Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Dangers of Information Filtering

In my new book, I discuss the dangers that organizations face because individuals filter information, particularly bad news. People filter information for a variety of reasons, including some well-intentioned behaviors intended to help their leaders. Here's a very brief excerpt regarding one main reason why filtering takes place:

Efficiency Concerns
First, individuals choose to summarize and package information for senior leaders for the sake of efficiency. They have a limited amount of time to spend with top executives, and they must use the time wisely. Senior leaders have asked for assistance in decision-making; they want to see key data presented, synthesized, and analyzed. In some cases, they want to see the pros and cons of various options. In others, they also want their subordinates to offer a recommendation as to the course of action that should be chosen. Individuals have to make tough choices as to what information should be presented in the limited time frame available. “Face time” with senior leaders becomes a precious commodity, and no one wants to squander it by inundating them with information that is not organized and analyzed properly. Neither leaders nor subordinates want to spend time on information that is irrelevant or unreliable. Busy schedules and crowded meeting agendas certainly exacerbate the amount of filtering that takes place. Given the fast pace within most organizations, individuals know that they must “get to the point” in meetings.
Individuals also do not know want to waste senior leaders’ time with problems that they believe can and should be solved without executive assistance. Many people fear they will appear weak, or worse yet, incompetent if they bring a problem to a higher level in the organization. They dread being asked why they could not resolve the issue on their own, or why they are “wasting leadership’s time” on issues that appear to be insignificant.