After survey results we try to do too much. How do we better focus?

When reviewing employee survey results leaders in my org often try to do too much and then we don’t get anything done, how do I help my leaders find focus and get moving on action?

It is a very human behavior to try to take on too much at once when faced with lots to do. We think we can multi-task but there is plenty of research that suggests otherwise. Research summarized nicely in this APA article finds that individuals can lose up to 40% productivity, take more time to complete tasks and make more errors when trying to do more things at once. Finding focus enables us to be more productive. Focus is equally important for organizations. A research study of 1,800 global executives from Strategy&, published in Harvard Business Review, found that as an executive team’s priority list grows, the company’s revenue growth declines relative to its peers.

I have worked with organizations for years, helping them capture, analyze and act on employee feedback. Commonly executive teams will identify three-five ‘focus’ areas, each with a list of actions - when you look at the list and the resources available, there isn’t really much focus at all. This lack of focus usually results in resources being spread too thin, broken lines of communication and little actually being done before measurement is taken again.

At Culture Amp we take great pride in learning from our customers. When acting on employee feedback, clear focus on just one or two areas seems to differentiate organizations who are able to drive effective change. Focus enables organizational alignment, speed in action and cross-business collaboration.

If you are struggling to help your organization focus following an employee survey, don’t worry, you are not alone.

I think organizations struggle to find focus for three key reasons:

  1. Disconnected data. Capturing large amounts of employee feedback is easier than it ever has been. However, many still use surveys and systems that are not fit for purpose or lacking a clear purpose or goal. Leaders are often left navigating disconnected data, trying to find the story and a place to start .
  2. Fear of of picking the wrong thing. Often executives select multiple focus areas believing it increases their odds in picking the right one. More often than not, this divides attention and energy, sows confusion about what is most important to the organization and slows momentum on everything.
  3. We overestimate what we can achieve. Research suggests that at least 80% of humans have an overly optimistic view of the future. Tali Sharot describes in her research how humans are more likely to overestimate positive events occurring in the future. So, when leaders are presented with numerous potential focus opportunities following an employee survey, they are primed to take an optimistic view of what can be accomplished at once.

Without focus, you’ll likely end up with just a long list of disconnected actions. Instead I encourage you to find one thing to start with.

So, how do you help your team find focus?

  1. Leverage advanced analytics to guide focus - Use online employee feedback tools like Culture Amp which calculate a real-time impact analysis to help teams find focus. Culture Amp even has an embedded focus agent at every reporting level in the organization providing clear guidance on potential opportunities for focus.
  2. Align - Encourage leaders to evaluate feedback against organizational objectives and prioritize a focus area that is most aligned. This is a great way of demonstrating the value of employee feedback to all employees and ensures impact on business success.
  3. Vote - If the first two steps don’t get you to a clear focus, a simple vote with the team can get you there quickly. Start with the focus area that gets the most votes but make note of other potential focus areas to take on after you act on the primary one.

When you next conduct an employee survey and leaders pick multiple focus areas, challenge the assumption that you can effectively take it all on at one time. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to practice organisation change and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

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