How to address decision fatigue and move ahead in business?
When my friend returned from his tour of Afghanistan with a light-infantry regiment, one of the things that stood out was the necessity to carry so much kit and equipment.One review by the British Army stated the average load was 57kg in temperatures above 40 degrees. The impact of carrying this weight increased the risk of injury and fatigue, with reports of trained professionals struggling to make basic tactical judgements due to the physical and mental exhaustion.
While few people have experienced these work conditions, they can relate to other types of tiredness — such as decision fatigue — the inability to make strong decisions, after an intense period of decision-making.
To improve the situation, the army introduced the mantra ‘fight light’, which means taking everything you need and nothing you don’t. In this blog, we are going to apply the ‘fight light’ philosophy to overcoming decision-making problems.
Decision fatigue, affects our ability to make the best choice when faced with multiple options, desired outcomes and variables for consideration. This became common vocabulary when the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg planned to wear a similar outfit every day – removing choice enabled them to focus decision-making power on more important issues.
Remembering the early days of the pandemic, businesses were making tough decisions to safeguard cashflow, halting non-essential spending on things previously thought critically important. One such example would be an engineering firm that did away with technical support for a CAD package, regardless of previous reliance upon and time-savings found through the regular use of it.
These businesses were facing the same problem as the soldiers – they were carrying too much. Too much inventory, too many salaries, too much debt. The weight of these factors meant that decisions were made under stress and fatigue and could easily have yielded poorer results versus other spending cuts.
What to drop?
The question then becomes – What to drop? How do I know this is the right thing to axe? What should I expect the results to be? Can I quantify it? Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The sorts of tough decisions being made were the responsibility of those under the burden of leadership, doing what they thought best to survive the economic shock of the pandemic and continue to run a viable business.
The three issues I highlighted are primarily financial and you would expect to be guided by numbers, or in essence, data.
But numbers on a spreadsheet become meaningless without context. You can’t just cut the biggest expenditure. If your marketing spend is £10m per year and salaries £6m per year, do you cut marketing? What if that spend generates leads that account for 40% of your revenue? Do you know what percentage of leads come through outbound marketing? What about the average value of each of those leads?
This is where it starts to be complex and where some might decide to take an easier route, one requiring less number-crunching and is more intuitive such as ‘gut feel’ and is how many people got through the Global Financial Crisis of ‘08. However, as the old adage states “without data, all you have is an opinion”rings true for this approach. Would you like to be making £m decisions based on gut feel?
It’s critical to make accessing data and the analytical tools as easy as possible.
The traditional method has meant having an expert manually extract data from databases, old Excel workbooks and ERP/accounting systems to create a torrent of spreadsheets to carefully review.
Once this process is complete, it then falls to the same expert to manipulate the data and organize it into tables and graphs for presentation to other stakeholders in the business. A process that, depending on the size of the business could take multiple weeks, creating a bottleneck with the individual.
At this point, discussions around the data often raise further questions and require deeper examination. Cue the designated expert going back to the data to ask these questions and perform more manipulations. Rinse. Repeat.
It’s manual, labour-intensive and constrained by the back-and-forth between stakeholders, costing the business more valuable time when markets are quickly adjusting to news as it breaks.
Perhaps it feels safe. ‘You get out what you put in.’ The blood, sweat and tears means you’re getting to the answers, right?
To go back to the soldier analogy, this is the heavy, cumbersome body armour that is protecting you but at the cost of mobility. Mobility needed to access data to make well-informed decisions at pace, in a rapidly changing space.
How to make good decisions
Businesses that have recognised the need to make data-driven decisions have chosen to invest in data analytic tools to work smarter. Phocas data analytics was developed to carry the heavy weight of these processes, without adding the burden of another salary of an ‘expert’ to build and maintain the reports or a 12-month learning curve before it can be used.
The software connects to all data sources, to automate the process of extracting data freeing up time to focus on the value-added parts, the analysis and decision-making.
By loading data into Phocas, you can follow train of thought to interrogate the data relevant to you, the user. Whether that be sales, purchasing, inventory, financial, or HR data. The list goes on.
What’s more, you can now calculate important business metrics across data sets without having to wait for a complex report to be built. The data is there at the click of a mouse.
Businesses can now track and be automatically updated when factors such as the below metrics are out of line with their unique KPIs:
Gross Margin Return on Investment (GMROI) – Evaluating profitability in inventory
Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) – Credits:Cash ratio by customer, product group & SKU
Slow moving stock – Inventory that is not moving to guide decisions on resupply/discounting
No more back-and-forth, and stakeholders and decision makers are able to pursue their own lines of enquiry there and then, gifting back that time that would otherwise be lost.
How HotchKiss Air Supply goes light with data analytics
In 2017 Hotchkiss managing director, Pete Slater, realised the company needed to focus on internal operations and cost savings rather than customer acquisition to drive business growth within an increasingly competitive market.
With no visibility of the manufacturing department’s data or metrics, Pete relied on instinct when it came to curbing costs.
Hotchkiss was already paying a whopping £10k a month in overtime to production staff, let alone other expenses. With no access to data on what was actually happening, Pete knew he needed a solution to better measure labour, overheads and materials and accurately analyse critical information to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
Phocas won the deal based on the ease of use and adaptability of data. Phocas created a unique manufacturing database for Hotchkiss that met the company’s full requirements. The Hotchkiss manufacturing department quickly saw improvements in cost savings and efficiencies thanks to clarity around a range of KPI data, leading to more informed, fact-based decisions.
With the database in place, Pete has been able to reduce production overtime costs now that he has visibility of the necessary metrics and data.
As a result, Hotchkiss expects to see savings of at least £70k per annum in this area. Pete can also closely monitor overall expenses at the click of a button and act quickly to negate potential threats before they impact the bottom line. Always with an eye on the future, Hotchkiss is currently forward planning to integrate Phocas Financial Solutions and Rebates modules.
Running a business on data can give you a competitive advantage and compete in tougher markets.
Mike Hills is the managing director of Phocas UK and brings passion and excellent communication skills to his leadership. He inspires change and deftly manages a fast paced, high growth environment.
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