Magazine article USA TODAY

Decisionmaking in the Digital Age

Magazine article USA TODAY

Decisionmaking in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

"Technology is a double-edged sword. While it can overwhelm an information-seeker with volumes of relevant, and not-so-relevant, information, it can also help a user cut a problem down to size."

THE ADVENT of the Digital Age has introduced a radical new element into the decisionmaking equation. For the first time, it has become possible to access a seemingly limitless amount of data, almost instantaneously. Thus, again for the first time, humanity has at its disposal more than brains and instinct to sort and analyze that data, make judgments about it, test those judgments across geographic boundaries, then communicate the final decision with the click of a mouse.

This is a tall order for mere mortals who, just a couple of decades ago, had only pink message slips to worry about, and who now have voice mail, e-mail, news services, overnight deliveries, and same-day shipping to assimilate. Along with having to wade through the daily media blitz, there is the need to convert information into decisions and then into action at the "speed of thought." In today's high-speed unforgiving environment, decision success or failure often falls straight to the bottom line.

Over the past several years, businesses have felt a strong push to increase the speed of decisionmaking. How are managers and workers coping with the need for greater speed, and how are companies balancing the requirement for speed with the concomitant need for quality?

To answer these questions, Kepner-Tregoe, Inc., a management consulting firm, worked with pollsters Yankelovich Partners to complete a study surveying 479 managers and 339 workers nationwide. It is clear from their responses that, on all levels and across all industries, U.S. decisionmakers are under pressure to keep up, but are, too often, sacrificing quality in the process.

Manager: "Clients are requiring immediate response. The window of expected response has shifted from two weeks to three days."

Worker: "Difficult customers, [and] ... insufficient time to think about the details of their request or [their] ramifications [are the key challenges]. Also [there is] increasing pressure from outside for instant results, rather than good ones."

Whether they typically make decisions alone, or as part of the group, 66% of the workers and 77% of the managers said that they were making an increasing number of decisions in the same, or less, time. Yet, the majority of managers and workers say that they--and their organizations--miss opportunities because decisions aren't made quickly enough or because they are not implemented on a timely basis.

While fast decisionmaking is an imperative, so is smart decisionmaking. When speed takes precedence, quality can suffer. Respondents reported seeing this happen in a number of key areas, including budgeting/finance, personnel/human resources, organizational restructuring, and quality/productivity. They cited 12 other areas that they felt were impacted as well, including purchasing, marketing, and e-commerce.

Speed is not an absolute. The key question is: "Are you faster than competitors?" When asked to compare the speed of their organization's decisionmaking to that of rivals, just one-quarter of workers and less than one-third of managers said that they are moving faster than the competition. Whether this is a reality or a perception depends on the individual case.

Manager: "Approvals require multiple levels. Each progressive level is further from the process and thus requires increasingly more information to educate them about the basics behind why something is being requested."

Worker: "Management does not have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, so our staff never knows who to go to for information, feedback, or decisions. Policy is made up as they go along."

Speedy decisionmaking isn't easy, given the number of barriers that can get in the way. …

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