Overcoming Intention Deficit in the Workplace

Move aside attention deficit – not the clinical kind but the one found in the workplace where people are overwhelmed and/or distracted by constant communication from too many directives, emails, text messages, phone calls, social media, etc.

A serious consequence of this distraction is intention deficit, or more aptly, intentional deficit. It’s not that managers and employees lack intention – defined as “a determination to act in a certain way.” What they often lack is the actual doing or proactive follow through of an intention particularly when it comes to strategic or business-specific planning, special problem-solving, idea-sharing, and training/development. I hear about it from my clients, workshop attendees, and colleagues: they know what needs to be done but they’re so overwhelmed they’re not always able to follow through or follow up on their efforts. They tell me they’re so busy putting out fires that they don’t have the time to prevent most of them in the first place.

Being intentional involves:

  1. Focus and clarity – clearly knowing what one needs to do and why, and
  2. Deliberate thought and action – investing the time to make it happen.

Here are several ways to overcome intention deficit in each of these areas.

Focus and clarity

  • Explain your organization’s purpose and direction; i.e, your mission, goals, strategy, and rationale.
  • Clearly communicate what’s expected of employees to achieve those goals.
  • Reinforce the above often – including any changes in direction and strategy – and share progress/results so people stay on track or can adjust accordingly.

“The biggest lesson has been the importance of constantly repeating the mission. It means spending meaningful time with everyone that joins, even if that’s in a group setting. It means bringing the team together every week to talk about all of our projects, progress, and vision. Most importantly: It means focus, to keep everybody moving in the same direction.” David Karp, Tumblr CEO

Deliberate thought and action

  • Commit to and invest the time to accomplish what needs to be done in special meetings or retreats for planning, problem-solving, idea-sharing, or training.
  • Create a comfortable climate that encourages nonjudgmental thinking and discussion. It’s important to disconnect yourself and others from any technology that diverts your attention such as cell phones, email, and social media. (Note: This may be difficult for some people who are always plugged in. Remind them that the messages, emails, tweets, and posts will still be there.)
  • Know the end goal – what you’re trying to accomplish in a special session – while also staying mission-focused.
  • Set up appropriate “next steps” – such as interim or progress report(s), resulting strategic or action plan(s), additional meeting(s) – and just do it.

Staff members brought together for a specific purpose in a setting with minimal distractions tell me they’re better able to focus on the topic at hand. An added benefit of participating in a well-run intentional session is that employees appreciate the opportunity to work with their colleagues in a face-to-face setting, especially in silo’d organizations.

Focused attention and intention. Communication and collaboration among employees. The ability to move forward and/or resolve issues. What are you waiting for?

“Never mistake motion for action.”  Ernest Hemingway



2 replies on “Overcoming Intention Deficit in the Workplace”

This is such a difficult challenge in an environment continually disrupted by the devices and interrupts – new texts, new emails, new tweets. No one wants to wait anymore, for anything – so responding even within a few hours is come to be seen as slow and unresponsive. Science is proving that constant disruption is lowering IQs, and certainly it impacts focus and productivity. Businesses would be well served to allow people a bit more breathing room. By the same token, if given more time to focus, then people should set aside their personal devices and really focus!

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