The Three Variables Underlying Every Significant Change Project

No matter what tools, methods, or approaches you take to create a change, time, care, and attention ultimately affect the outcome as much as anything else.

When people ask about what is the one thing that most influence change efforts I offer not one, but three: time, care, and attention.

Many things affect intentional change, but without time, care, and attention it’s unlikely you’ll get too far. All three of these variables assist us in marshalling the energy and focus required to make a change happen. If change was easy, we wouldn’t need to do this, but we often struggle with shifting our behaviour (or that of others like our clients or customers), and what determines whether you’re likely to succeed are these three variables.


There is no formula to guide our time. But if I work with a prospective client and they don’t have time to sit down and talk about the issues, meet with their colleagues or staff, or undertake some simple inquiries (background research), they won’t succeed. I won’t work with them.

A strange thing happens with change and innovation efforts: everyone wants them, but few are willing to put time into them. If promoting well-being across your organization, learning from your work, creating a culture of creativity, or innovating to compete isn’t significant enough to spend time on, then you’re not serious about it. We spend time on things we are serious about.

There’s no single time metric. It’s basically a simple rule: if you feel rushed and that your efforts are incomplete, you’ve not given yourself enough time. If you find yourself languishing and bored, you’ve not moved things along quickly. Use this to guide your assessment of how much time is appropriate given your problem situation.


Being care-ful means showing respect to others (and yourself) and giving them the space and encouragement to explore, participate, and contemplate the issues associated with whatever change initiative you’re looking to undertake. Change can be an emotionally charged activity with excitement, frustration, fear, and confusion being common emotional reactions. We want to undertake things that are going to be successful, but in many cases we don’t have the means to know in advance what will work and what won’t.

Care can mean slowing down if we push things too far or fast. Care can also mean being assertive with others to help them move forward if they want to change but resist taking action. Sometimes a little pressure can be caring when supporting people’s goals and aspirations.


We can offer up our time, be careful, yet also inattentive. For example, we don’t do our homework (and come prepared to discuss things). We over-prioritize and have too many top priorities. We might focus on many things at once. I’ve been in meetings with clients who are monitoring things on their phone while we’re talking about important things. If making change is worth your time and care, it’s also worth your attention.

When you’re on your laptop or phone attending to other things, you’re not attending to what’s in front of you. Consider the message you send your teams when your focus is elsewhere.

This is among the most challenging aspects of working remotely when we’re connecting through tools that are designed to distract. It’s also a reason why we need to design our engagements to be appropriate. For example, just because we have an hour to devote to a discussion doesn’t mean that we need to use it all. Keep our engagements and projects focused. Use lessons from psychology that show how presenting less information often leads to greater influence.

Are You Serious?

No matter what methods you use or the tools you choose, without time, care, and attention you’re not likely to be successful in creating change. Setting ourselves up for success requires good design and the same kind of time, care, and attention that we seek to design in.

Ask yourself: are you serious about change? It’s easy to say something’s needed or important and harder to demonstrate that with action. These three variables are all ways to show that you care about what you do. Whether it’s strategy, promoting well-being, or developing a new product or service — our time, the care we show, and the attention we bring are the three greatest factors to predict success. Without them, my question is: are you serious about what you’re saying?

Be honest with yourself. If you’re not willing to devote these three things, then maybe that’s what you need to change. It’s OK — that’s where we start. Design in the capacity to design in change. I do this all the time. Sometimes we’re only thinking of change, but that is where we start. As we think about change, we can work on setting the stage for change and focus on planning. From planning, we focus on starting. From starting, we look at building momentum and habits. After this, we focus on maintaining momentum.

My video below is a summary of what I’ve written here. When something requires TLC, consider giving it your TCA.

Our ways of working, structures, and strategies are all designed. If you want to set yourself up for success, let’s grab a coffee.

An audio version of this post is available up on our SoundCloud channel

Time, Care and Attention for Change-making

Image credit: Ýlona María Rybka on Unsplash and Jem Sahagun on Unsplash

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