4 Ways smart leaders manage their employees

Attention is an organization's most valuable asset but seldom is this quickly depleted resource managed well. Here is what leaders can do to focus the corporate mind on what really matters.

13 April 2018 | Business

Business leaders often solver the wrong problem, or focus on the left when the threat or opportunity is coming from the right. Seeing around corners is hard in business as well in our personal lives. We have limited mental resources and therefore block out signals deemed irrelevant.

Learning how to pay attention may sound odd, but it's fundamental. We don't do it well, and the key is to stay away from attention sinkholes. As Nobel laureate Herbert Simon warned, “a wealth of information creates a paucity of attention.”



The psychology

of attention

Attention researchers study what people notice as well as what they filter out in terms of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.

If a few random digits are fed into your left ear and different ones into your right at the same time, which side will get more attention (in terms of your recall later)?

Deliberate as well as automated processes are involved in attention. We can surely decide at a cocktail party whom to speak to or not.

But when shown an object and asked to describe its shape, we cannot ignore its colour because this is instantly processed by our minds. When asked not to think about an elephant, for example, it is already too late to banish this image from your brain.

Attention involves a complex interplay between sensing and interpreting; what we see is often determined by what we expect to see.

When people are asked to remember five playing cards that are briefly shown to them, most will fail to notice that some had the wrong colour, such as a red spade or a black heart.

We can be so focused on a single task that we fail to recognize things in the periphery.

In a widely seen short video, people are asked to count how often a basketball is passed among various players. Then a person dressed in a gorilla outfit slowly walks through the basketball play and less than half notice it.

North-western professor William Ocasio defines organisation attention as the socially structured pattern of focus by decision makers within the organization. Unlike individual attention, it is not easy to turn the head of an organisation in a different direction. As Thomas Davenport and John Beck noted in The Attention Economy, “before you can manage attention, you need to understand how depleted this resource is for organizations and individuals.”



What leaders can do to manage ­attention

1. Use available digital technologies to measure where organisational attention is high and low.

For example, by analysing work-related emails in a firm, suitably anonymised, leaders can track what issues are trending. Such text analytic approaches are widely used to assess consumer sentiments in the travel industry or for early detection of shifts in the appeal of political candidates.

Sentiment analysis software can handle massive amounts, from everything published in the popular media about a person to emails, intranets, or other corporate communications formats.

One downside is that many may view this as overly big brother.

2. Recognise that prior knowledge shapes and constrains the creation of new knowledge inside a firm.

New information can only create value if it connects with existing know-how, akin to a new drug needing to bind with cell receptors to work. If not, it will be in one ear and out the other.

The richer a firm's existing knowledge base is around a topic, the finer will be its sieve for catching new information.

If leaders feel that more attention should be paid to customer service, regulatory compliance, or some promising new ­technology, they need to train people in those domains.

This will enhance the firm's absorptive capacity in those areas and draw organizational attention there.

As Louis Pasteur noted, chance favours the prepared mind, and various techniques, such as scenario planning, scanning exercises, and war gaming–can help prepare the corporate mind to get lucky or smarter.

3. Know that although focused attention is crucial in comprehending new information, too much of it can backfire.

Focusing intently on one area comes at the price of highly reduced peripheral vision about things happening elsewhere.

To avoid walking around with blinders, or running through red lights, leaders must create slack to explore beyond the firm's narrow fields of vision.

One way is to encourage curiosity about interesting topics seemingly removed from present concerns.

Another is to create task forces that counter the prevailing focus areas of the organization, such a red team tasked with challenging whether a new strategy is really working or a special scouting trek to explore a potentially disruptive technology that most others are ignoring.

4. Encourage managers to develop a third ear or eye, which is all about noticing hidden cues or soft signals that matter.

When meeting with customers or external partners, also pay attention to what is not being said and learn how to read between the lines.

The brilliant fictional detective Sherlock Holmes did that when, examining the murder of a horse trainer, he asked a local constable about the curious incident of the dog not barking. Holmes deduced from this missing clue that the dog knew the murderer.

A more disastrous example of not spotting missing data occurred when NASA examined a data chart of previous shuttle flights the night before the ­scheduled launch of the Challenger shuttle in 1986.

The concern was that low temperatures could cause O-rings to fail, but the chart showed no correlation between past O-ring damage and ambient temperature. However, the chart did not include flights with zero O-ring damage, and including those would have clearly established a link.

NASA proceeded with the launch, and a few minutes later the shuttle exploded mid-air, killing all aboard.

- https://www.inc.com

Similar News

 

Gem of a quarter for Namdeb

1 hour ago | Business

Jo-Maré Duddy – Namdeb Holdings produced more than half a million carats in the first three months of 2018, the first time in 16 quarters...

Give women a chance in mining - Namene

1 hour ago | Business

NDAMA NAKASHOLEThe Electricity Control Board CEO, Foibe Namene, has urged men in mining to be mindful of women’s disadvantaged position in the industry, with a...

Shining first quarter for Namdeb

14 hours ago | Business

Namdeb Holdings produced 528 000 carats of diamonds in the first three months of 2018, according to De Beers’ latest production report released this morning.This...

Company news

1 day - 24 April 2018 | Business

Caledonia plans Zimbabwe expansionCaledonia Mining plans to buy gold assets in Zimbabwe and increase its stake in the Blanket mine after the removal of the...

Bank admits it made R420bn transfer error

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

Germany's biggest lender Deutsche Bank on Friday admitted to a massive erroneous transfer of €28billion (about R420billion) in a routine operation, more than the entire...

Regulatory board set to name and shame auditors

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

The Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (Irba) will stop hiding the names of auditors and auditing companies found guilty of contravening its professional standards, code...

Tax

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

If you own a building and use it for purposes of your trade, the Income Tax Act allows a capital deduction under section 17(1)(f). Using...

First Marine Spatial Plan

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

What human activities may take place where and when in Namibia's marine space? As this question has no simple answer, about 100 experts from various...

DeBeers to clean up Sierra Leone diamond supply chain

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

Global diamond giant De Beers is rolling out an app to help small-scale, artisanal diamond miners in Sierra Leone certify that gems they pry from...

Company news

2 days ago - 23 April 2018 | Business

SA’s Pick n Pay FY profit up South African retailer Pick n Pay Stores posted a 7.1% rise in full-year earnings on Thursday, as the...

Latest News

Neckartal gets lion's share of...

1 hour ago | Economics

About 46.4% of the N$2.137 billion agriculture budget is earmarked for the development of the water sector and for water supply to rural communities in...

Moussongela girls 'safe' in UK

1 hour ago | Justice

A London court has ruled that three daughters of accused sex offender Pedro Moussongela will remain in the United Kingdom and not be returned to...

Totem

1 hour ago | Economics

Quote of the dayI want to raise the spectre of the [tourism] industry doing more in tangible ways. – Keith Sproule, executive director: Abercrombie &...

Gem of a quarter for...

1 hour ago | Business

Jo-Maré Duddy – Namdeb Holdings produced more than half a million carats in the first three months of 2018, the first time in 16 quarters...

Give women a chance in...

1 hour ago | Business

NDAMA NAKASHOLEThe Electricity Control Board CEO, Foibe Namene, has urged men in mining to be mindful of women’s disadvantaged position in the industry, with a...

Site of horror to be...

1 hour ago | History

The largely forgotten German colonial concentration camp at Shark Island in Lüderitz may soon be declared a national heritage site. The National Heritage Council intends...

Tourism Networking Conference to precede...

1 hour ago | Events

Staff Reporter - The local and regional tourism community are all looking forward to the 20th edition of the ever-popular Namibia Tourism Expo which will...

NTTU regroups after strike

1 hour ago | Transport

At least 20 taxi owners retrieved their vehicles at a cost of N$1 000 each yesterday, after the vehicles were impounded on Monday when a...

Govt drags feet on N$6.4m...

1 hour ago | Justice

Finance minister Calle Schlettwein has been given until 12 June to explain the inactivity around a N$6.4 million lawsuit that sees his ministry suing TransWorld...

Load More