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Overcoming Analysis Paralysis: When Overthinking Stymies Action

September 09, 2022 Talent Management
Julie Develin
By Julie Develin

Analysis paralysis, the all too familiar act of overthinking, is as common in business as it is in life. After all, the alternative — doing things on autopilot because that’s the way they've always been done — is just easier.

Humans like things to be neat, clean and relaxed, especially during times of disruption. Analysis paralysis happens when decisions are delayed by overthinking (or other factors), preventing the ability to progress with action. When this happens, you lose critical time while trying to reach a consensus on a decision. Oftentimes analysis paralysis occurs because we are comfortable with existing processes. But consider that staying “comfortable” in business might be preventing your company or your workforce from getting ahead of the ever-changing workplace landscape.

For many years, the human resources profession was seen as tactical, not as a part of the organization that focused on strategy. This was especially the case at smaller businesses, where fewer people covered the many tasks required of HR. Those days are long gone — especially as the nuances of the pandemic have worked to elevate HR to heights never seen. Some have argued that to be valued, HR should move to mostly a strategic role. While strategy is important, the reality is that HR needs to be versatile. The art of being process champions and people scientists is a delicate balance that is part of the continuous rebirth of the profession.

We need to focus on people operations and look at the who, why, what and how behind the decisions we make, or fail to make, and how they affect the larger organization.

The choices HR leaders make (or fail to make) can hold organizations back from reaching their strategic business objectives and achieving a thriving workplace environment. What are the time vampires in your company? Are there manual processes that you KNOW you need to improve, or change? Are your processes aligned with the experience that you want to provide to your employees and customers?

Recognizing the Signs of Analysis Paralysis Is the First Step

To overcome analysis paralysis, we must first become adept at recognizing the signs when it is happening to us or those around us. Why does it happen, and how can we combat it?

  • Choose your favorite cliché: “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” “It’ll be there next week.” “I’ll just get started on Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday).” Do you ever find yourself saying these things? Are you putting off things that you know you should get to today, that you should prioritize, focus on and implement to move the needle forward in your life or in business?
  • Procrastination is a sign of analysis paralysis, and can lead to overthinking, underacting and a lack of progress. Consider something you've been putting off for a long time but think about often. What is one step you can take today to achieve your goal? Oftentimes we procrastinate because things seem too large or daunting to complete, whereas if we simply take step one, we get things rolling in the right direction to affect positive change.
  • Fear can also be a factor. Sometimes we procrastinate because we are afraid of making the wrong decision. When the stakes are high, this is understandable. But it is crucial to be confident in your decision-making and recognize that the things we implement are designed for the betterment of the company — and possibly ourselves.
  • Another way that analysis paralysis appears is in the form of delaying small decisions. How important is the decision to make? Will the impacts of it matter a week, month or year from now? If the answer is no, it is likely a smaller decision. Thankfully, not all decisions in business are large ones. Small decisions are a great place to start as you work to overcome analysis paralysis. Are you overthinking small decisions, in addition to the big picture ones? If so, instead of contemplating for hours, days or more, take the small action and see what happens. For example, have you been losing sleep over timekeeping for your employees? By choosing and implementing a simple yet comprehensive timekeeping solution that is easy to understand and use for both you and your employees, you can reduce stress for everyone. The key is to simply act and get a system in place! If needed, you can always pivot and make changes as you go along.

Oftentimes the small changes that we make may not at first seem impactful, but as time goes on, they become vital in terms of streamlining work processes for HR, and other stakeholders. By taking a one-step-after-another mentality, efficiency in business just might grow in unexpected ways.

Related Article: Deciding How to Decide

Make HR a Single Source of Truth

Trust is the foundation of everything in business. Without it, progress cannot be made. When it comes to analysis paralysis, HR practitioners and stakeholders should critically evaluate people processes using data and other metrics to identify opportunities for improvement and advancement — both within HR and for the broader organization. By doing this, it is easier to justify the decisions made to the larger organization because key points can be backed, and explained, by trusted data. The key here is to ensure that the data used is accurate, secure and complete.

Incorporating a modern HR system as a single source of truth can help to ensure your data is useful and trustworthy.

Do you want to improve your tech stack, but can’t face the daunting project? What happens if you stay where you are? Is your tech serving you — both HR tech and other forms of technology? Is your tech serving your employees? If not, now is a really good time to evaluate making a change, and then take action to make the change. When we know something is necessary, delaying decisions hinders progress. After all, tech in its many forms drives work. It drives innovation, and it is key to a positive employee experience, profitability and productivity.

Related Article: Digital Transformation and Talent Shortages Roil the HR Tech Industry

Overanalyzing Is a Productivity Thief

Overanalyzing is a productivity thief, although it might not be apparent when you’re in the midst of overanalyzing or even just examining thoroughly. Delaying action while overanalyzing information clearly doesn’t help when it comes to getting things done. Decision-making when we are overwhelmed is hard. And in a world where it feels like we are taking in ridiculous amounts of data every second, it becomes even more complex.

Our experience of working through challenges — both recently and throughout our careers — has helped prepare us. For some things in business, routine just might be the enemy. The key is confidence: move forward with conviction, knowing you are doing what is best for you and for the business, no matter if it isn’t always popular. Sometimes we must make hard decisions.

Don’t be paralyzed by overthinking. Stick to what you know is right and do it!

About the Author

Julie is a Sr. Partner, HCM Advisory for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), and an adjunct professor and co-coordinator of the HRM graduate program at McDaniel College, a school from which she also holds a master’s degree in HRD.


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