Decision Overload

Better big decision by timing big decisions.

Decision-MakerLast year I finished a research project with CFOs. The goal was to identify the best practices for squeezing maximum impact out of capital budgets.

One pronounced finding was a scathing indictment against using capital slates for capital allocation decisions.  Organizations using capital slate committees were more than twice as likely to report high or very high capital stress (i.e. a severe shortage of capital).

The study’s CFOs (including those using capital slates) had several theories for the capital slate’s clear underperformance ranging from rushed analysis to cloakroom vote trading among division heads.

Now there’s an additional suspect: Decision Fatigue

Too Much For One Day
Decision fatigue is a recent discovery that describes how our mental energy is depleted by making several decisions. As our day wears on, our decision quality wears out.

We begin to make decisions based on the path of least resistance.

  • If a decision requires a bold step into unfamiliar territory, we will tend to say no. It’s easier to maintain the status quo.
  • Conversely, if the request is accompanied by a cadre of strong supporters, it’s easier to go with the flow and approve the proposal.

Decision fatigue also causes us to simplify our decisions. Instead of weighing multiple criteria such as risk minimization versus income maximization versus workforce impacts, we focus on a single attribute and choose accordingly.

Blind Spot
It’s important to note here that we are completely unaware of decision fatigue. We don’t feel the exhaustion or weakness that we feel with physical fatigue. It’s also not any annoyance we feel toward having to make a lot of decisions.

Decision fatigue is completely hidden from our perceptions – a very dangerous management hazard.

Plan Ahead
The best counter-measure is the simplest… schedule important decisions for early in the day.  If first thing isn’t possible, a distant second-best time is after a healthy lunch.

Just before lunch is bad, and mid to late afternoon puts executives in greatest jeopardy. We may feel on top of our game, but all the science says we’re not. It’s not a question of intelligence, experience, or fitness – our brains are simply at their peak in the morning.  We need to put critical decisions (capital and otherwise) early in the day.

So, will you? It can be as simple as giving a standing instruction to your Executive Assistant and others who control calendars: Schedule meetings for important decision very early in the day …but again, will you?

© 2013 Verax Point

About Dave Wittenberg

I am all about equipping business teams to enjoy greater payoffs on their biggest bets. I bring a unique combination of evaluation expertise and behavioral insights developed over the course of more than 300 major strategic initiatives. Applying a highly effective, disciplined framework, teams unleash their full capabilities to generate better solutions, wring out hidden waste, and deliver superior returns. Specialties: Investment Evaluation, Decision Excellence, Strategic Analysis, Mergers and Acquisitions, Investor Relations, Leadership Development, Education & Training
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