Balancing quality and quantity of information

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to discuss change management with a team of digital transformation professionals. There was sense of frustration and confusion in the room as all attempts to change the leadership and culture of the organization had failed – and time was running out. In fact, digital transformation was condensed to only technical aspects with no focus on people and management capabilities.

The question whether the company would survive the digital revolution with a conservative “old fashion” culture and leadership were valid and worried the team in front of me. The meeting turned out to focus on the psychological and biological aspect of change and information, and why some companies succeed with digital transformation and others don’t. What we need to know is that Digital Transformation is not started with a press of a button but rather by creating the right conditions and atmosphere for continuous change – with engaged and motivated leaders and employees.

What does Digital Transformation and behavioral science have to do with information management and digitalization? Information is the greatest asset in many organizations (to improve corporate governance, business efficiency and customer value creation), but also the biggest threat hindering digital transformation – in creating the right conditions and atmosphere for change. The challenge is to create a balance between quality (right information at right place and time) and quantity of information (amount of information in circulation) to ensure optimal business effects. It is no longer all information for all – but rather right information to right person at right time (quality rather than quantity) – an information champion! A miss-balance will reduce the company’s or organization’s performance and competitiveness in the digital era.

Information overload (also known as infobesity or infoxication) is a new phenomenon in the digital era. It is the state when a person or organization is exposed to too much information (quantity) than it can process in good quality (good decision-making). Each piece of information that we are exposed to is processed (or stored in a processing queue) in our “information processing motors” in our brain. Our primary information engine is the cognitive motor (controlling analytics, adaptiveness and seeing the big picture) and it is often jammed by irrelevant information hindering us to see direction, big picture and purpose. As the cognitive motor is jammed, our rational information motor is used to process information. It does not value or analyze information but effectively (fast) carry out rational and simple process steps and instructions. We can, with the rational engine, effectively carry out tasks to take us from A to B but we have no clue if B is the right destination for our work. Companies are becoming more and more process- and template oriented to match the rational engine of our brains. The cognitive motor requires peace and quiet (meditative state) to free up its capacity and once again support analytics and seeing the big picture. Companies are becoming more and more process- and template oriented to match the rational engine of our brains. The cognitive motor requires peace and quiet (meditative state) to free up its capacity and once again support analytics and seeing the big picture.

When studying current IT organization, it is possible to detect organizational fatigue due to great information overflow (infobesity). It is a consequence of frequent re-organizations, down-sizing and forcing employees to manage more and more information and tasks without the ability to rest or reflect. A company in Sweden witness of the effect of information overload and hence the inability to drive cultural change. Prestige and status of managers in the organization was linked to being “important” and having great access to information, being part of multiple steering groups and working long hours. This behavior limited the cognitive abilities and hindered any attempt of driving IT transformation. The solution discussed was to limited information flow, limit working hours, and implementing after-work email policies! Great initiatives to become an "information champion"!

My view is that the greatest challenge of companies and organizations is to manage the information overload with smart information and data filters – balancing quality and quantity of information. The idea to remove irrelevant information and data to improve decision making and the ability to change. What data and information are actually needed for our organization to work? What data do we need for our data-driven decision-making? It is not about having access to all information but the right (limited) information. At a company, we questioned the amount of reports send across the organization and we came to the conclusion that 50% of all reports were unnecessary (did not bring any value) and could be removed. This is the new challenges of information management, governance and architecture.

My recommendation is actually to limit the magnitude of information (quantity) in the organization and rather focus on how to create value for customer by cognitive thinking. What you will experience is more healthy employees (less burn-out syndromes), more satisfied customers (building engagement through trust and respect) and a culture that will innovate and grow.

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