Thursday, 1 May 2014

Focus on the 'Bright Spots'

I have spent the last couple of weeks working with a number of senior leaders from different businesses, different parts of the value chain and from within different industries. Everywhere from Sales to Service to Supply Chain to HR. From Retail to Law to Digital to Healthcare to Telecommunications.

And yet despite the difference, they all have a common theme – that being the challenge of leaders to get the very best from their people. How do they engage, ignite, motivate, support and challenge their organisation to do well? To do more? To do different? And all with good grace? These questions remain the continual opportunity and priority of leaders in business today, and what struck me was the pervasive presence of a particularly unhelpful habit – one that it’s all too easy to fall in to as a leader who delivers results through others.

Imagine you’re looking at a typical management information dashboard. It’s reporting on the progress of a project, a team, an initiative. You see plenty of green bars and also one or two red bars. Where do you focus your efforts? What do you want to talk about? Lead on? Centre your discussions around?  Undoubtedly it’s those red bars. Let’s flip the example. Let’s say that it’s a dashboard of almost all red bars, with only one or two green ones….again – where is your eye drawn? Where do you want to focus your conversation and energy as a leader? It’s those red bars again isn’t it?

Let’s step back for a second. Do you know anyone at all who needs yet another individual in their life telling them what’s not working?

A fantastic book, which I have been using as part of my conversations with these clients, is ‘Switch’ by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It’s a fascinating read, packed with rich, thought-provoking, real-life examples drawn from many different parts of the world and many different facets of life. Their book centres on the concept of ‘bright spots’. They talk about a number of different examples to reinforce the concept – that being that a ‘bright spot’ tends to be counter intuitive; it violates conventional norms and can produce positively deviant results. They talk about how energy tends to follow focus; and how pride is everywhere; it’s part of the human condition. Traditionally, we have tended to use analysis to focus on what isn’t working; what’s not ‘right’; what ‘could be better’. However, when we focus predominantly on what’s going wrong, we can demoralise, demotivate and distract others from the real purpose. We can become paralysed with fear and uncertainty; we hesitate.

Instead, the authors of ‘Switch’ encourage us to focus on what’s going well; what’s working; what’s going ‘right’. Our goal as leaders is to connect, engage, delight our people to deliver better results for us – year after year. If we really want to succeed and if we really want to excel, do something that for some will be quite different. Focus on the ‘bright spots’.