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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, April 29, 2018 1:00 am

Help staffers focus to reach high potential

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

I like the concept, but I must say the abbreviation was new: GTD, short for Getting Things Done.

The acronym came up this month during the VitalSmarts free webinar led by Emily Gregory and Justin Hale on how to “Match Employee Performance with Their Potential.”

A majority of business professionals, based on a survey of 1,000, have employees with high potential who can't seem able to translate ability into high productivity. Last week in Lead On, I shared part of what Gregory and Hale discussed during the April 12 webinar. This week, the focus is more on strategies they outlined to bridge the gap between potential and performance.

It's clear that almost everything requires a certain level of management – but not always by a manager – to get good results. Gregory said managers should conduct regular priority reviews to ensure that everyone is on the same page – including themselves. Managers have to master aligning their priorities, too.

When there are gaps in performance, managers need to quickly address them. Leaders often hurt high-potential employees because we “give them so much rope that they can hang themselves,” Gregory said.

Managers have to help employees cultivate GTD skills, she said. Being successful and productive, Hale said, is primarily about habits. The more high-potential and successful employees are, the greater the odds that they will be asked to do more.

There's a saying, Hale said, that “the better you get, the better you'd better get.”

High-potential employees who aren't delivering miss details, drop balls, have “a ton of inputs from multiple areas,” Hale said. Think emails, sticky notes, texts and various other communications. They struggle with focus.

One strategy is to learn to “capture continuously.” Hale engaged webinar viewers in a “mind sweep” exercise, asking them to take 60 seconds and write all the things on their mind that included work and home. He asked viewers to share how many things they had on their list and found 10 to 20 items was common. (My list had 15.)

The only limitation, Hale said, was probably how fast people could write. He shared a quote by author David Allen that focuses on the need to channel information: “Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them.”

One common fault is keeping all of our office space in our head, Hale said. Our potential is maximized when we're 100 percent focused. Hale encourages people to use a notebook or a notes app – whatever works – as a “capture tool” that they always have with them. Once thoughts and ideas are captured, it's critical to clarify what needs to be done and create an action plan.

The webinar included a short video clip of David Allen showing the difference that clarity can make. Your capture list might simply have the word “mom” on it. The next step is thinking “what about mom?” If the answer is her birthday is coming up, you're probably trying to think about what you're going to do about it. The action may be adding a notation that you need to pick up a card and mail it tomorrow, he said.

When meanings are muddled, our mental gears tend to spin, Allen said. That puts people at risk for becoming overwhelmed and spending a lot of time – unnecessarily – looking at lists again and again.

Gregory said thinking, deciding and scheduling are not action verbs, but simply aid in procrastination. Taking action, such as calling to reserve a conference room, is where the power is.

Hale said it isn't possible to give people more time to change what they have on their plate, but certain strategies can help change “how you engage with your stuff.”

During a question-and-answer period, one viewer asked how managers can keep priority checks from turning into complaint sessions. Hale said the key is to focus on to-do lists, action steps and deadlines.

Hale described his own experience going into such checkups when he's sitting on the employee side of the desk.

He said he wants to come off as a “contributor craving focus, not as a contributor craving less work.”

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at