Pondering the question of focus

I had a really interesting conversation today with an executive in the company we acquired last year. She was talking about how different their (old) corporate culture was, and how that has probably been the hardest part of the integration over the last year. One of the biggest differences she sees is that their culture has always been fully focused externally – working with and for their customers, usually to the exclusion of everything else. She and her colleagues hear us talk about customer focus and kind of giggle. In their eyes they don’t talk about it, they just live it.

inside outside

This discussion has been bumping around in my brain since then. I’ll acknowledge that my company does a fair bit of navel gazing, and sharing internally, and focusing on developing employees. So I’m struggling with… defending isn’t really the right word. I’m thinking about pros and cons of internal focus in an effort to help explain how having a balance of the two can in fact strengthen the moments of external focus. And what I’m writing is really me thinking out loud.

It seems to me that if you are constantly in external focus mode, you don’t have time to strategize. Without time to reflect, how do you learn? And if it is all about forging ahead, how do you spread knowledge to reduce the learning curve for those around you? Serendipitous events wouldn’t have the ability to become movements. Continuous improvement has no chance when there is no time to even glance inward. Personal growth is stunted by a lack of time and energy. And actually, looking at that shell image I inserted into this post make me think about analogies. How every person is then in their own little cell where the only window is looking outward. You can’t see what’s going on to either side of you. You are blinkered.

Obviously too much internal focus means you are spending too much time within your own four walls never looking out. While this allow things to stay neat and clean, and gives you plenty of time to spruce the place up, if you have no one to show it off to, there’s not much point. And in business, that would also mean that you’d eventually run out of customers because you’ve spent too much time talking about how to make them the focus on not enough time just doing it.

So how to explain to convince someone that taking time away from that external focus can make the time they spend externally more valuable? That internal focus can help renewing, refresh and refocus employees? That having that minute to breathe can spark the creativity needed to solve thorny problems?

I see a glimmer, and so maybe it just takes patience and some examples. A little evidence and some more time to quell the fear. And maybe, just maybe, this ties back to my earlier thoughts on trust.

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4 comments

  1. Trisha Liu · February 20, 2016

    Well said, Tracy! I love how you articulated the pros and cons of both external and internal focus. If you’d like to borrow a phrase from my trusty therapist, she likes to say, “Maybe you need a scoop of each other.” In your case, it isn’t either / or. It’s that both internal and external focus are valuable and useful. F

    How to help an externally-focused person see the value of internal focus? I’d start by appreciating their external focus and the value of operating that way – as you’ve already done in this post – and showing openness and excitement to learn more from that person. And then saying, “Here’s something I’d like to offer you, something that helps me and might be of interest to you”…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Trisha Liu · February 20, 2016

    Also, your post overall is reminding me of the belief that employee satisfaction, not customer sat, must be first. Happy, connected, supported employees lead to happy customers. I pride myself on being extremely customer focused. At the same time, I know I can’t do a great job serving customers if the inside of the house is a mess.

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    • tracymmaurer · February 20, 2016

      Thanks for that, Trisha. As the company seems ready to add significant focus to the customer piece, I think my role will be to ensure those of us with internal customers stay focused as well.

      On Saturday, February 20, 2016, tracymmaurer wrote:

      >

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      • Trisha Liu · February 20, 2016

        Yes! That’s another thing you could share…Internal customers are still customers. I believe that *every person* is my customer, including coworkers and teammates. I strive to treat my internal customers with the same respect, responsiveness, and courtesy that I give to external customers. Maybe your teams and the external-focused teams aren’t so different.

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