Core 10: The Change Makers' Manual




implicitly use to regulate volume, fragmentation, and variety. The contents will be personal to each leader and the context in which they work, and are best demonstrated by examples from our study. Conquering volume Though there is an ever-expanding array of digital tools and dashboards to help leaders stay on top of things, the CEOs in this study always complimented technology (but often sidelined it) in favour of formal and informal meetings to regulate their daily information feeds. One even used a visit to the cafeteria as an opportunity to monitor their environment. Though corridor meetings and walkabouts were informal, they formed part of a routine that

One CEO told us: “The worst thing is for a CEO to learn about an issue from the press – you can start packing.” Another added: “They do not understand that this is one of the hundred things I deal with… They want to feel that we addressed the issue with great care.” Meet the attention thieves Before we introduce the framework, it is important to look at the three challenges to a leader’s attentional resources: Volume – too much information will overwhelm; too little will cause things to be missed. Fragmentation – allocating full attention to multiple issues and being seen to do so. Variety – prioritising the right issues, both immediately and in the long term. The attentional infrastructure The attentional infrastructure is the framework that leaders

by Maja Korica M onday morning, 7am. The CEO while keeping an eye on a television report about regulatory fines. Meanwhile, she overhears two shift workers complaining about the new IT system. As she turns to find out more, the facilities manager swings by to ask if she will attend a retirement party. In the time it takes to make a flat white, the CEO’s attention is pulled in four different directions. It is the CEO’s job to be on top of everything; the buck, as they say, stops with them. But attention is a finite resource. High-profile cases, such as the Volkswagen waits for coffee in the cafeteria. She mulls over a budget issue emissions scandal, demonstrate the of consequences of management failure to focus on the right thing. Meanwhile, we celebrate the ability to stay on top of things. There is even a phrase to show admiration for business leaders who get it right: “I don’t know how they do it.” How they do it is what we set out to discover. Over two years, we shadowed and interviewed seven CEOs in the English National

Health Service. Each looked after multiple hospitals and managed budgets exceeding £500 million. Our research revealed that they instinctively use an attentional framework to keep on top of the right issues. We developed this into a tool that leaders can use to recognise and maximise the allocation of their most precious resource: their brain power.

ensured the CEOs collected information they may have missed in formal meetings or through consulting stats on a performance dashboard.

How to use the attentional infrastructure



Desired effects

Activation and regulation practices ■ Activating attention through monitoring activities (meetings, walkabouts), personal networks and attentional artefacts (eg, logs, social media) ■ Maintaining vigilance by using all social opportunities as information grounds ■ Using activities, people and tools to filter noise, check clues, triangulate information and identify what is important

Volume Finding the right balance between too little and too much information Fragmentation Paying attention to many issues without seeming distracted or dropping the ball Variety Prioritising accordingly and finding the time to focus on the things that matter

Ensuring the right level of attention for different issues and balancing richness, specificity and redundancy Sustaining attention across different temporalities

Focusing practices ■

Delegating tasks to others for their attention

■ Maintaining full attention in the moment but avoiding attentional spillovers between issues and events ■ Externalising long term attention priorities and inscribing them into agendas, review frameworks, risk registers and important conversations ■ Balancing attention for obligations and personal priorities Prioritisation practices ■ Weeding out issues and clearing the table by escalating, de-escalating and delegating issues ■ Addressing important issues before the urgent ones ■ Minimising obligations ■ Constantly monitoring the infrastructure effectiveness and repairing it when necessary

Actively managing attention to important things, maintaining fit, and avoiding breakdowns

Warwick Business School | | Warwick Business School



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