Staying Focused To Avoid Complacency

Our brains are wired to worry, and that's a good thing as it helps us to stay safe to manage risks. Unfortunately we tend to worry about the wrong things and often lose focus when at work.

In the 1970's, Richard Burch identified the four stages of competency as we gain experience at work - unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent and unconsciously competent. The last stage often leads to complacency; we know our job well, we have done it so many times before, we can do it without even thinking about what we are doing, and it always works fine.

And then we have an accident because something different happened today that didn't happen any other day.

Moreover, our brains are 'thinking' more than ever before. People once had between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts each day, we now have 70,000 plus thoughts every day. Additionally, there once was a separation between work and home. We could switch our brain from 'home mode' to 'work mode' and back again with consummate ease. This is no longer the case.

Millennials are possibly the most impacted due to an over-active brain, they are by far the most stressed generation because they have great difficulty in slowing their brain, of thinking of nothing, of separating home from work and of shutting their brain down when going to sleep. As a result they may lose focus on what they are doing.

All three of these factors - unconsciously competent, an over-active brain and the inability to separate work from home - can lead to accidents.

So how do we stop complacency? In my coaching sessions I like to use the military as an example, particularly that of the special forces soldier. Their work can be the most dangerous of all the roles within the military yet their casualty rate is similar to that of other military combat roles.

How do they avoid complacency - apart from physical, academic and psychological training; maintaining their equipment to the highest standard; expert planning; briefing staff before every operation; and holding a debrief at the conclusion of each operation - special forces soldiers use two methods to avoid complacency.

The first is that they refocus at regular intervals. Whenever they stop for a break, there is a change in the environment, they have achieved the first step of the operation, or whenever they catch themselves losing focus, they undertake three things. They stop, they reassess the situation, and they refocus their attention. This keeps them alert and on task.

The second thing that they do, and probably the most important technique to avoid complacency, is that they have an ethos; 'No One Left Behind'.

No one left behind is not like it is shown in the movies where every fallen comrade is returned home. The ethos means that everyone is going home because we are going to look after each other when at work.

When they prepare for the day, each soldier checks their own equipment and then another soldier may also check the equipment if they see something that the other soldier hasn't seen. If a soldier sees another doing something that is off track or might lead to a mistake they tell them. If a soldier sees another in need they go and help that soldier.

In short, everything is double checked and each individual soldier is held to account by their comrades-in-arms.

Yes, each soldier is responsible for themselves, to ensure that they are ready for battle and remain focused. Yet, the military have identified that we all have momentary lapses of concentration so they overcome this by ensuring that everyone is responsible for a successful mission through 'colleague accountability'.

Perhaps we can all learn from this ethos. So, are your colleagues going to be left behind when you go to work today?