Attention Management and the Distractability

Psychologists at University College London have shown that different people have different levels of distractibility.  In an article called Are You Easily Distracted? A New Psychological Test Measures Distractibility they also show that it is possible to decrease distractibility  -or to put it another way to improve attention management.  Now most of the work seems to be in the context of attention deficit disorder and other child learning issues – but from my experience this could have enormous implications for managers.  Especially the ones who send text messages and e-mail with their mobiles under the table at a meeting – or who keep checking their incoming e-mail when they are supposed to be having a conversation with me.

How good are you at managing your attention?

JB Fuqua and the Trappings of Success – Do You Need Them?

I’ve never bought into the whole “it doesn’t matter what you wear” theory at work. Right or wrong, people judge you by the way you look, so you need to dress with that in mind. There’s obviously a limit on…

Now to my mind appearance is important – as it gives so many clues. However over-dressing is as problematic as under-dressing. Surely the key is to be authentic and comfortable in your own skin(s)

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Managing e-mail


If you get and send 100 e-mails a day, you probably spend an average of 100 workdays a year on e-mail. If you could manage to reduce the amount of e-mail you send and receive by 20%, you’d free up 20 workdays a year to use for other, more productive or fun activities, writes Anne Fisher in her May 17 column.

Is your inbox overflowing? What do you do to keep your e-mail under control?

  1. Make use of the junk mail filter. Block (certain) e-mail addresses or “subject lines” from outside the office – unwanted humour and chain e-mails all get this treatment!
  2. Before writing an email quickly ask yourself if email is really going to be faster than the phone. You might not have a net savings of time, but usually you’ll communicate more effectively and build a stronger relationship.
  3. Change your setting so that you only pick up e-mail every few hours. This will give you more time to focus on tasks without e-mail interruptions – and don’t worry – there is no such thing as an urgent e-mail!
  4. For short messages – put it in the subject line – ‘Team Meeting 10am rm 236 tomorrow’ – says it all and the e-mail does not need to be opened
  5. Use Google Desktop Search to find e-mails rather than the search function in Outlook – it is a gazillion times quicker.

Have you got any top tips you can add to the list?

Management Challenges from the NHS

This morning a story has broken about ‘Maternity Support Staff’ drafted in to help hard pressed midwives perhaps putting mothers’ and babies’ lives at risk by taking on jobs for which they are not fully trained. The story illustrates a number of common management failings. How many of them are apparent in your team at work?

  • Roles are not clearly defined – the tasks that can only be done by fully qualified midwives and other medically qualified must be clearly defined and communicated – and they are not. Or rather they are defined clearly, but differently, by various players in the system – leading to confusion.

Solution – Staff should be trained to work with line managers in order to identify and resolve any ambiguities in their role. Roles should vary from person to person according to their skills, experience and training. All team members should be clear on what any individual is and is not qualified to do.

  • Processes for managing staff shortages are not in place – when a Maternity Support Staff sees a patient in need of assistance (that should be delivered by medically trained staff but none are available) what should he/she do? What options are available.

Solution – Record and monitor all instances where care was required for which no competent trained member of staff was available. This will help to build awareness of the extent and criticality of the problem. Hold weekly supervision and support sessions with staff in a culture of trust and openness so that these issues can be discussed and affirming or adjusting feedback can be given.

  • Delegation is not working effectively at the local level.

Solution – Trusts are free to set the day to day work of Maternity Support Staff. However this has to be in the context of a relationship of supervision, support and development in which a responsible and competent manager works with the staff member to recognise and develop their skills and experience and delegate to them accordingly. If a Maternity Support Worker can do tasks that would usually be done by a higher paid midwife or consultant, without compromising quality of care, then this is exactly what should happen. This is good management – creating value and reducing cost.

These challenges of basic management good practice are not confined to the NHS. They arise in every organisation. However the NHS is a classic example of a purpose driven organisation. People join it to be part of a team delivering excellent care. However the task driven culture fails to provide the space for staff to talk about the challenges that they face in their day to work and to develop, in partnership with competent managers, the skills, judgement and strategies to provide better care.

  • What problems are caused in your team because roles are not clearly defined?
  • How much do you really know about the risks associated with staff shortages? How does the work still get done when you are a team member down?
  • Do you have a management culture that develops each team member to the maximum of their potential? Or do you just manage to the job description?

Tre Really is on Another Level!

Tre from The Apprentice

Perhaps you, like me have been irritated by Tre’s regular assertions that he operates on another level to the rest of the candidates in The Apprentice.  However it appears that the psychologists have just released some research data that suggests he could be right.

Keep telling people something for long enough and they will begin to believe it.  Which of course works fine if you have a more or less captive audience – but if people can choose not to listen to it  -as they do in most organisations you just end up looking like a fool.

People Often Think An Opinion Heard Repeatedly From The Same Person Is Actually A Popular Opinion

So what if Tre used his psychological insight to continuously tell people how well they were doing?  Perhaps he would have more friends in the house, better working relationships and more influence.  Sounds like a winning recipe to me!

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How To Be An Effective Entrepreneur has a must-read post entitled, How to be an effective entrepreneur. I urge you to read it whether you are a manager or an entrepreneur – for profit or otherwise.

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Mind the Gap

Mind The Gap

Had a great conversation this week with a good friend of mine, Andy Bagley from TEAL Consulting. Andy is quite a rare bird in that although his ‘bag’ is quality and excellence, balanced scorecard, lean thinking and all that stuff – HE REALLY GETS THE PEOPLE ISSUES! So many of those ‘quality’ people are just into the ‘system’ and miss the people and process issues entirely. That might be one reason why so many organisations with quality badges struggle to get much beyond mediocre!

Andy and I were talking about the danger of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. We both consult in the social housing sector and were looking at how many housing organisations claim to be ‘customer focused’ but are actually focussed on getting 2/3 stars from the audit commission – quickly.

Now often times this can lead to them doing all sorts of the right things – but for the wrong reasons. They ‘do’ tenant involvement because that is what the audit commission want to see. And that is just not a good enough reason.

They take short-cuts to quality – making sure that systems and processes are in place before the next inspection.

But they avoid the real work of management and leadership which is about winning the hearts and minds of employees and customers.

About managing stakeholder expectations.

About tackling under performing staff, recruiting and retaining talent and letting go of those that still do not get the new world of social housing and communities.

There is no short cut to excellence. It will not come along conveniently to fit in with audit commission inspections.

It is a long but wonderful journey that takes passion, courage, commitment and above all believe that you are doing something that is worthwhile with your life. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons creates an integrity gap that just kills an organisation. Or at least turns it into ‘The Living Dead’.

World Environment Day

PMN member Adam Woodhall is running a workshop to mark World Environment Day on June 5th. Environmental Action… Everybody’s Business: Take action on World Environment Day, 5 June. Registration & refreshments: 9am. Workshop 9.30 – 1pm. Leeds City Centre.

Workshop Details

The Apprentice, Management and Teamwork!


I subscribe to my fair share of newsletters, RSS feeds and updates. Most of them I unsubscribe from pretty quickly as the content is so poor. However there are some notable exceptions – one of which is Gavin Ingham’s The Sales Apprentice: Sales Training Tips from the Hit TV Show. Each night after the show Gavin captures his thoughts and insights about candidates performance and e-mails them over night. One of the things I love about this is the immediacy. (Last nights was mailed at 01:48). Another is the observations of someone who watches the performance from a pure sales perspective. They notice things that those of us who are less sales obsessed simply don’t see. In last nights post Gavin offered the following:
Sales training tip for success: Learn how to work as part of a team.
I think what is really annoying me about this show is the fact that our Sales Apprentices are seemingly incapable of working together.

They spend so little time working as a team and so much working divisively.

Take a moment to look around your team and think of simple things that you can do to support and challenge each other.

The Apprentice is not a team competition. Co-operation is not the route to success. The prize will go to one person.

It is personal.

1 on 1.

It is about looking good, or hiding.

It is about undermining potential threats.

The behaviours and results that we see in the Apprentice are a direct consequence of the things that the leader, SAS, chooses to highlight, reward and punish.

As we lead – so shall they follow.

Unless a manager recognises this, effectively and publicly dealing with (in the context of this show – firing) those who focus on the Machiavellian side of management, these behaviours and the associated mediocre performance will persist. You can seek solutions in Balanced Scorecards, JIT, Lean or Systems Thinking – but the mediocrity will persist.

Now I would love to believe that ‘The Apprentice’ is not a fair representation of management at work. But so many organisations are just like this – competitions to climb a slippery pole rather than genuinely create value for the organisation. And many – perhaps most – managers are just not perceptive, skillful or brave enough to deal with it.

They focus so much on the task and the numbers – that they just don’t see the pain or the potential for improvement that lies in the process.

The Dreaded Business Meeting

Are you fed up of attending meetings that achieve little or nothing?

What irritates you most about meetings?

Is it eager colleagues who answer their mobile phone when it rings, or tired employees who drift off during a presentation? If you notice these disturbances in your office, you’re not alone.

A recent study (Opinion Research USA) found that disorganised, rambling meetings topped the list of meeting annoyances at 27 percent.

Employees who interrupt their peers and try to dominate conversation during the meeting followed at 17 percent.

Interestingly, while mobile phone interruptions came in at 16 percent, frustrations over people checking BlackBerries only measured about 5 percent. Other pet irritations include people falling asleep in meetings, lack of refreshments and meetings without bathroom breaks.

I am surprised that late starts to meetings don’t feature in the survey – and even more surprised that meetings that over-run aren’t also higher up the list. Perhaps it is just that thing shave got so bad in this respect that people no longer notice or care? I was recently working with a medium sized organisation with a middle management team of about 20. It was obvious to me that the culture was to expect meetings to start late and end even later. People would drift in at the meeting start time and then make a cup of tea – or go on the mobile. When a meeting finally convened, typically at least 10 minutes after the planned start time a couple of stragglers would usually still arrive late.

I asked what might happen if at the very next meeting the Chief Exec ran, were she to start on time – regardless of who was in the room – and after the meeting gave every latecomer personal feedback about her expectations of timely start to meetings. The first person to respond said ‘I would think she was a bit of a plonker!’

There was a silence and then someone else said ‘Well I suppose it would be quite professional’.

In my book – not only would it be very professional – but also within a few days the entire culture of the organisation could be changed with respect to meetings.