A Strong Leader Can Overcome Choice Overload

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Published December 7, 2015

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A major problem in today’s business world is choice overload. There is no area within “product companies” where this is most true than supply chain. Therefore, the necessity for avoiding choice overload is greatest when making supply chain choices. I think it is very important that this article is read and studied. Strong leadership needs to be put in place in order to eliminate supply chain choice overload and drive supply chain excellence.

When I wrote the introduction to this article it sounded to me I was writing an advertisement for the newest energy drink. The feeling was a never ending string of questions such as:

  • Having a hard time keeping up with the pace of life?
  • Has the rat race made you feel like a mouse?
  • Is life like a treadmill, you keep running but don’t get anywhere?
  • Has the vicious cycle of the daily routine worn you down?
  • When you see a hamster running in a wheel, do you empathize with the hamster?

I felt I should answer these questions with a response such as, “buy the newest miracle vitamin-packed energy drink, it will restore your energy and allow you to take control and win the rat race, today’s challenging business environment.” The only problem with this is there is no new energy drink that achieves these results. In fact the reality is you can overcome these feelings of being overwhelmed, not through an energy drink, but by realizing the downward cycle of choice overload.

Figure 1: The endless cycle of choice overload

Figure 1: The endless cycle of choice overload

Figure 1 can be viewed from an individual perspective or an organizational perspective. I am going to discuss the individual perspective.

Figure 1 begins with an individual facing many choices as the result of the pace of business accelerating, to allow adaptation to the changing marketplace. When faced with more choices than traditional this begets a sense of anxiety over the number of choices needed to be made (step 1). In an effort to make sure good choices are made, seeking out more and more information is needed (step 2). With the accessibility of available information at an all-time high, there is an abundance of information reaching the point of information overload (step 3), leading to decision fatigue (step 4). Decision fatigue prevents making choices leading to a state of choice overload (step 5). Choice overload prevents making choices in a timely fashion, and thus having more choices to make then manageable. This results in reaching a level of choice gridlock (step 6). The gridlock of choices results in more choices then can be made (step 1) therefore, beginning to repeat the choice overload cycle. This never-ending cycle can just as well happen to an organization as it can to an individual. The amount of frustration that results from the choice overload cycle is huge, and without strong leadership this cycle has been responsible for many individuals and organizations being unable to keep pace, resulting in failure. The first objective of this article is to define the challenge of choice overload. If and when it happens strong leadership can be provided to break out of the vicious cycle. The remainder of the article discusses the strong leadership needed at each step of choice overload to insure success.

Strong Leadership Step 1: Many Choices to Make                  
A strong leader will address many choices, setting prioritization. Some view prioritization as deciding which task is most important, first, second, third, etc. This is prioritization; this is not what a strong leader will do. First, a strong leader eliminates the choices that are trivial, having no real impact on the path forward. Secondly, a strong leader will make “no brainer” choices. Third, a strong leader will delegate low impact choices to someone who is capable, while not consuming the organization’s time needed for critical choices. Last, a strong leader will begin the task of deciding who should make the remaining important choices. Interestingly, by the time the trivial, no-brainier, and low impact choices are made, the list of choices that need to be made is much shorter. Therefore, deciding who should make the remaining choices is much easier. When deciding who makes the remaining choices care should be given to ensure that different perspectives and views are represented. Obviously, assigning four people who all share the same view is not helping the decision process. Once the correct people have been selected a strong leader’s role is reduced to managing timelines, participating in the establishment of criteria, assuring closure is reached, and implementation of the choices made is completed.

Strong Leadership Step 2: Pursuit of Information
A strong leader knows the difference between data and information. Due to the desire to “Know It All” many seek information that is interesting although irrelevant to making the assigned choices. The need for and use of information must be fully vetted before the information is sought. There is an unbelievable amount of information that can be pursued, a strong leader will be certain that only the information that is truly relevant will be pursued. Lastly, a strong leader will be certain to characterize the level of precision needed in all information being sought. The level of effort required to obtain the correct information can easily approach a factor 10 times over the data sought by some managers in making choices.

Strong Leadership Step 3: Information Overload
The most frequent reason for information overload is weak leadership, during step1 (not presenting choices) and step 2 (pursuing too much data or irrelevant information). A strong leader eliminates clutter, useless information, and knows how to cut to the core of the information trends required to make choices. An additional factor here is when a weak leader tries to force people to make decisions sooner than the information is available. The pressure to make choices is rarely productive and often wastes a tremendous amount of time and undercuts good choices being made.

Strong Leadership Step 4: Decision Fatigue
A strong leader minimizes decision fatigue by having well defined choices, decision criteria, deadlines, and focus while making the choices. A strong leader also makes sure all are well informed about the other choices that are being decided upon. Often the consequences and impacts of one choice can have an impact on another choice. Realizing that the more collaboration required in making a choice, the more energy be required. To reduce decision fatigue a strong leader must oversee those involved with making choices and only those that need to be involved should be involved. Lastly, a strong leader must minimize second guessing, encouraging choices to be closed. Continuing to reopening choices that have been made will contribute to decision fatigue while reducing the effectiveness of an organization’s progress.

Strong Leadership Step 5: Choice Overload
A strong leader should monitor decision fatigue and choice overload making sure there is not choice stagnation. Choice stagnation “analysis paralysis” can result in the spread of choice overload. Stagnation combined with pressure to make choices can result in step 6, choice gridlock. A strong leader will identify choice overload and will orchestrate a time out to reduce fatigue, make choices, and to move the organization forward.

Strong Leadership Step 6: Choice Gridlock
A strong leader must realize the criticality of choice gridlock, choice gridlock must be eliminated. A reset must take place and everyone involved in the gridlock must be aware that a reset has taken place. The organization of choices and the responsibility of choices must be changed. Fear of making bad choices must be eliminated and all must be made aware of the importance of getting closure on good choices made. A strong leader makes it clear that not making a choice is a choice within itself. Procrastination is a choice, a very bad choice. Procrastination is what leads to choice gridlock and gridlock must be broken through. The architecture or structure of choices must be altered and new realistic deadlines must be established when facing procrastination. Patience when facing choice gridlock is not strong leadership.

Organizations and individuals have a large number of choices to make daily. Most choices are straight forward and can be made quickly. Some however are very important and need to be made while considering many factors. The old adage “you make your choices and then your choices make you” is true. Due to the increased pace of life, an organization making timely choices is more important than ever. Unfortunately, many are experiencing choice overload. The impacts of choice overload are huge and once choice overload begets choice gridlock it is only with a strong leader, choice overload can be eliminated and an orderly process of making high quality, timely choices, may be restored.

Article Sidebar

eCommerce Disruptions
eCommerce is transforming retail, 3PL, consumer products, distribution, and wholesale industries. There are many choices that need to be made in organizations today as a result of eCommerce. Dr. Tompkins recently released his newest thought leadership video The Titans: Alibaba, Amazon, and Walmart: Game Changing Strategies: Time FOR YOU TO Respond! the video describes the three largest choices that need to be made today. Failure to respond to these choices will result in organizations falling behind. Choice overload is the enemy of making these key choices. Now you have a choice, watch the video or not. As with everything the choice is yours.

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