.
For example, on a recent project involving a complex sales role, we learned a simple territory planning strategy from the top performers that was a critical element to their top-tier performance. They had discovered what mattered, incorporated those elements as a part of their mental model, and were devoting a significant percentage of their time to focusing on those elements.
Unfortunately, leadership was mostly unaware of the importance of these particular focus areas, and there was significant tension between what management wanted and what top performers knew mattered. To the managers’ credit, when they were made aware of the critical nature of the top performers’ mental model, they immediately began to coach other performers to spend more focused time and energy on the elements that comprised the top performers’ mental model. That began a virtuous cycle where management coached performers to focus on things that matter, performers began to produce those outcomes more consistently, and the organization benefited from improved sales results.
Questions to ponder:
- What does management in your organization focus on? How do they ensure attention is properly placed on outcomes that matter?
This week we’ll look at the third quadrant: the missed opportunity quadrant. In many ways, the missed opportunity quadrant can be the most frustrating of all.
Being in this quadrant is a result of identifying areas that matter but being unable to focus appropriately on those areas. It’s like seeing the finish line, but for some reason not being able to reach it.
Too often missed opportunities stem from our success. Allow us to explain.
How many times have you heard (or said), “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person”? Or, perhaps, “We need to put our best people on this effort”?
While we have all successfully deployed these strategies from time to time, the basis of this concept relies on top talent. All good organizations rely on recruiting and deploying talented people. The trap, when this is the principal approach, is that as the organization grows, finding and bringing on new talent at the levels required to sustain the growth is extremely difficult. And because systematic development to grow talent within the organization has been ignored, those who have proven themselves tend to be called on repeatedly. As a result they become stretched too thin, and in an effort to juggle all the we-need-you-on-this requests, even the most important requests fail to receive the attention they need and deserve. Whether this phenomenon exists at micro or macro levels within the organization, it produces missed opportunities.
Five plus or minus two is a rule from neuroscience that suggests that we as individuals can truly focus on only three to seven items of importance. Our study of top performers confirms that optimum performance comes from focusing on four to seven discrete outcomes. More than that and attention is divided between too many worthy endeavors to complete any of them with excellence.
Next week we’ll discuss what happens when we first determine what matters and then appropriately focus our attention on those things: the outcome focus quadrant.
Question to ponder:
- Are you and your best people spread too thin on too many we-really-need-you-on-this endeavors?