The Critical Importance of Focus


Uncomfortable truths: enthusiasm can kill implementation. Strategic direction falls apart if there are a lot of good ideas but little consensus on priority and sequence. Innovation will stall and fail if early peaks in zeal are drowned by too many required modifications. If everything is important, nothing is important.

A key task for any change, improvement or innovation leader is to focus everyone on only a very few priorities. The urgencies may vary across the levels of the organization, but there must be a perceivable linkage across and among the priorities for each level and from each level to the organizational goals. Everyone within the organization must be able to identify and focus on the aspects of their work that produce the greatest contribution to meeting the organization's goals.

Focus is not possible if goals are unstated, assumed, too vague or too numerous. "Patient care", for example, is impossibly nebulous. "Measurably improved patient health" is better. Add in "with reduced waste and increased satisfaction of patient and provider" and we have a useful focus to begin sorting discussions about where to invest our energies as individuals and teams.

Resist the temptation to appease everyone by including all improvement ideas at the same time. Keep the goal list to no more than five to seven items at any one level. More than that is confusing, hard to remember and it will take too long to review relevant daily performance metrics. That daily review at every level is important. Without regular communication about the focus goals and results, everyone's perceptions, interpretations and work will begin to vary in spite of their best intentions. That path leads to frustration for individuals, for change leaders and for the organization as a whole. All work must be actively coordinated towards attainment of shared goals and everyone must have feedback on their role and contribution at all times.

This is not your daddy's leadership. Change managers, regardless of their place in the organization, have to master and deploy quite a range of skills. A lot of team skills are required with a little lion-taming on the side. More on this in the next post.

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