By Nick Tasler, CEO, Decision Pulse
Never before in the history of humankind have we had as much information at our fingertips. But all this easy access to information can make forward progress harder to accomplish. It has increased the time we spend analyzing options and, in some cases, that’s not a good thing. In the last decade, inaction in the corporate environment due to “analysis paralysis” has gone from a minor irritation to a serious threat to career growth, team productivity, and organizational health. As the rate of information sharing accelerates and our world gets faster, we’re actually getting slower.
Here’s a simple scenario I’m seeing more and more these days in my work with individuals and corporations. Imagine a crack team of 11 emerging leaders at a Fortune 100 health insurer meeting with a single mission. This new team of the “best and brightest” is told to go forth and innovate. Within a month, the team has deployed its technology-savvy, information-gathering skills to generate 43 practical, innovative ideas for improving customer health and company profits. Great job, right? But during the second month, the team is still hashing over even more new ideas supported by more newly discovered research. Some 90 days later, they’re still doing the same information curation. This team’s earnest desire to do a great job has morphed into a serious case of analysis paralysis.
Does this sound familiar to you? It can be a frustrating never-ending cycle, one that is particularly dangerous when serious problems need solving, not just when new ideas are being generated. And it’s happening increasingly across corporate America.
Fortunately, the cure to containing this organizational bug is fairly easy. It comes from learning how to leverage the forces of personality, pressure, and process. But first you have to understand how the three “P’s” fit into the problem, and the solution.
Personality: Nurture the “Deciders.”
Researchers led by Georges Potworowski, Ph.D., at the University of Michigan discovered recently that people who possess traits such as high self-efficacy and emotional stability are less prone to analysis paralysis. These “Deciders” beat paralysis because they believe they are more capable of successfully coping with the future, regardless of which option they choose.
While natural-born deciders might have an edge, they aren’t immune to bouts of analysis paralysis. Take, for example, our team of young leaders. They had no shortage of self-efficacy or confidence. But they needed to be reminded that confidence should strengthen their decisions.
A few years ago, researchers Ken Sheldon and Linda Houser-Marko at the University of Missouri found that “I am…” statements can have a dramatic impact on behavior change. The performance difference between a person who sets a goal to run every day and the person who transforms that goal into a statement that says, “I am a runner,” is remarkable and sustainable. Corny as it might sound, each individual needs to remind him or herself that “I am a Decider.”
Pressure: Measure and reward decisiveness.
When the technology stock bubble burst in 2001, Agilent Technologies’ revenues fell 60 percent within just three quarters. Agilent’s vice president of Global Talent at the time, Kirk Froggatt, often says that suddenly Agilent’s managers had to “stop touching many things but mastering nothing.” Some otherwise talented managers couldn’t make the tough decisions fast enough and had to be replaced.
The experience taught Agilent a valuable lesson. An overemphasis on being right the first time and even on building consensus can unintentionally foster a culture of analysis paralysis. To counter that effect, the company added a “Speed to Opportunity” index to Agilent’s manager evaluation process. Within three years of introducing the new metric, Agilent’s management chocked up a 32 percent increase in speed/decisiveness. Today, the first question Agilent asks its employees at review time is whether or not their manager makes timely decisions.
Process: Deciding has to be easy.
Although we don’t want to be trapped in analysis, we do want to make good decisions. A trusted, simple process is key to conquering paralysis. To help explain, let’s go back to our team of stars at the Fortune 100 health insurer. As I’m sure you suspected, this was an actual group I worked with recently. Here’s how they used process to move forward and out of analysis paralysis:
The first step in the process is to check your Decision Pulse. The group members at the insurance company spent one morning identifying their Team Decision Pulse. In other words, they identified the guiding principle that should provide the foundation for all their team’s decisions. Once this Team Decision Pulse was determined, they quickly narrowed the field of potential ideas to pursue.
The second step in the process is to consult the “anti-you.” The most successful way to prevent irrational decisions is to consider every alternative outcome and ask for an outsider’s input. This is a simple yet effective way to get that rational frame of reference. An “anti-you” could be anyone who has a different frame of reference, isn’t personally involved, and will be honest in his or her evaluation of possible outcomes.
The last step in the process is to decide to be a Decider. There comes a point in every decision process when it’s time to make that important call in order to move forward. This is where most of us stumble. It’s tempting to continue evaluating—where everyone is insulated from failure, at least for a time. Remember from our discussion on personality that a simple reminder to “be a Decider” is usually enough. Once a recommitment has been made to being the kind of person or team that takes clear and decisive action every day, the curse of analysis paralysis often is broken.
So what happened to our team of emerging young leaders? Within four months, they developed an innovative new customer solution, complete with a thorough execution plan. As a result, they were given additional responsibility over the next year that directly affected this massive organization’s strategic plans.
Access to information can help us all do a better job. But like anything carried to excess, it also can get in the way of effective decision-making. As our young team demonstrated, analysis paralysis is 100 percent curable. We already possess the talent, resources, and intelligence to be effective. But more than ever, we need the boost that only decisiveness can provide.
Nick Tasler is an organizational psychologist and author of “The Impulse Factor: An innovative approach to better decision-making”(Simon & Schuster, 2008). Through his work with Fortune 500 organizations, nonprofits, and academic institutions, Tasler is teaching new ways to consistently make choices that strengthen our businesses and enrich our lives. The founder and CEO of Decision Pulse, Tasler has written for a wide range of publications including BusinessWeekand Psychology Today. For more information, visit www.decisionpulse.com.