THE BLOG
09/24/2014 11:10 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

The Magic Formula for Distraction Subtraction

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Sharply focused teams tend to deliver results effectively. Those who take on too many things tend to melt down. Sounds simple, but in this distracted world, it's an issue in most organizations.

Is everyone on your team aware of your short list of key priorities? If I asked them, could they rattle them off? Are you actively monitoring for distractions and filtering them out?

Whether you're running a Fortune 500 corporation, a pre-IPO start up, or a government agency, the simple formula of choose, transmit, and filter can make the difference between success and failure. In fact, many leaders who under-deliver on their goals or fail in their roles, do one or two of these things well, but not all three.

Fixing Failure to Choose

Here's what I hear when I interview the leader's colleagues: "She says "yes" too often, and we end up having 10 big priorities -- that's too many, and we lose focus." And, "He changes priorities too frequently. If it's a "shiny object," then he wants to try it, and we're left saying 'What just happened?'"

Fix it: To deliver most effectively you first need to narrow down the universe of the "important" to a small number of key priorities that: a) are within your / your group's capabilities, b) will directly propel your organization or initiative to its overall desired goals within a set time frame, and c) will address and remove key obstacles along the way. These priorities need to be likely to remain as important a year from now as they are today, and highly correlated to your organizational strategy.

Fixing Failure to Transmit Your Priorities

Sounds like: "He has a good idea of what he wants -- or we think he does -- but he's very guarded about them, so we're not at all sure where we're heading and why." And, "I know she's got priorities, but I'm not totally sure what they are -- she needs to let everyone know what they are, so we're all on the same page."

Fix it: To deliver most effectively once you have your handful of priorities, you now need to "transmit" them over and over -- and over again -- to all involved. Stay on message with them by returning to them in your future communication, social media, and other forums. Priorities are useless if they're clear in your mind but aren't drilled into the minds of the entire organization. Make your priorities their mantras.

Fixing Failure to Filter

Sounds like: "She's an idea truck -- every month she'll dump off (or she'll get from HQ) the next batch of big ideas, and we end up changing tactics and strategies too often." And, "He needs to hold the line on our priorities when the board is asking questions about alternatives. Just because they ask a question or challenge a strategy doesn't mean he should go change it."

Fix it: Potential distractions to your key priorities are always trying to clot the arteries of your enterprise -- it's human (and organizational) nature. It's critical that you actively monitor for them and filter them out.

If the latest great idea or important initiative is not directly related to delivering one of your key priorities then it's your time to shine with a creative "no thank you."

Filtering out potential and actual distractions before they impact the people doing your work - -having the "managerial courage" to say no to colleagues, higher-ups, or your board, whom you're more inclined to please than disappoint -- means you need to be creative to make sure they can absorb and agree to a "no."

To that end, and to say no effectively, you need to be careful. Remember that it's the task at hand AND the long term relationship with the person you've got to turn down.

Provide them with plenty of context and rationale for the denial. Sometimes a flat out high-context "no" is the right thing, particularly when you think they'll absorb it well. In other cases -- as in dealing with a more autocratic board or CEO, it often needs to be a "yes, that's a great idea, and we have to find the right time for it - if we don't want to interfere with the results we've shared with the marketplace, then it should be a next-year thing," or a "yes, and here's what would happen to our results if we did that," or a "yes, and here's what would be needed for that to happen."

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Keep your own (and your team's) focus as clear as a bell: Choose, transmit and filter your way to achieve results, and your team will be more likely than not to stay on track and execute effectively.