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Information Overload: Management’s Burden

It’s no secret that we deal with demand overload on a daily basis, but let’s broaden the view for a moment and look at information overload. This term has been floating around the internet for a number of years. An organization called Information Overload Research Group was even created by academic researchers and professionals to reduce what they call “information pollution.” I would argue that pollution and overload are two different things and there may be no such thing as “information pollution,” just mismanaged or misdirected information.

Yes, there is a lot of information out there (particularly in high tech), but there is no longer much mystery in what to do about it: information overload needs to be managed on a daily basis.

Information overload could actually be the root problem of demand overload. There is too much information and not enough insight used to make good decisions. Consequently, resources, skills, and time are wasted. Often little regard is given to whether information even needs to be passed on via email, text, or internal messaging channels.

We assume everyone needs to know everything and that more information is better than less, but this is not always the case. Quality over quantity is essential. Employees could benefit from a little more filtering and a little less interruption with information that they may not need. With some insight, the correct information can be provided to the right employees to help them in the job.

The Impact

How much information can one person manage at one time, and how does that number change if the information is irrelevant or even inaccurate? There are a number of factors that can influence the impact of information overload, including:

  1. Volume: The amount of information that is passed to the employee from all communication channels, including their own personal networks.
  2. Trust: The extent to which the employee trusts that the information is accurate.
  3. Accuracy: The genuine validity of the information.
  4. Congruence: The information’s alignment with the company’s strategies and culture.
  5. Clarity: The extent to which the information can be assumed to be clear to the employee.

Each of these, it seems, invites its own deeper study into the stress and confusion resulting from information overload.

The Problem

The problem is not just information overload but also the impact that the mismanagement of information has on employees.In today’s advanced technological age, the flow of information is unlikely to slow down, so our efforts are better focused on understanding how it is affecting employees and how management can improve their contribution by filtering information at the top before passing it down.

Some research suggests that this could be an organizational issue. Since organizations determine the formal and informal rules of information processing, they are responsible for how and when information is passed on. Managers need to make processing information a primary task. They need to be trustworthy gatekeepers of information and make sure it’s not overloading their employees. Humans don’t need all the data; machines do. Sometimes we forget that people aren’t computers. At least not yet.

Solutions

  1. When managers receive new information, they should get as much insight into it as they can and filter it to determine whom it should be passed down to or whether it needs to be passed down at all.
  2. Contextualize the information so employees can clearly understand what it is for and what they should do with it.
  3. Follow up with employees to make sure they understood the information and find out whether it helped them do their job better.

Recommendations

Insight is the capacity to gain a deep intuitive understanding of something. This is extremely important at the management level. Managers should ask themselves these questions before disseminating information to staff:

  1. Does it make sense? Make sure the information you are passing on to employees is clear so they understand what to do with it.
  2. Is it accurate? Make sure the information is correct to limit rework later.
  3. Am I passing it to the right person? Make sure the correct resource is receiving the information to mitigate confusion instead of wasting resource time with work that may have been better suited for someone else.
  4. Does it need to be passed on? Make sure the information is relevant. Some information doesn’t need to be disseminated right away or even at all.
  5. Is it congruent with our previous messaging? If not, make sense of it for them.

Asking these questions will not only benefit employees but also help save time and money by avoiding mismanagement of resources.

Company culture and values are becoming increasingly more important to tech companies. Having frequent conversations about message congruence is a great way for management to hold themselves accountable to their core values.

Bottom Line

Too much information and not enough insight. Managers need to take it upon themselves to filter through and only move forward with worthwhile data. In the age of information overload, screening becomes a survival skill. Management can limit their contribution to information overload.


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