Attention! No time for change?

People are overloaded with information and change. The mailbox is filled with memos about why they need to change. Every white space on the wall is covered with communications about the latest initiatives. Every free hour is claimed for live or video communication on important topics. And all this on top of all the other work and information people receive every day. There is no mental space left for more....

This means that we need to change our approach to change itself, to deal with this limited attention span and help people make change as easy and valuable as possible.


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Attention! No time for change?

I happened to read this quote from Lao Tzu yesterday:

Time is a created thing. To say 'I don't have time' is like saying 'I don't want to'.
Many people who are very busy will absolutely disagree with this, because they say they really don't have time. That's possible. But often it is also about lack of priority, or lack of cognitive space and attention. The statement "I don't have time" is more often a red herring or excuse for not paying attention to something than a real lack of time.

However, it is important in organizational change to dwell on the reality that people often don’t have time or think so. We can say from the sidelines, “make time, set your priorities, reduce the time you spend on useless things. However, that is usually a long-term work for which there is not always the space during an organizational change, or it is the subject of a transformation in itself.

Little usually happens with the comment that people don’t have time. The shoulders are shrugged of ‘well, they don’t have time again, they don’t want to’. As in the quote from Lao Tzu. But maybe they do want it, but don’t know it yet. Or they don’t want ‘it’, but ‘it’ is not the change itself, but something else. Resistance to change has several causes.

I think this framework covers pretty well the types of resistance you can encounter and it provides a basis for addressing the core of resistance. Resistance plays out on three possible levels according to Rick Maurer:

1. Level of cognition: “I don’t understand”

2. Level of emotion: “I don’t want this”

3. Level of trust: “I don’t trust it/you.”

Yet, based on my experience with change programs, I would like to add one level to this list, let’s think of it as the Ground Zero:

0. Level of focus: “I don’t have the mental space for this.”

This is the level under which a large part of the comments in the form of “I don’t have time” therefore also fall and are best paid attention to separately.

4 levels of resistance to change

The ‘no time’ objection is therefore something to seriously consider when shaping your change plans:

  • In the choice as an organization on which organizational changes you want to focus (priority): people don’t have time for everything, can’t prioritize or pay attention to everything. Ideally, the organization’s priority and the individual’s priority should align, then you will get effortless change. In choosing which change has the most priority at any given time, this match or value alignment can be one of the criteria.


  • In guiding people to prioritize something (priority): make sure a change has value for people. If it is purely a change from within the organization that needs to happen, say there is no choice and explain it. The worst is to deploy change that “must” happen anyway and then choose a democratic change process as if there is a choice. For changes where the value is bilateral, such as a better employee experience, you can involve people through co-creation so that they help create value themselves (see also the article on the Ikea effect). Start dialogues between employee and managers or mentors to individually fill in the value of a certain change.


  • In communicating change (attention): keep in mind that not everyone will give a certain change the same attention, because it is not a priority for them. But also keep in mind that people might not pay enough attention to it and so you will have to come up with creative solutions to earn people’s attention. Storytelling and personalized communication can help.


  • In the chosen change by designing simple change (efficiency): make it as easy as possible for people. Make sure that actions they need to take can be done as simply as possible. Make sure that choices can be made easily or are already made by default (the opting-out principle). Integrate the change as much as possible into what is already happening, into daily operations, so that it does not have to be added to everything that already has to be done.


The question is, for your organizational change, isn’t it best to always start from the premise that employees and managers don’t have time, attention or priority, so that you are always looking for the most efficient and valuable way to achieve a good result? In any case, it’s a good start that your ears start itching when you hear once again that someone has no time and that you don’t just scratch the surface and move on, but that you get to the heart of the matter and help people with no time.


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