Change the focus. What if.....? Part 2

The disruption

My last article ‘Change the Focus. What if….?’ wasn’t meant to be a part 1 but it got too big not to be split into two parts. So here is part 2.

In part 1 I proposed that if we stop focusing so hard on things like profit, shareholder return, operational efficiency, competition and metrics and instead focused more on people, those things would take care of themselves.

I discussed how a focus on people matters such as autonomy, motivation, innovation, agility and resilience would deliver on those other items.

You can read part 1 here.

This change in mindset is an imperative for survival in this era of disruption referred to as the fourth industrial revolution.

Innovation is accelerating and the velocity of disruption is challenging every business. There is uncertainly and change is hard to anticipate and predict.

When faced with volatile change we need to change the focus else we will cease to be relevant.

The old lens of profit, return, competition and efficiency will not get organizations to where they need to be.

This old lens on business will not enable organizations to transform in a way they must in order to not only survive but also thrive.

Organizations will have to reexamine not only how they do business but also how they are led and managed.

The new focus

What if we stopped focusing on these things and started to reallyfocus on people?

In addition to the people matters I mentioned at the start of this article, what if we also focused on the following?


Leaders need to focus on breaking down the silos and establishing truly collaborative networks across the organization.

Collaboration comes when there are shared goals, mutual respect, and a good understanding of other’s roles in the organisation.

Collaboration will happen when leaders provide a shared vision and how team contribution fits into the broader context. There needs to be empathy so that there is an understanding of the challenges and constraints experienced by other teams. Leaders should cultivate a sense of curiosity so that people are interested in finding out what other people do.

Create cross-functional teams and ensure consistency and clarity of communication so that there is common understanding.

Leaders also need to lead by example and demonstrate collaboration with other leaders in the organisation. They need to foster a culture based on trust and mutual respect, real-time feedback and psychological safety.

Workplace collaboration has many benefits including:

·      Increased operational efficiency through reduction of duplication and better allocation of resources. When everyone can see what everyone else is doing opportunities to remove inefficiencies become visible.

·      Competitive advantage through faster learning and development. People learn from each other when they openly share knowledge, skills and capabilities. 

·      Increased innovation as a diverse set of people, with different expertise, experience, ideas and perspectives, can work on a problem or opportunity easier and faster.

·      Greater customer satisfaction, as people have increased and faster access to information from their colleagues and can create and deliver solutions customers need faster.

Cultivation of the growth mindset

Leaders need to cultivate a growth mindset not only in them but also in everyone around them in the workplace.

People with a growth mindset believe abilities - like talent and intelligence - can be developed through dedication and hard work. They’re more likely to enjoy learning, seek out situations to experiment, and see failure as an opportunity to grow.

Those with a fixed mindset believe the opposite. They feel they “are who they are” and were born with a set level of talent, intelligence, andeven interests. 

People with a growth mindset learn from feedback, see hard work as the path to mastery, persist despite the setbacks and embrace challenges as learning opportunities. These are all traits organizations need today more then ever.

A growth mindset can be cultivated through continual and real-time feedback. Leaders must set learning goals as opposed to performance goals, revisit and reassess the goals on a regular basis, communicate the fact that the organization values learning and perseverance and not just innate talent, and be available as a learning resource to others.

An organization that adapts a growth mindset positions itself for success through strong leadership, continual learning and innovation.

Shared purpose

When an organization is driven by a shared purpose and vision it will be better able to navigate the era of disruption.

This shared purpose and vision is often referred to as the North Star. The North Star provides a reference point for everyone in the organization.

Organizations like Amazon, Gore, Patagonia, and Virgin put stakeholder focus at the heart of their North Star and, in turn, at the heart of the way they create value.

Leaders need to bring coherence and provide clear, actionable and aligned guidance around business priorities and outcomes expected. They must ensure focus on the delivery of value to the customer and all other stakeholders by provision of continual real-time feedback and coaching that enables people to work with autonomy towards the North Star.

An embedded North Star moves the organization and everyone in it forward in the right direction. 

Jon Gordon has some great leadership advice in regards to the North Star.[1]

“As a positive leader you will want to carry a telescope and a microscope with you on your journey. The telescope helps you and your team keep your eyes on your vision, North Star, and big picture. The microscope helps you zoom-focus on the things you must do in the short term to realize the vision in your telescope. If you have only a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you have only a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but setbacks and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture.

You need to frequently pull out your telescope to remind yourself and your team where you are going, and you’ll need to look through your microscope daily in order to focus on what matters most and follow through on your commitments. Together they will help you take your team and organization where you want to go.”

Experimentation and risk

When change is rapid, the best way to mitigate risk and find opportunities is to experiment. Try out new things and deliver the ones that work. 

The organizations that experiment most and faster are the ones that will succeed.

When leaders encourage experimentation, innovation happens.

Everyone needs to be given the freedom to ‘have a go’. The culture needs to be one of fail fast, fail forward.

Allowing everyone to experiment does not mean chaos. Organizations have principles or guardrails. The guardrails are like the barriers on the side of the road that help keep drivers safe and keep them on the road. Guardrails keep everyone aligned to the organization’s goals and objectives. They are the parameters within which employees can operate without unnecessary interference.

Guardrails are the parameters within which everyone can experiment and try something different. Guardrails keep experimentation aligned with organizational goals and objectives.

The key to organizational survival is to adapt and embrace experimentation and innovation.  

Psychological safety

Everyone in the organization needs to feel safe to come up with new ideas, share their thoughts and opinions and experiment.

Psychological safety is an imperative. The workplace can feel challenging but it must not feel threatening.

There is no blame. There is curiosity and feedback. There is trust and respect.

According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, who coined the term:

“Psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

Leaders need to be transparent, honest and ask for feedback. They need to action and encourage active listening and provide as safe place for people to participate and collaborate. They need to develop open mindsets, promote feedback and encourage everyone to see feedback as a way to strengthen and build on their ideas as opposed to viewing it as criticism.

When there is psychological safety there are high performing teams.


A culture of recognition drives success. This is not only leader to employee recognition but peer-to-peer.

When people are recognized for a ‘job well done’ or a great idea, they are motivated, inspired and have an increased level of pride and validation.

Recognition does not have to be formal. It can be just saying thank-you and giving someone a pat on the back, a high-five or a handshake.

Recognition builds stronger teams, enhances confidence and self-esteem and increases performance.

High performing people, teams and organizations are a formula for success. 

Bottom line

I am not saying that organizations should not be concerned with profits, competition and shareholders.

What I am saying is that if we don't give equal or more focus on our people, the consequences will be dire.

There has to be a fundamental mindset shift and recognition that it really is all about the people.

Thanks for reading.


Karen FerrisComment