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Ball: Set deadlines to avoid paralysis by analysis

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Leaders make decisions in order to move ahead.

Yet with fingertip access to information worldwide it can be easy to suffer from a common condition called paralysis by analysis. Symptoms of this condition include ongoing information consumption on a particular topic and delaying action based on the knowledge acquired.

Say, for instance, there is an employee you need to terminate. You want to do it right; certainly there could be implications if you execute the termination in an illegal manner or for the wrong reasons. So you sit down to the computer and search “how to fire an employee.” You read the first page of search results. Then you click through the next few pages scanning for potential new information not covered in the previous articles. Unsatisfied, you head back to the search bar and look up “firing an employee legally.” Similar information consumption ensues. Repeat.

Your research into best practices, legal implications and other topics may continue for days or weeks and, while it does, the employee that needs to go still works for you. They continue to show up late, be unproductive, provide bad customer service or, worst case, steal from the company. Yet, no matter how much information you acquire, assuming you do eventually make the decision to act, you will at some point have to bring in the employee and have the uncomfortable conversation.

Interestingly, inaction is, in itself, a decision to accept the status quo. Despite your best efforts, you will never have all the information. It is impossible. This is not to suggest you should avoid due diligence. Prudence is required by people in decision-making roles. You can have enough information to make a prudent decision and at that time action must be implemented.

One way to avoid analysis paralysis is to set a decision deadline. Set a date on your calendar for time to research, discuss and evaluate a certain course of action.

Beware of Parkinson’s Law – the old business saying that work will expand so as to fill the time available for its completion. Give yourself some time, but not too much because you won’t really use it anyway. Then, when the deadline is up, act. Or decide to not act and move on and leave the last idea behind.

If, following your due diligence period, it turns out your decision to implement was a mistake, you can correct course along the way. There are few decisions that cannot be undone or actions that cannot be modified along the way.

Leaders are informed decision makers. Commit to being an informed decision maker. Commit to being a leader. Your employees and your customers will thank you.

• Brad Ball is executive director of the Cary-Grove Area Chamber. Reach him at 847-639-2800 or brad@carygrovechamber.com.

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