The Right Decisions Depend on Managing the Information Overload
By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC
It’s a 24/7, non-stop world of information, data and knowledge shared by anyone from anywhere. It overwhelms, frustrates, confuses, provokes, guides, influences, paralyzes, and spurs action. What we research informs the areas we want to investigate further based on the level of knowledge that we need — or how seductive the messaging is, piquing our curiosity more.
Newspapers, magazines, cable, radio, social media and a multitude of in-person events create the world of information gathering. For business leaders, deciding where to look for information influences their approach to learning more. Leaders who take seriously take their role of decision-making want to learn; they collect the relevant data and anecdotal information so they can contemplate the pros and cons of certain actions to take.
There are those really competitive leaders who want to obtain business intelligence will, at the same time, also attempt to hide or restrict others’ ability to access the knowledge because of how onerous the effort was to collect the information. These are not leaders, but misleaders.
Even worse than this type are those leaders who are complacent; whose belief in nonintervention—combined with a don’t-rock-the-boat mentality—prevents their company from taking the appropriate action to counter competitive pressures.
This is not the time to sit pat, and business leaders knowing this will thrive on collecting information of all types. Who is doing what in our industry? What is the next greatest innovation or business model? Who has responded to Washington’s dictates? Who is doing an end around the rules to preserve market share? These are the types of questions effective leaders ask. They have an inherent ability to transform information into knowledge and then into wisdom, resulting in decisions that promote action.
This cannot be done in a vacuum, however. The ability to ask these questions with the expectation of getting solid information happens when the leader trusts his colleagues and has forged close ties with them. Some leaders may think by asking questions of their associates it shows a level of vulnerability. Quite the contrary. It shows trust and a philosophy that collective thinking is the foundation of a strong organization. The practical leader looks to his team for answers, and at the same time, shows the leader has confidence in his colleagues.
Where Timely and Relevant Information Sharing Helps an Organization
Critical operational matters arise daily. One area involves the hiring process. The leader must understand the company’s needs in order to identify the right candidate for the job. In the information gathering process which forms the basis of the interview process, leaders will listen much more than speak because they want to learn about a candidate’s experience and values and other qualities. This has to be done to determine if he or she is a right fit for the company (besides having the qualifications to excel in the job function).
Think about any organization in the public or private sector that is looking for a COO. The COO will have many different direct reports, and as such, must exhibit a team orientation. Perhaps the previous COO had a style that alienated others or used an autocratic style. The leader will compile information about a candidate’s work history. Some may have an outgoing personality but show an independent streak. Others may have a more subdued personality but express a philosophy toward team work. The company leader will gather the information collected from the candidates and align it with the personal information he or she gained from past situations in order to winnow the candidates to those who appear to be team players. A personality-type research (read information) can indicate who would thrive in the organization.
Another area where the right information can help is when there is dissension among the C-Suite or middle-level ranks. The usual thinking is to nip disagreements in the bud before they become unresolvable. This is a recipe for disaster. The ready-shoot-aim approach will only exacerbate a bad situation. Emotion needs to be set aside and replaced with pragmatism. This means that as you gather information you avoid prejudging and dispense with biases. Once sufficient information has been collected (again, this includes speaking with a trusted team) the leader will then meet with the involved parties to get their own perspectives.
The company leader will bring the team together and listen carefully to what is said (as well as to what is unsaid) to collect the information. At some point, the leader will ask questions, seek clarification and present for confirmation each party’s position. By using this deliberate approach, miscommunication will be minimized and a consensus reached on how best to proceed. By collecting the information, seeking input and gaining complete understanding, the chances are very good that the leader will resolve the conflict and that no issue will remain to fester.
Part of a leader’s role is to assess the performance of his or her team. There is a sense of dread to “Review Day” because of how it may have been handled in the past. If the company has a new leader, the importance of information gathering cannot be over-emphasized. In fact, in order to make an effective assessment of the team, information gathering should be done on a regular basis so there are no surprises or misunderstandings. There is the concept of “management by walking around”; picking up tidbits here and there that you can then use to create a composite profile of teams or individuals. As Yogi Berra was quoted as saying, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”
Effective leadership includes incorporating assessments and information gathering into a regular work routine to support judgments and appropriate actions to take. An effective tool for collecting relevant information is to conduct a workplace survey. The anonymous nature of the survey will provide the leader with unvarnished feedback necessary for making needed changes, whether it involves deploying human assets in different departments or changing the lines of reporting.
No matter what purpose the information serves, it should be readily available and provided; encouraged, carefully studied and effectively used for taking corrective action. The more information you gather, the more successful your decision-making will be.
Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.