“We Waste Most of the Human Resources We Hire”

CBS MoneyWatch, presents a review of an interesting research by Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal. The researchers studied what they called “decisive purposeful action,” i.e. the relationship between being busy and being productive and effective. The findings were most interesting and surprised the researches: “Only about 10 percent of the managers took purposeful action.” Bruch and Ghoshal also found that:

  • 40% of managers were energetic but unfocused
  • 30% of managers had low energy, little focus and tended to procrastinate
  • 10% of managers were focused, but not energetic

According to Margaret Heffernan (who wrote the piece for CBS): “We waste most of the human resources we hire.” She suggests organizations invest in the 40%: “The 40 percent who are energetic but unfocused are the ones you have to work on. They want to do useful work and are up for a challenge. They just don’t know where to start or how to prioritize. When you have a coherent strategy, you give this energy meaningful direction. Unfocused energy is rarely the fault of the individual. Rather, it’s an indication that your strategy isn’t sufficiently understood or being translated into goals.”

That’s probably true. Good direction never hurts. But I’d like to suggest that it is more than merely giving direction. I think we should ask: why are these managers not seeking direction themselves in the first place? Is it really only because we are not providing them with direction, or is it because they have habits that steer them off of doing what is needed? Furthermore, often these managers are provided with training and direction that should have led to a change in their focus, and yet they quickly go back to their old unfocused ways. Isn’t that a very common reality?

Heffernan goes on to indicate that “The 30 percent who have low energy and little focus are tough nuts to crack.” That is not our experience, or at least I can say that the 30% are not any harder to “crack” than the 40% mentioned above.

If we try to get people to make needed adjustments, be it develop greater focus or increase energy and reduce procrastination, by giving people greater clarity about what the goals are, it is easy to see why we would have more luck with the 40%. But how we define the solution is key.

At the heart of each such setback – being unfocused, procrastination or lacking energy – is a missing “brain habit.” We call these “brain habits” Key Strategies. Once the right Key Strategy is identified, there really is no difference between the success rates of working with the 40% or the 30% Bruch and Ghoshal explored.

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