InsideOut Development

Focus: The Key Lever of Performance

by Pivot Point


At InsideOut Development, we believe that everyone has the capacity to learn and perform at a higher level. A manager’s job is to draw that greatness out of employees—to maximize performance and draw out potential. Understanding the key elements of Blog_The-Peformance-Wheel-White_S-11performance allows a coach to target their coaching and maximize effectiveness. 

We’ve synthesized the four elements of performance into the Performance Wheel.

Understanding the Performance Wheel will allow coaches and individual contributors to identify how performance can be improved and use the GROW Model to make it happen.

A key element of performance is our Focus. Focus is about what we pay attention to and how we manage inconsistency and interference that would otherwise negatively impact our performance.

It’s arguably the most important element of performance because it is the element we have the most control over. Choosing what we focus drives results because Focus is the starting point for everything we do.

What do I consistently pay attention to?

Can I consistently keep my attention on what I can do relative to what needs to be done, and away from the conversation in my head telling me why it can’t?

At its simplest level, when people are focused on saying what they’ll do, doing what they say, and communicating to stakeholders when they can’t, the result is better execution, accountability, trust, innovation, creativity and empowermentall of which impact engagement.

Accountability or Ownership: Moving People From Compliance to Commitment

The Psychology Behind Focus

Our Focus—or drive—is perhaps the most well-researched element of performance.

In the late 90s, several psychologists studied “external focus.” Their results indicated that people performed better when they focused on outcomes of actions rather than the actions themselves. When people “get out of their head” they are better able to solve problems and increase their performance.

This is an intuitive concept that psychologists have researched for more than 125 years. In 1890, William James suggested that actions are more successful if the performer directs their attention to the “remote effects” of the action (like the intended outcome), rather than the “close effects” like the feel of the individual elements of the action. 

In a simple motor skills learning test, participants were tasked with balancing on a “stabilometer” (like a surfboard). Some participants were asked to focus on their feet to help them keep their balance. Others focused on markers attached to the platform. A third group were given feedback from a computer monitor.

Participants who focused on their feet (an internal focus) performed significantly WORSE than the other groups. Participants who focused on the markers were able to maintain an external focus which made them more successful in their simple task. Participants who focused on third party feedback (even when that feedback was focused on their feet) performed the best. Researchers deduced that a key function of feedback is to provide an external focus of attention.

7 Essential Coaching Behaviors

An important distinction exists between focusing on feedback and focusing on following instructions. Focusing on feedback yielded extremely positive results in the “stabilometer” experiment, but in another experiment involving dart-throwing, participants asked to follow specific instructions regarding how to throw their dart yielded worse performance than those who focused on their greater performance objective (simply hitting the target).

When we improve our focus sufficiently, we enter a state in which we are absorbed in the activity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it a “flow state.” When we’re in a flow state, we can lose consciousness of self and time; we are more creative; we enjoy our experiences; and are generally able to perform better. Sports psychologists describe it as being “in the zone.” Our focus acts as a lever enabling us to enter flow state at will. Learn more about flow state in this blog post about another element of performance—Faith.

In his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey (widely considered the founder of sport psychology) describes flow state as the opposite of anxiety. He says focus “leaves out all that is irrelevant, and illuminates all that is relevant. One thing that can be said about focus is that it is always here and now…Anxiety is fear about what may happen in the future, and it occurs only when the mind is imagining what the future may bring. But when your attention is on the here and now, the actions which need to be done in the present have their best chance of being successfully accomplished.”

The impact of focus goes deeper than psychology and mental habits. Repeated focus on the right things can create physical changes in the brain. Jeffrey Schwartz and David Rock explain:

“The act of paying attention creates chemical and physical changes in the brain. Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable physical changes in the brain’s structure…So it’s not, ‘Communicate, communicate, communicate,’ it’s ‘facilitate connections, facilitate connections, facilitate connections.’…The power is in the focus.”

Edward De Bono, a British psychologist and physician said it best: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.”

Using the GROW Model® to maximize Focus

The GROW Model is a problem-solving framework that enables people to make decisions, commit to actions, and produce results. It breaks complex decisions into simple steps. The GROW Model eliminates distractions and enables performers to hone in on one aspect of decision-making at a time. It makes decision-making more strategic.

GROW: The Ultimate Map for Decision Making

Leveraging Focus minimizes internal interference to maximize performance. Interference is anything that gets in the way of achieving our goal. Learn more about interference here.

Organizational Focus

An organization with Focus has clearly articulated key priorities that lead to the accomplishment of the organization's purpose, and those priorities are given robust attention, on every level. An organization without Focus is filled with distraction, miscommunication, redundant effort, waste of resources, and poor execution.

Learn more about organizational Faith in this excerpt from the NY Times Bestselling book, You Already Know How To Be Great.

Focus can even impact group dynamics. As we identify our focus as a contribution toward collective goal, we are less likely to experience conflict with our collaborators. This creates more successful cooperation, positive group relationships, and a stronger group identity and cohesion.


Focus is a key driver of performance, but it’s still only one element of performance. Performance is also impacted by knowledge, fire, and faith. Learn more about these elements of performance in the links below.





Learn more about the GROW Model® here.

GROW: The Ultimate Map for Decision Making

Category: Coaching GROW Model

Picture of Pivot Point

InsideOut Development is the world leader in workplace coaching. Quite simply, we help clients hold the conversations that energize people, motivate action, and lead to better—even incredible—business performance. PivotPoint is the voice of the InsideOut Development blog. We hope you’ll find inspiration to act as a “pivot point” in your trajectory (be it personal or professional) and to fuel your everyday breakthroughs.

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