Change Management Training Step 3: Set Clear Goals

Cut Through the Blur of Complexity and Change

Look at what you’re dealing with these days: kaleidoscopic change…a frenzied, internet-driven upheaval of traditional organization models…free-floating confusion due to vague and constantly shifting priorities. No surprise that people are mentally scattered. Stressed. Uncentered.

And no big mystery that your major challenge for now is attention management.

In today’s fuzzy, complex, out-of-focus world, the workforce desperately needs somebody to de-complicate the situation. Your job is to simplify. To bring clarity. To provide a sharply defined sense of direction. Without a clear sense of priorities and an acute aiming point that aligns people’s efforts, the organization will be plagued by attention deficit disorder. And performance always takes a beating when we lose concentration.

As the saying goes, scarce resources gravitate toward clear goals. Since one of the scarcest resources is people’s attention, you’re responsible for staking out objectives that capture and hold it. And c’mon—you can’t get by with blurry and boring targets. Set sharpedged goals that glow in the dark. They should cut through the fog like a beacon, serving as a bright point of focus that brings coherence and purpose to your group.

How many goals? Less is more. The fewer you can get by with, the better. Shoot for singleness of purpose—pinpoint focus. The idea is to attack on the narrowest front, penetrating confusion, complexity and change with a precise sense of what’s important for operating success. This notion, of course, is not particularly new. What is different now is the degree to which you must implement it to overcome the curse of distractibility.

How much we can effectively disregard has become even more important than how much we can attend to and absorb. After all, most of the information that swirls around us these days is just static. Clutter and noise. An ever-growing amount of diddly stuff crowds our thinking, elbows its way into our mental space, tries to occupy our minds. We’re seduced by the sexy pull of that which is novel and provocative. We’re interrupted by the urgent but often trivial electronic messaging of email, cell phones, pagers, and such. We overdose on all the options, alternatives, or choices this magnificent age makes available to us. In this way the mental bandwidth of the organization becomes over-committed and clogged. Precious attention gets squandered on things that simply do not matter.

But you can manage beyond the blur, past all the racket and pressure points that arise. You can help people figure out what they can safely ignore. The key is to narrow the organization’s ambitions and manage attention toward the passionate pursuit of results in a very slender space.

“In such a chaotic and complex environment, where changes and crises occur so rapidly, how can any organization hope to create a specific set of rules governing employee behavior?

Most innovative organizations are rapidly replacing rules with roles, creating a strong sense of purpose and clear understanding of goals and mission and leaving employees to their own devices, absent rigidity.” 

—Richard W. Oliver, The Shape of Things to Come