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A focus from the ASTD Conference 2011

The average time you’ll spend reading this article is three minutes, before you’re interrupted or you switch to another task.  That’s according to a UC Irvine study that followed leaders and individual contributors in a workplace environment.

You’ll spend about 10 minutes in a “working sphere,” which the study defines as “anything where there’s a common goal, there’s a certain group of people involved with it, there are certain resources attached to it, it has its own time framework and its own deadline.”  This doesn’t include time spent in meetings, although there are plenty of possible interruptions there as well.

And the most revealing statistic?  Of all the interruptions this study recorded while shadowing nearly 40 people, almost half the time we interrupt ourselves!  

So if our workday is more about interruptions than anything else, how does that affect us as leaders?

This study was cited in opening remarks by authors Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and Mette Norgaard during their keynote address at the ASTD 2011 conference.

It set the stage for a conversation about interruptions and how they can be turned into leadership touch points.  Or as Mette Norgaard commented, every interruption can be seen as an interaction, and “every interaction is spring loaded with opportunities.”

Think about some of the most memorable interactions in your life.  Chances are you remember them like they happened yesterday. Maybe there were some words or phrases attached to them that are still with you.  Doug Conant shares ten of his most memorable touch points. All combined less than 60 words of actual conversation.

Now apply that to an interruption from a team member or colleague.  Leaders actually experience more external interruptions than the individual contributor.  Can you turn an external interruption in your day into an interaction so memorable that it truly improves the situation? That interaction can become a touch point for the other person.  It can improve their view of you as a leader, their passion for their work, and ultimately their overall engagement and performance.

I’ll share with you a few points from Doug and Mette on how to do this:

  • First, discover the true touch points in your own life for perspective on how powerful they are.
  • There must be an issue at hand around the touch point.  (Refer to Doug’s ten memorable touch points for examples).  There are three elements to consider – the leader, other people, and the issue itself.
  • Focus on positive potential when communicating a touch point.
  • View the interaction as the action. As leaders we’re always looking for results.  In that touch point moment, have confidence it’s an action that will ultimately yield a result, and give it the proper focus.
  •  “Be tough-minded on the issue, and tender-hearted with people.”
  • Be approachable.  Touch points are both approachable and aspirational.
  • Doug personally writes about 70 notes a week to people within the company.  Each one is a touch point.  As a leader, are you taking an approach as direct as this?

And if turning interruptions into touch points feels a little too soft, consider the engagement data at Campbell Soup Company:

  • Gallup defines a world-class organization as one with a 12:1 ratio of engaged to non-engaged employees.  So for every 1 person who doesn’t want to be there, there are 12 that are wildly excited about their work.  The ratio at Campbell’s?  17:1.
  • The ratio of senior leader engagement at Campbell’s?  70:1.

We are probably close to the three-minute mark and an interruption, so I’ll leave you with this quote from Doug to consider with your next interaction.

“The next touch point is just around the corner.  Use it wisely.”

Ready to learn more?

Visit for more information about custom blended training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group. Amy Franko is a 2010 Apex Award of Excellence winner for training design.

© 2011 Impact Instruction Group

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