Avoid drift

Drift is the term used for when we become unfocused, when we lose sight of what we are doing or what we are trying to achieve. Ever gone upstairs and, when you get to the top of the staircase, you have no idea why you went upstairs; your mind is blank? That’s drift. Ever been on the way to a meeting, got distracted then found yourself wondering where it was you were going? That’s drift.

But there are more serious versions of drift. For example, an important meeting can get bogged down in detail and lose track of what was supposed to be discussed. A worker can lose sight of what they are trying to achieve or what their role is. The result can be, at the least, wasted time and energy or much more serious in terms of important, perhaps crucial, things not getting done.

Drift can happen in any circumstances, but I have been able to identify three main types of drift that can so easily arise:

  • Bureaucratic drift This is where administrative requirements and procedures take over and become the most important thing. Instead of admin systems being there to support the main work of the organisation, it can easily become the case that the cart gets placed before the horse. What I mean by this is that bureaucracy becomes the main focus. For example, I have come across situations where supervision sessions have become reduced to a process of simply completing the supervision recording form. Instead of a professional process of helping the worker to be the best worker they can be, it is reduced to a series of questions being asked and the answers written down. The bureaucratic requirement has been met, but the actual benefits of supervision have been lost.
  • Pressure drift A second type of drift arises when people are under a lot of pressure. They find themselves rushing around, not taking time to think, plan or focus. Unfortunately, this tends to create a vicious circle. People under this level of pressure are likely to make more mistakes, act rashly and, importantly, lose the plot – lose the focus of what they are supposed to be doing. That then adds to the pressure levels, and so it goes on.
  • Culture drift This can be, in part at least, a result of the first two types of drift. It refers to when a culture develops where it becomes the norm to lose focus. This can be, for example, where there is a lot of unresolved conflict in a team, so the main focus becomes managing the conflict, or at least trying to avoid it. Similarly, a culture of low morale characterised by negativity and defeatism can distract people – and demoralise them – to such an extent that the main focus of the work gets lost.

So, what can be done? Well, from an individual point of view, an important step is in the direction of critically reflective practice. Drift occurs when people switch off and allow themselves to become distracted. They stop concentrating and thereby lose focus. A more mindful, reflective approach can therefore make a very positive difference. It can create a virtuous circle in which a clear focus makes us more effective, which improves morale, and which then helps us to focus and concentrate.

From an organisational point of view, this is where leadership has a role to play. Effective leaders should be able to shape a culture where reflective practice is the norm and where team members are supported in keeping a clear head and a clear focus. Drift is very costly in various ways, and so an individual and collective approach to tackling it is likely to prove most effective.

Be clear about what you value

People who suffer from depression often feel as though nothing matters any more. It is as if life has become so difficult or painful that they just want to be cut off from it. And yet, ironically, it is generally because something we value – something that is really important to us – has been offended, undermined or even destroyed that people become depressed.

This raises important issues about what we value, about what really matters to us. Values are often seen as abstract, and therefore disconnected from real life to a certain extent. However, seeing values that way is a big mistake, a very big mistake. This is because our values influence:

  • Our thoughts What we think will, of course, be shaped to a certain extent at least by our values, by our sense of priorities, for example. This isn’t just ‘abstract’ – what we think will have very concrete consequences for our lives.
  • Our feelings Likewise, our emotional reactions will depend a great deal on our values. For example, if dignity is important to us, if it is part of our value base, then witnessing somebody not being treated with dignity is likely to make us feel angry. However, if dignity were not part of our value base, then witnessing indignity would probably not evoke an emotional reaction – it would not matter to us.
  • Our actions Of course, both our thoughts and our feelings will influence our actions, so, at the very least, our values will indirectly influence our actions. However, there will also be ways in which what is important to us will also influence our actions directly. For example, if we value learning and personal growth and development, we will seek out and capitalize on learning opportunities.

 Having a clear picture of what our values are can therefore be a very useful step in the direction of developing self-awareness, such an important capability when it comes to working in any field that involves a concern for people and their problems. It can make a very significant positive difference in this regard.

Having an awareness of other people’s values can also help us to understand them, to be able to tune in to what matters to them. This can be a great asset in trying to help or support people, whether in our private or our working lives. It won’t make us mind readers, but it will give us some insights into what makes people tick.

What we also have to be aware of is that there will be times when we are in danger of losing sight of our values. These would include:

  • When we are tired, run down or under the weather At times like this we can be not thinking straight or be emotionally knocked out of our stride. We may then find ourselves behaving or speaking in ways that are not consistent with our values. For example, we may value the importance of listening to people, of paying attention to them, but find it difficult to do so when we are not feeling one hundred per cent.
  • When we are busy, overworked or even stressed This is when we can be focusing on just getting through the day – in effect, going into ‘survival mode’. This can mean that we act ‘out of character’ (although it is actually about values, rather than character). This can lead to a vicious circle in which our actions or attitudes can actually increase our workload – for example, by creating unnecessary tensions.
  • When we feel threatened At such times we are likely to focus narrowly on returning to a situation of safety, and that can, understandably, mean that we lose sight of our values, temporarily at least.

So, what is important to you? What are your values? The more aware of these issues you are, the stronger a position you will be in.