Updated: May 7
Multitasking, the act of performing two or more tasks simultaneously or performing a number of tasks in rapid succession.
I know that you’ve heard that multitasking isn’t as productive as you might think is it, but did you know that significant amounts of time is lost when multitasking, and as the tasks get more complex you lose even more time completing it? And did you also know that multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time? When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully. Well, according to a study conducted by Joshua Rubenstein, Jeffrey Evans and David Meyer, and another one conducted by Stanford University researchers.
With all the data out there that says multitasking isn’t the way to go, why do we still do it? Why do you suppose companies do it? You know, take on multiple large-scale change projects simultaneously, or take on a number of those projects in rapid succession? I can't say definitively, but I can tell you this, very seldom is it effective. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back it up and tell you a quick story that will help me get to my point.
Once upon a time, there was a company, #1 in its industry, who acquired the #2 company in its industry, primarily for its technology. Almost immediately, as with many acquisitions or mergers, some changes began happening right away, like the name change and branding of the new company, along with the integration of their email systems. And because the acquiring company purchased the target company for its technology, the work needed to begin implementing the targeted technology began fairly quickly.
This is all to be expected. However, what’s not expected is for the leadership to say, “Hey, since we’re already making changes, let’s change everything else we’ve been talking about for the last two years.” Insert here, the wide-eyed emoji, with the accompanying text, “Are you crazy?”
Call me big bang change averse, but now is not the time to introduce all your other large-scale changes into the mix. Why? Because multitasking doesn’t work! Not at the individual level and not at the corporate level. Yeah, you were wondering how I was going to reintroduce multitasking back into this story, weren’t you? - Wink. Well as we learned earlier, multitasking reduces efficiency and performance and it adds time to completion. This is true even when done corporately. The purpose of change management is to increase adoption, proficiency and time to productivity. However, doing big bang changes is counter to all that we are working hard to accomplish. With this said, let me get to the point. Taking on multiple projects concomitantly can cause what we call Change Saturation.
Change Saturation isn’t a good thing. It occurs when the disruption caused by the change is more than the capacity you have available to actually perform the change. For example, you decide to do five major projects, all projected to have a pretty large impact on your P&L stateme
nt. Teams have been assembled to work on these projects with many of the teams comprised of the same employees. Though each project has a different focus, solving for different problems, eventually it all comes to a head resulting in a crash. A crash on the front lines where employees, who are doing the work, feel the impact of all this change. And they are exhausted.
This exhaustion felt is what we call Change Fatigue. Too many things are happening at once and your employees, and front-line leaders, are having a difficult time keeping up with all the new expectations. And this, in one way or another, will impact your customers.
Obviously, I’m not a fan of just ripping off the band-aid because I think most times it does more harm than good. But the question you have to ask yourself and your team is, is it more important to get it done fast or get it done with your employees and customers still engaged and in trust of your leadership?