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Have you ever wondered why some employees always accomplish their goals? How about those who do so way ahead of schedule? And then there are team members who not only beat the clock on those deadlines; they take on additional tasks making you look like a mere mortal. It turns out those types of incredibly focused and high-energy people are the minority. But they are they ever loathed by us mere mortals. In a 2002 study based on ten years of research in a dozen large-sized companies, Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal proposed “The Focus-Energy Matrix.” The study identified four types of employee behaviors found in our organizations:
  • disengagement;
  • procrastination;
  • distraction; and
  • purposefulness.
The behaviors were plotted on a 2x2 matrix using Focus and Energy on the axis: [caption id="attachment_1065" align="alignnone" width="646"] Focus-Energy Matrix[/caption] Individuals with low focus and low energy were deemed procrastinators, a group of people that made up 30% of the organization. These are the people who claim they’re going to write a book but never do. Disengaged employees—those with high focus but low energy—comprised 20% of the organization. I suppose they’re focused on being lifeless at work. Those considered to be distracted made up a whopping 40% of the population. They were employees who demonstrated a high level of energy but very little ability to focus. They are the people in meetings doing seven things at once pretending they are expert multi-taskers. Bruch and Ghoshal discovered that only 10% of the employees demonstrated purposefulness in their actions. These types of individuals, although small, were unique. They were the folks who were in control of their executive functions. According to WebMD, executive functions are a set of mental skills that help you get things done. An area of the brain called the frontal lobe control these skills. If we are not governing our executive functions, ultimately we wind up as part of the 90% in Bruch and Ghoshal’s study that lack focus, energy and so on. Your executive functions are critically important. They help you in several key areas including:
  • attention span;
  • time management;
  • planning;
  • memory;
  • focus; and
  • remembering.
Executive functions also prevent you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. (Hint: think about that guy at work who is always putting his foot in his mouth at your bi-weekly team meeting.) Why is it only 10% of the population is effective, registering high levels of energy and focus? They are in control, positive and they are disciplined. “Aware of the value of time, they manage it carefully. Some refuse to respond to e-mails, phone calls, or visitors outside certain periods of the day,” wrote the researchers. “Purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel.” But in addition to energy, they possess an ability to push through rhetoric, bureaucracy, and roadblocks. In other words, they can concentrate, block out the distractions, and get things done. They do not let the vibration of a newly liked Tweet to break their focus. “They decide first what they must achieve and then work to manage the external environment—tapping into resources, building networks, honing skills, broadening their influence—so that, in the end, they meet their goals. A sense of personal volition—the refusal to let other people or organizational constraints set the agenda—is perhaps the subtlest and most important distinction between this group of managers and all the rest.” The research published in 2002, but in 2018 I believe things have worsened. If we were to analyze employees today, I believe the 10% classified as demonstrating “purposefulness” in 2002 has dropped. I reckon those who properly balance their focus and energy now sits at approximately 5%. What terrifies me is our level of distraction. Our ability to focus has crashed to the earth. Our inability to concentrate is profound. The “always on” mindset that has gripped society—be it with the near-pervasive and constant use of mobile devices and laptops or the inability to switch off from work when at home, etc.—is forcing our energy levels to rise. But as those energy levels have shot up—looking for the next dopamine hit from a text, email, DM or red check mark found on a laptop’s web browser—so too I have witnessed a collapse in our focus. And when our focus wanes, our attention span plummets, and we become detrimentally distracted. This is a new plague afflicting our organizations. As a father of three, I have spent the past decade and a bit watching (and re-watching) films produced by Disney Pixar. One that has been viewed several times in our home is Up. Regardless of the plot, I am always reminded of the dogs who were outfitted with high-tech collar contraptions that allowed them to speak English. The writers were having a go at the human race. When the dogs got distracted—as they often did in the film—we witnessed them freezing in mid-sentence, looking left, only to scream, “Squirrel!!” (because they lost their focus after seeing a squirrel.) The humor, of course, is that the dogs in Up are as distracted as we humans. This is what we have become. We now constantly scream “Squirrel!!” in our new world of distractedness and low levels of focus.
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