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Getting Employees to Focus - 29 April 2009

The lady in this photo is Sekai Holland – a 66-year old grandmother living in Zimbabwe. In 2007, she and many others were brutally attacked by seventeen of Robert Mugabe’s violent thugs. Using a variety of weapons such as clubs and batons, Sekai was beaten continuously over several hours. She was hit on the face and all over her body; her earrings were viciously ripped off; and they broke her ribs, her arm, her leg, and then forced her to walk around.

All in all, Sekai suffered over 80 serious injuries before they pushed her out of a truck. During the entire time, she focused intensely on not crying. She didn’t shed a single tear.

Sekai said in an interview that during her beating, "None of us asked for mercy, none of us asked for water, none of us asked for the toilet." By removing these distractions she was able to focus exclusively on infuriating her attackers by refusing to cry. Likewise, to get your employees to focus, your first step is to minimise distractions, such as noisy equipment, changing priorities, personal interruptions, and other disruptions.

Sekai’s crime was that she was a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, the political opposition to Mugabe’s evil regime. Despite thousands of torture victims, murders, and kidnappings, Sekai has steadfastly remained an active member because she so passionately aspires for peace in Zimbabwe. This emotion keeps her focused on her goal.

Similarly, your second step is to trigger emotions in your employees that will get them to focus astutely on the task at hand. There are two main emotions you can stir up. One of these is fear, which might come from the threat of a job loss, reduced bonuses, written warnings, and so on. The other is joy, which can be derived from recognition, rewards, job fulfilment, etc. Fear can work – but never leads to employee engagement. Joy always does.

Today, Mugabe’s political party is in a power-sharing arrangement with the MDC. Sekai recently became the Minister of State responsible for National Healing and Reconciliation, working alongside the man who orchestrated her physical pain and the devastation of her country. Sekai and her colleagues could have refused to work in unity with Mugabe, but this would have meant trying to focus on an excessive number of priorities with limited resources.

What Sekai acknowledged was focus fatigue, which is the achievement of nothing when you try to do too much. Your third step then is to be mindful of the number of goals you set your employees. Managers who subscribe to the ridiculous theory of “what gets measured gets done” fall into the focus fatigue trap. Concentrate only on what’s most important.

Employee focus is an economic commodity. It’s in short supply and there’s a lot competing for its attention. It’s really as scarce as prosperity in Zimbabwe.

 

To download complimentary e-books on employee engagement, retention, and recruitment (valued at over $100), please click here.

 

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