The ability to achieve focus is surely the greatest asset any employee could have in a world of work now assailed by Covid and the resultant restrictions. As if things weren’t difficult enough already, given the constant change in the workplace through technological advances, increasing customer demands, ever-flatter structures and so on.
People that can find and maintain their focus amongst this noise are at an advantage and leaders that can coach them to do so will see their results dramatically improve; (and yes, survival will be a pretty good result for some this year).
When someone is focused they work with a quiet concentration that seems almost eerie. When a person is focused they achieve results with half the effort of their huffing and puffing colleagues and become so aware of what they’re doing that every task becomes a learning experience.
Athletes talk of being ‘in the zone’, actors talk of being ‘in flow’ and these are all alternative expressions of describing focus. For many people it is a state they have experienced only rarely, and often only fleetingly when they do. However, it is a state that can be cultivated through coaching though we must first ensure we’re clear about exactly focus is.
Focus distracts us from being distracted
When we’re focused we’re almost oblivious to other things that are going on around us, as anyone who has experienced the condition will readily testify. Watch a teenager absorbed in a new online game and you’ll see exactly what effective focus is like.
This is especially important in the context of remote working. There are so many distractions competing for our attention when we’re away from our normal place of work – particularly at home – and without a leader to remind us to get back to the task at hand, even the most dedicated of us can find our mind and attention wandering away.
Focus follows interest
Before we can expect anyone to focus on their work or critical aspects of certain tasks we must take time to ensure that they’ll be interested. This may seem unfair or even indulgent but it’s an inescapable fact that you cannot force people to focus – as any parent trying to get their children to do their homework instead of watching TV will acknowledge.
Many will be interested from the start, but with other team members we may need to firstly create interest by explaining the requirements of a given task, underlining its importance and pointing out any key connections with other projects.
Focus needs to be appropriate
In a work context this normally means focusing on what is to be achieved rather than what is to be avoided. It can be important to set goals in positive language; ‘Achieving quality standards’ is better than ‘Minimise wastage’. ‘Keep spending within budget’ is better than ‘No overspends’.
Focus should be singular
Ideally we should allow people to focus on one thing at a time, although this is virtually impossible in any modern place of work and so instead we should try to minimise the numerous different areas of focus that vie for most people’s attention.
A member of your team may well have ten things to do, but they’ll do them better in sequence rather than in parallel. This may mean some changes in the way that the work of your team is organised and distributed but it would be well worth the effort.
Focus is provoked through questions not instructions
Imagine you work in a customer relation type role and I ask a coaching question such as ‘What do you most notice about the tone of your customer’s voice?’ To answer my question you’ll need to focus on the customer’s voice, which is of course exactly what I want you to do! But asking you about customer tone rather than instructing you to concentrate upon it raises your awareness, encourages you to take responsibility and demonstrates that I trust you.
Focus – your greatest asset. It is the outcome of cultivating these three key coaching principles.