Blog post

“I’ve Heard of Information Overload, But What Is Enterprise Attention Management?”

By Craig Roth | March 27, 2023 | 0 Comments

User interfaceInformation workFuture of WorkAttention ManagementProduct Development

If you’re like me, Monday morning is your time to catch up on all the emails and messages that came in over the weekend (or were leftover from last week). After a bit of catchup you decide what is really worth attending to this week. In fact, Monday should be declared the “attention management Day of the Week”. So what better day to introduce the concept of “enterprise attention management” to those who haven’t heard it or want a refresher.

“Enterprise attention management” refers to the application of attention management principles and practices in the context of an organization or business. It recognizes that an understanding of what is deserving of workers’ attention (and, just as importantly, what is not) requires an enterprisewide approach. More formally, I define it as follows:

Enterprise Attention Management is a discipline that helps an organization’s workers respond faster and make better decisions by promoting or demoting information based on importance.

Enterprise attention management takes a systemic and holistic approach, considering the organizational culture, work environment, communication channels, technology, and individual needs and preferences. It does not put all the change management burden on workers, but rather involves collaboration among IT and business leaders to identify and address attention-related challenges and opportunities to help all workers in an organization guide their attention to important information. That is why we sometimes call the mechanisms to do this “guided attention”. Technology providers – including hardware vendors, software vendors, and service providers – play an important role in devising products that enable a richer set of attentional capabilities.

With a coordinated response, enterprise attention management can create a work environment that supports and enables employees to use their attention and cognitive resources in the most optimal and fulfilling way possible.

How Does Enterprise Attention Management Differ From Information Overload?

Enterprise attention management is a fundamentally different response to information abundance than “information overload”. Information overload is a narrative that refers to the feeling of being overwhelmed or stressed by the volume of information that we are exposed to, such as emails, messages, notifications, dashboards, and news. Since “overload” is a personal feeling, information overload is usually seen as a personal issue. Since “overload” means “too much”, its solutions tend to focus on individual techniques to “turn down” and restrict the flow of information, such as personal discipline, time management strategies, information dieting and digital detoxes.

In contrast, enterprise attention management takes a neutral and more systemic approach to the issue of attention in the workplace. It recognizes that information abundance has good and bad aspects. By systemic I mean an approach that is embedded in work processes and applied consistently rather than an ad hoc approach that may differ for each person and each time a situation arises. So a “management” mindset of maximizing the good and minimizing the bad is more constructive than an “overload” mindset. Enterprise attention management recognizes that long term, enterprisewide improvements cannot rely only on individual initiative. Rather, a poor attentional environment is a collective and organizational issue that requires coordinated efforts and interventions from different stakeholders, including employees, managers, IT, and technology providers.

I recently experienced an example of this approach first hand. Our IT department decided to respond to complaints of email overload by examining the types of emails being sent and received. Rather than use overload solutions, such as advice to workers on setting aside time each day to handle these emails or how to set email filters and use reusable text components, IT took ownership of the problem and provided a solution. It found a systemic component: a large chunk of emails were about scheduling a certain kind of call. They enlisted the business unit in charge of the process as a stakeholder. Then they worked together to supply a systemic response, in the form of a custom system that keeps a significant proportion of important communications from hitting emails inboxes and handles this process more effectively than could be done in email. The resulting system is not perfect – no system ever is. But it is a good example of where an enterprise attention management approach generated a holistic and systemic outcome that would not have arisen from an overload mindset.

Information overload cannot be “cured.” But introducing an enterprise attention management approach can demonstrate how looking differently at seemingly intractable and inevitable problems can produce real and long-lasting results.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment