Target Fixation

I think we have become lazy.

It is now easier than ever to bombard our target audiences with all manner of automated or semi automated messages. To use our websites and social media feeds as vehicles for the equivalent of carpet bombing their attention, in the hope that something will stick. It’s easy to be thoughtlessly efficient.

Target fixation is a well known attentional issue. We become so focused on what we are targeting that we lose sight of anything else. We lose our “peripheral vision” and become oblivious to what’s going on around us.

I find it interesting to notice that in sectors where vocational drives are high – medicine, teaching, science – the dominant leadership and management discourse remains money. Budgets are they key performance criteria for the managers, but not for the practitioners. How often do we hear in response to criticism of performance that “we are spending more and more on this”. As though the money is the only thing.

Alfie Kohn writes fluently in Punished by Rewards about the counterproductive effect of using explicit rewards (money, awards, gold stars…) on people who do what they do primarily for the love of it. Of course money is important, but as a means to ends, not an end in itself.

I love working with people who have vocations, people who do what they do for the benefit of others other than shareholders and themselves, and it constantly amazes me the dissonance that is created by those who lead them thinking that having a vocation is somehow “nice”, rather than the deep, resonant, powerful driver it is. The leaders are focused on money, the people who do the work are much less so – they’re focused on making a difference to something that matters to them. About as useful as trying to measure somebody’s intelligence by their height.

In the UK we are losing doctors, teachers, vets, researchers in record numbers, whilst the leaders looked perplexed and say look how much more we’re spending.

Target Fixation is dangerous, and very easy to fall into. As leaders, we need to measure what makes things happen – lead indicators, rather than become obsessed with lag indicators based on values that don’t resonate with followers.

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