The Temporal Structure and Structuring of Organizational Attention



Organizations are only as reliable as the attention of their frontline operators. Because attention has typically been theorized as a stable phenomenon, research has seldom directly examined how frontline attention fluctuates over time to threaten organizational reliability or how organizational practices stabilize these fluctuations to enhance reliability. In this qualitative study of a high-reliability explosive demolitions firm, we therefore develop theory on the temporal dynamics of attention. Our theory identifies the three timescales at which attention fluctuates, which we call the temporal structure of attention. It then argues that the organizational practices that regulate attention must be bundled in an intelligent manner, such that the practices which regulate attention are matched with the timescales at which attention fluctuates. Our theory explains this bundling, which we call the temporal structuring of attention, by integrating insights on metacognitive practice and entrainment. Namely, the metacognitive practices that regulate attention are mapped onto existing work routines that repeat cyclically across concentrically nested timescales, such that attention fluctuations are entrained, or synchronized with, the appropriate routine cycles. We formalize the logic of temporal structuring into five design principles that reconcile debates about attention, extend the literature into new areas, and provide actionable advice for organizations.

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Meeting ID: 945 7713 0790