Taming decision fatigue

Published on the 24/04/2024 | Written by Heather Wright

Taming decision fatigue

Four ‘tried and tested’ methods…

Tech leaders are in the business of making decisions, from how to tackle AI or the next latest, greatest technology, to what security concerns are the biggest for your business, to pulling the plug on a project, or staffing decisions. Harvard Business Review says the average adult makes around 35,000 decisions a day.

But Stephanie Christopher, managing director at peer advisory and coaching service The Executive Connection (TEC) Australia and New Zealand every leader has also been faced with the challenge of decision fatigue.

“With technology, the speed of change and the amount of decisions happening every day can be a problem.”

“In a world where leaders are expected to do more with less, to achieve continuous growth, the decisions that need to be made about resources, including people, technology, spend and strategic direction, are continuous. It doesn’t stop.

“And particularly with technology, the speed of change with the expectations of a leader and the amount of decisions happening every day can be a problem.”

TEC’s membership is a diverse group of business leaders from across Australia and New Zealand, including many in the technology sector.

Christopher told iStart decision fatigue – that feeling of being overwhelmed by the number of decisions you have to make when you lack clarity as to the best direction is – can quickly snowball if not addressed.

Recent tech conferences would seem to back that up, with an increasing focus on wellbeing and stress reduction for IT leaders.

But Christopher is clear that decision fatigue isn’t the same as someone who is frozen and can’t make a decision.

“Part of decision fatigue comes from not being clear on what your strategy is, and what your plan is to achieve that strategy.”

Which ties nicely to a key method ‘tried and true’ method to overcoming decision fatigue, according to Christopher: Putting those strong foundations in place so you have strategy to guide you.

“For a CIO it is absolutely about being very clear about where the business is heading, what the objectives are of the full c-suite and the CEO and where the CIO role fits in.

“You’re making decisions then that align with the overall business objective, not just with your own thought of what is the best thing to be doing now.”

But it’s not enough just to know the strategy. Christopher says IT leaders need to be fully engaged in the development of the strategy. She notes that she often sees issue with leaders in an organisation who are impacted by decisions made further up the line.

“They’re trying to think of how they should be best dealing with things at their level and perhaps don’t have the same access to inputs and resources as the c-suite.”

Having a strong strategy provides clarity as to what decisions align with the company’s mission and can be used to triage and evaluate each decision.

“You have to be very clear on what you are faced with. How strategic is a decision? How important is it? How urgent is it? Where does it fit in? And then is it something you need to put aside time to work on or is it something you can quickly deal with and move on.”

She urges tech leaders to carve out time to make decisions, though she admits that’s a key sticking point for many.

“It’s such a challenge. And speaking as someone who doesn’t always get this right, it is back to the strategy: Is what I’m working on relevant? Does it relate to what needs to be happening this day, week, month, quarter or year? Or is this something that is perhaps innovation that needs to be thought about?

“It’s about having your regular cadence of what needs to be done during the week, month and quarter, and then allowing time for innovation, reflection, self-reflection and peer connection, and being very specific and intentional about how you carve up your time.”

Taking the time to connect with peers is an area Christopher is – unsurprisingly, given her role – big on.

“What leaders are often missing is perspective and the idea of learning from people who aren’t in their immediate circle. How can you get people who are not stakeholders in your business to sit in your shoes and view things with fresh eyes to identify blindspots or any issues I might be missing?

“Leaders who take that step get tremendous relief and support and capability from getting perspectives from people around them,” she says.

A fourth method, she says is to understand that no two decisions are the same.

While judgement, stemming from past experience, is a key decision making method (as is intuitive decision making) she says flawed judgement calls can be made based on previous experience. An IT leader might make a decision now, based on what did or didn’t work in the past.

“You might say you’ve seen this before, but it might have been 10 years ago in a different world. Things change. And you as a leader have shifted too.”

Whatever decision making tools a leader uses, Christopher says they also need to be adept at harnessing talent around them and leading through their team, rather than trying to do everything themselves.

“I see a lot of this in our members, where they are stuck being a one man band, and that is something that can lead to decision fatigue.”

Christopher’s three tips for IT leaders feeling overwhelmed by decision fatigue

1. Take a step back and consider that Eisenhower Matrix of important versus urgent, where important and urgen requires immediate action through to not important, not urgent being deleted, and don’t assume that every decision is the same for urgency, relevancy or impact.

2. Make sure you are very clear on your contribution to the bigger picture in your organisation and what is expected of you so you can set priorities and determine what you will and won’t be doing, which is one whole set of decisions in itself.

3. Look for that challenging circle of peers who won’t just soothe you and tell you what they think you want to hear but who will push you to look at all aspects of a decision so you identify deeply what a problem is before you plan what your best next step is.

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