Cognitive Load Theory

I once knew an executive who inherited a group in trouble. Revenue and profits were down, and customer share was decreasing quickly. He came in with several great ideas. He knew that if the company had any chance, he had to execute perfectly on them all. He planned and realized he had the resources, but it was going to be a challenge. He was changing things on several different fronts, but he was talented when it came to strategy and communication.

In the end, his efforts failed. It was instructive to examine why. It wasn't that the ideas were bad - he had the right strategy. It wasn't that he didn't have the resources or the talent to get everyone working together. It wasn't that the teams were lacking in skills or engagement.

The reason he failed was that there was too much change at once. The staff couldn't absorb all the changes. Similar to many companies that struggled when the pandemic hit. There was too much to process and employee's minds couldn't absorb it all.

This is one of the keys to cognitive load theory. The theory is complex, but essentially it means that people can only handle so much change at once before it starts to overwhelm them.

Managers need to be aware of this because this is one of the unseen factors that damage a lot of projects. We all need a certain amount of routine in our lives so that we can handle the change better. If everything is change, our minds just get overloaded and we struggle with everything.

As you assign projects and work, are you paying attention to make sure you aren't overloading employees? If you aren't, you are not setting the team up to succeed.