These days, we’re all familiar with the concept of A.D.D. or attention deficit disorder. Most of us have probably claimed (jokingly or not) to have it at times, especially when we’re feeling pulled in a million different directions.
But it’s not just an individual affliction. Organizations can suffer from attention deficit as well.
When it happens, the entire enterprise may rapidly shift from one priority to another, chasing the fickle whims of leadership. Sometimes, it’s caused by a vague organizational mission or lack of cohesion within the leadership team itself. At other times, it’s a measure of desperation. The organization becomes distracted with the next shiny object or big idea that promises a much-needed win. Still other organizations suffer because they’re simply trying to do too much at once, so commitment to any one thing becomes impossible.
As an employee, this kind of environment can feel unstable and confusing. It’s hard to know, at any given time, where to place your focus. That high-priority project you’re working on today could be deprioritized tomorrow. That big, important initiative may end up back-burnered indefinitely. You end up feeling stuck in a constant cycle of ramping up and ramping down, and a perpetual state of transition.
If you’re in an organization where attention and focus are quickly fleeting, here are some strategies to help improve the situation and cope.
As new priorities and directives are issued, make sure you take the time to understand how they relate to the overall organizational goals. By asking questions, you help gain clarity for yourself, and you may also inspire leaders to consider the impact of their decisions from a more holistic perspective.
When priorities change rapidly, remind your leaders of what had been previously established and why. Explain the consequences of shifting mid-stream—lost time, money and other resources—and help them to determine if the potential benefit is really worth it. Use whatever influence you have to help identify the right areas of focus, and then help maintain that focus long enough to see results.
Stay Up-to-Date with Changes
In this kind of environment, you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand. If you’re not staying informed of changes, you may end up quickly (and dramatically) off course with your own priorities. You may inadvertently sink hours upon hours into a dead project or make decisions based on now obsolete information. Keep your eyes and ears open for signs of changing winds and make direct inquiries when needed to ensure you’re staying on track.
Manage Distractions for Your Team
Finally, for those managing a team within an organization suffering from attention deficit, do your best to shield your staff. Create stability for them by evaluating shifting priorities and asking yourself how to minimize impact. If a change in focus doesn’t directly affect them, don’t let it become a distraction. If there is an effect, determine exactly what will have to change to meet the new priorities, and help your team understand where their attention belongs now. Encourage them not to get frustrated or lose momentum when plans go awry. Agility is the name of the game.
Focus is a key strength for most successful organizations. They have clarity of mission and align their priorities accordingly. At the same time, they must not be so tied to a chosen path that they can’t course-correct along the way when needed. Leaders who understand this delicate balance can help build and maintain organizational attention.