Archive for the Category ◊ Engagement ◊

• Tuesday, February 07th, 2017

broad focus narrow focus think big act small


To lead a team well is really quite hard. The concepts are easy, but the execution is often difficult. One of the things that is exceedingly difficult is getting people to focus on the things that really make a difference.

If you want to build a high performing team, you need to help narrow their focus down to the things that make a really big difference. This is especially true in the 21st Century. When all the other teams in the world are scrambling to do more. The way to get people focussed is to do less and focus on execution. In my keynote speaking engagement and workshops, this is what people want to hear about a lot. They want to know how to build high performance culture by honing in on the big ticket items.

But sometimes we need to broaden that focus. In the planning stage of the year, we need to look outside of what we are doing and just gather as much information as possible. This is where we find ideas that might cause the next great shift in our performance. In doing this, most people just look at what their competitors and their industry are doing, but here are some other ideas:

If you want to engage customers, look at some of the social media platforms that are getting massive engagement. Why are people getting addicted and what can you learn from that?

If you want your people to be more productive, then take a look at what some start-ups are doing – how are they making things work on a shoestring budget?

If you want your people to produce better quality, look at some QA-heavy industries like foods and manufacturing to see what process they put in place to make sure their quality is of the highest level.

This is a great exercise to get people to brainstorm and think outside the box for new initiatives and strategies that just might help your team find the next level. It’s also a great exercise in innovation that can stimulate thinking and help people start challenging the status quo.


Once you pick the initiatives, it comes back to narrow focus for the rest of the year. Spending a couple months with broad focus and brainstorming is a great stimulus. But if you want to really execute – you have to narrow your teams focus and make sure the behaviours they choose are affecting the things that really matter.


• Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

Woman practicing yoga on the beach

A Stressed Out Society

The last survey of Australian workers showed 61% of workers suffering from stress, with 41% at a level considered to be a significant health risk. Stress leave is costing Australian businesses millions of dollars a year, and it’s affecting our health, our relationships and our productivity.

But if you’ve got just 40 seconds, you can do something about it.


Big Things are Little Things. Little Things Are Big Things:

Almost everyone is under some degree of stress. The problem is that people think they can solve it with a big ticket item: a holiday, a weekend at a health retreat, or few days of doing nothing.

But the reality is that doing small things often, is far more effective than big things every now and then. You see, the human physiology is well equipped to deal with large stress in small bursts. The biggest problems come when we have moderate to high stress for an extended period of time without a break.

One small, consistent thing that helps is exercise.



Our stress response is designed to ignite the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, in the 21st Century, we are rarely fighting or flight-ing when we get the stress response. More likely, we are sitting at our desks or lying in bed at night thinking about the past or the future. When we exercise, we put the stress response to use by using it for what it was meant for – physical exertion. In this way, the stress chemicals are put to use instead of just pooling in our bodies.

The other, even more effective small thing is to engage the relaxation response.


Breathing Exercises: Not just for hippies

Breathing exercises can force our bodies to slow down and reverse the stress response. if you’ve never tried it before, here are some simple things to focus on.

Breath out for longer than you breathe in.

Breathing out activates our relaxation nervous system, while breathing in activates our panic nervous system. Breathe in for two, breathe out for three, and you’ll engage the relaxation response for longer.

Focus on right now

The object of the exercise is to also slow down our brains. If you can’t stop thinking about that deadline at work or those unpaid bills, focus on something that is happening right now. That might be the sound of the air conditioner in the background, or it might be the hum of the traffic outside. When we fire up our ‘real time input network’ it is impossible to think about the future or the past.

Count to Ten

Do the above and count ten breaths. This simple, 40 second activity will help to re-set your stress chemicals back closer to baseline, but will also give you greater clarity, help you think at your best, and also help you feel recharged so you can tackle the next part of the day with full intensity.

Try this just three times a day, or maybe more during stressful periods, and you’ll manage stress better over the long term.




• Friday, September 25th, 2015


Forget first to market, customer service, value-adding features or perfect strategy. The only real competitive advantage you need to know is none of these, yet all of these. You can have all of the above factors yet fail dramatically. You can have none of the above factors, yet succeed beyond reason. But if you manage a team, you better have one thing nailed down, because without it, nothing’s going to work as well as you have hoped.

In the 21st century businesses are focussed on efficiency. It’s a cliche that we’re all trying to do more with less. To make this happen, we are re-engineering job descriptions, processes and org structures. Or we’re just trying to get our people to take on more responsibilities. But in all organisations, efficiency comes down to a really simple concept:


Get people to do more of the things that make a big impact.

And less of the things that distract them from the things that make a big impact.

I’m going to call this ‘Focus’ and it represents our employees’ ability to focus their efforts on the things that matter.


Imagine if you could do this:

It’s Friday afternoon and you have an automatic download of all the activities that one of your team members did throughout the working week. Every minute of every day. How many of those activities would you look at and ask yourself “why did they choose to do that?”

You see every second of every day our staff make choices about what to do and what not to do. Because we’re so busy, we always do something at the expense of doing something else. So the question is simple: do they always choose the right thing?

For most people the answer is no. But even if it’s 90% yes, then we can constantly strive for better Focus. And here are three reasons it’s not as good as it could be.


1)    Lack of clear priorities

To be really focussed, teams need to know what’s most important. Not just what’s important – but most important. In other words, they also need to know what’s not important. Too many teams get caught up trying to deliver too many projects and doing none of them well, if at all.

Teams members need to be really clear about the things that are going to make a big difference and make these a priority. This also goes for team behaviours, standards and culture.


2) Under-communication of priorities

The next mistake managers make is that, once they establish the priorities, they fail to embed them in their team’s thinking. To do this we need to be talking about them all the time. People need constant reminders. In team meetings, during one-on-ones, within feedback, visually – you name it, it needs to happen.

When they get sick of hearing you talk about it, then it becomes a part of their working mantra.


3) Lack of accountability

Most managers leave far too long between progress reviews. The annual performance review is a poor tool for managing people’s capability, behaviours, and Focus. Instead, we pay attention to the things that people are going to hold us accountable for either today, tomorrow or by the end of the week. Kotter’s old adage of ‘what gets measured gets changed’ only applies if it’s going to be measured in the near future.

Without all of these, people don’t tend to do what’s most important. At best, they do what they think is most important. And at worst, they just do what’s comfortable.


** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert. He helps organisations build high performance culture and helps people manage their own performance and productivity. He combines the science of high performance with contemporary management theory to change the way people work and lead in the 21st Century. For more, visit





• Thursday, July 16th, 2015

goalslineWhen i speak at conferences, I often ask the audience to answer two very simple questions by raising their hands:

  1. Put your hand up if you work in a team that has goals.  Everyone puts their hand up.
  2. Leave your hand up if you can tell me what they are.

At this point only 5% of people leave their hand in the air

This will be astonishing to most leaders. But it is a pervasive element in teams all around the world.

There are a few key reasons, but the most simple one to explain – but possibly the most difficult to execute – is the shear fact that most people don’t care about them.  And we tend to pay attention to what’s important to us.

The Two Reasons We Have Goals

You see, goals need to do two things:

Firstly, they need to guide people’s behaviours. This means there needs to be a clear objective, but more than that, the goal should send a signal to people about what is most important to work on each day.

Secondly, they need to inspire people. People need to WANT to engage in the tasks that are most important. And to do this consistently, they need to be inspired to do so. Why? Because unless your goals are asking people to turn up and go through the motions, then chances are that the things you want them to do are slightly out of their comfort zone – and that’s how they’re going to achieve those goals. And you, me and most other humans need some inspiration to do the uncomfortable thing, rather than going through the motions.

What Inspires You Might Not Inspire Them

When we look at the majority of goals, they are based around hitting targets and numbers. Acquiring customers, making budget, being more efficient. Those things probably inspire you as a manager – because those are parts of the business that interest you – but chances are the average person in your team really doesn’t care.  If you ask them they might toe the line and give you the response they think you want to hear – why wouldn’t they?

Go Out On a Limb – find out what’s really important

Your team’s goals don’t necessarily have to be the goals that were handed down from Head Office. Sure, they obviously need to achieve those things, but maybe you can set some other, higher level goals that would mean that those things get accomplished anyway. If your target is to hit a certain budget, then maybe your goal could be to be the highest performing division in the state. Maybe that sense of status and achievement is something that appeals to your people.

And the goals don’t always have to be outcome-driven, they can also be culturally-driven. I worked with a football team once whose goal was to ‘Be the team that everyone wants to play for’. Part of this was winning titles, but you can be sure it wasn’t the only thing.

These things might sound fluffy to your average manager, but this is really why most teams don’t have inspirational goals – because it requires you to take a risk, and maybe to be a little vulnerable.

Whatever you think an inspirational goal might be, I urge you to go ahead and find out what really inspires your people. Ask them straight out, but also observe their behaviours and see what drives them.

The Challenge is pretty simple. Create goals that really inspire people. When I ask that question next time I’m at a conference, I hope it’s one of your staff members that leaves their hand up.


• Wednesday, September 26th, 2012



How often to you agree to something trivial, only to forget to actually follow through with it? Well, that trivial thing might have more impact than you think. Research shows that when we set expectations but don’t deliver, it has an enormously negative effect on people’s motivation.

We’ve all done it. We say “yes, sure. I’ll get onto that tomorrow.” And we forget. If you are a leader, then your ability to deliver on these commitments and expectations is paramount if you want your people to do their best work.

The Expectation Effect

Some recent research showed what happens to the dopamine levels inside our brains when we set expectations and if they are delivered. Remember, dopamine is the chemical that signals motivation, reward, makes us feel good, and keeps our attention. In short, it is THE performance chemical.

The researchers measure the level of dopamine in subjects under a number of conditions. When the researchers told people they were going to get a financial reward, the level of dopamine went up dramatically. Later, when those people received their financial reward, the level of dopamine went up again – to exactly the same level.

This shows us that expecting to get a reward is produces the exact same effect on our dopamine levels as actually getting the reward.

But what happened when the reward wasn’t given? In this case, the dopamine levels didn’t only drop back to baseline, nor did they stay the same as previously. When subjects found out that they weren’t ogint to get the expected reward, dopamine levels dropped off the scale. This represents a severe decline in motivation, attention and even problem solving, amongst other performance traits.

A little disappointment goes a long way

Most people think this only works for significant rewards, but it also happens for relatively ‘trivial’ things. Have you ever been waiting to cross the road at a set of lights, maybe you’re in a bit of a hurry, you press the button to get the walk signal and wait patiently. The other direction gets their walk signal and start crossing the road. Surely your turn’s next. The cars start racing through the intersection again for a while, then comes the red light. It should be your turn, but instead, somehow the other crosswalk lights up again and you are left waiting.

The expectation was that it was your turn to cross next. When it didn’t happen, you most likely got really irritated. This is a trivial thing, but it still set that dopamine response into action. If you were really in a hurry, chances are it also elicited some irrational behaviours and thinking.

And so it is with our people. Send that dopamine response on the downslide and you’ll find that they can’t do their best work – they might become irrational and exhibit some behaviours that aren’t productive.

Upholding expectations is a simple process that has very effective results. Stay on top of this if you want your people to do their best work.

• Thursday, May 24th, 2012

A study recently showed that people who were allowed to use Facebook at work were actually more productive than those who weren