Will overload get in the way of your success in 2022?


My most enduring memory of 2020 is the tail end of four crises spread over nine months - a royal commission, needles in strawberries, the Chinese trade embargo and of course, COVID.   

Locked in a room, leaders scrambled to prepare for their next board meeting. Mired in detailed lists of initiatives, they spent five hours trying to piece together a plan on a page. By the end of the day, everyone was overloaded, stress levels soared, tempers frayed - and not much got done.

Our organisations are like washing machines, spinning out of control in a cycle of constant crisis, uncertainty and change. We can only expect that to go into overdrive in 2021.

The problem: leaders are caught in a complexity trap and get completely overloaded, creating initiatives to deal with anything and everything.

Overload happens because as humans we can only keep 7 things in our heads at a time. Beyond that, not much else gets done. It’s what the scientists call ‘cognitive overload’, and it relates to what happens in our frontal lobe, quite a small part of our brain that manages decision making, our emotions and memory. It's why multitasking doesn't work, it can paralyse us, lead to anxiety and if left unchecked leads to even more diabolical mental health issues.

Complexity becomes a trap because it really doesn't take that much to overload us, and then we lose focus. We end up spending up to 70 % of our precious time on tactical change or fighting fires.

What we can do differently

Now is the time to challenge ourselves.  Does 2021 need to be the same as 2020? Just putting up with overload is not sustainable. Right now, we have a window of opportunity when we can take the time to stop, sit back and reflect on what we should do differently.

So how can you avoid the complexity trap and overload for 2021? 

It’s deceptively simple, but here are our 3 success factors:

1. Manage your own overload first. It’s not healthy. In a survey this September over 45% of all of us has been found to be showing signs of anxiety, most of it probably due to overload. There are many great ways to take personal responsibility to manage our own overload - exercise, mindfulness, sleep and reducing alcohol consumption. However, what’s really needed is to get clarity on the big rocks - and this needs to be an outside-in-approach to clarify your intent:

        • Seek out stories from customers, employees and partners about what is changing
        • Get insights from your colleagues on what is working and not working
        • Take a look at the data, are there any trends you are seeing?

2. Commit to leading differently through the uncertainty of 2021. One important difference is you need to commit to engaging your people in change as it gives them a sense of control.  People embrace the change they create themselves and it's responsible for 95% of successful change. It is not just about getting people in a room to ‘collaborate’, because doing this in the wrong way can lead to overload. You and other change champions, need to learn how to facilitate a process of collaborative engagement.


3. Get a simple plan-on-a-page right now. To keep it simple, we need the plan focused on the big rocks. The world is so complex and uncertain, it’s tempting to try to control every little thing with even more frameworks, experts, detailed plans, but all that is going to do is add more complexity and overload.

People need plan-on-a-page that gives them a little more certainty, with a balance of 3 things:

        • Concrete, practical implementation steps to deliver the initiatives related to the ‘big rocks’, including check-in points to ensure everyone is aligned.
        • Engagement process that involves the whole organisation in change and
        • Contingency time built into the plan to respond to potential scenarios for 2021.


Discover how we can help you

Contact us to find out more and book an initial discovery call today
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