Decision distress: Drowning in data, business leaders are struggling to steer companies in the right direction

by | Apr 28, 2023 | Public Relations

Data-driven approaches have helped marketers and communicators significantly with informing and targeting their campaign efforts, but in the greater business world, much of the data leaders are receiving is just adding confusion to their decision-making prowess–and stress to their professional and personal lives. New research from Oracle and data scientist and author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reveals that many feel overwhelmed—and under-qualified—to use data to make decisions and it’s hurting their quality of life and business performance.

The new study of more than 14,000 employees and business leaders across 17 countries, The Decision Dilemma, found that people are struggling to make decisions in their personal and professional lives at a time when they are being forced to make more decisions than ever before.

“People are drowning in data,” said Stephens-Davidowitz, in a news release. “This study highlights how the overwhelming amount of inputs a person gets in their average day—internet searches, news alerts, unsolicited comments from friends—frequently add up to more information than the brain is configured to handle. People are tempted to throw out the confusing, and sometimes conflicting, data and just do what feels right. But this can be a big mistake. It has been proven over and over again that our instincts can lead us astray and the best decision-making is done with a proper understanding of the relevant data. Finding a way to get a handle on the stream of data at their fingertips, to help businesses distinguish between the signal and the noise, is a crucial first step.”

Decision distress: Drowning in data, business leaders struggling to steer companies in the right direction

The number of decisions we are making is multiplying and more data is not helping

Businesspeople are overwhelmed by the amount of data they have access to, and this is damaging trust, making decisions much more complicated, and negatively impacting their quality of life. Specifically:

  • 74 percent of people say the number of decisions they make every day has increased 10x over the last three years and as they try to make these decisions, 78 percent are getting bombarded with more data from more sources than ever before.
  • 86 percent say the volume of data is making decisions in their personal and professional lives much more complicated and 59 percent admit they face a decision dilemma—not knowing what decision to make—more than once every single day.
  • 35 percent don’t know which data or sources to trust and 70 percent have given up on making a decision because the data was overwhelming.
  • 85 percent of people say this inability to make decisions is having a negative impact on their quality of life. It is causing spikes in anxiety (36 percent), missed opportunities (33 percent), and unnecessary spending (29 percent).
  • As a result, 93 percent have changed the way they make decisions over the last three years. 39 percent now only listen to sources they trust and 29 percent rely solely on gut feelings.

Decision distress is creating organizational inertia

Business leaders know that data-driven decision making is critical to the success of their organizations, but don’t believe they have the tools to be successful—which is eroding their confidence and ability to make timely decisions. The research finds that 85 percent of leaders have suffered from “decision distress”—regretting, feeling guilty about, or questioning a decision they made in the past year—and 93 percent believe having the right type of decision intelligence can make or break the success of an organization.

Decision distress: Drowning in data, business leaders are struggling to steer companies in the right direction

Nearly all leaders (97 percent) want help from data

In an ideal world, they want data to help them: make better decisions (44 percent); reduce risk (41 percent); make faster decisions (39 percent); make more money (37 percent); and plan for the unexpected (29 percent). But in reality, 72 percent admit the sheer volume of data and their lack of trust in data has stopped them from making any decision at all, and 89 percent believe the growing number of data sources has limited the success of their organizations.

Managing different data sources has required additional resources to collect all the data (40 percent), made strategic decision making slower (36 percent), and introduced more opportunities for error (26 percent)—and leaders don’t think the current approach to data and analytics is addressing these challenges: 77 percent say that the dashboards and charts they get do not always relate directly to the decisions they need to make, and 72 percent believe most data available is only truly helpful for IT professionals or data scientists.

They know this needs to change. They believe the right data and insights can help them make better HR (94 percent), finance (94 percent), supply chain (94 percent), and customer experience (93 percent) decisions.

Decision distress: Drowning in data, business leaders are struggling to steer companies in the right direction

Data needs to be relevant to the decisions people make or they will give up on it

Collecting and interpreting data has driven people to their breaking point at a time when the stakes are incredibly high for business leaders.

The research finds:

  • 70 percent of people say the headache of having to collect so much data and interpret it is too much for them to handle.
  • This is particularly evident in the business world. 78 percent of business leaders say people often make decisions and then look for the data to justify them, 74 percent of employees believe businesses often put the highest paid person’s opinion ahead of data, and 24 percent feel that most decisions made in business are not rational.
  • The situation is so challenging that 64 percent of people—and 70 percent of business leaders—would prefer for all these difficulties to just go away and to have a robot make their decisions.
  • Despite their frustrations with data in their personal and professional worlds, people know that without data their decisions would be less accurate (44 percent), less successful (27 percent), and more prone to error (39 percent).
  • People also believe that an organization that uses technology to make data-driven decisions is more trustworthy (79 percent), will be more successful (79 percent), is a company they’re more likely to invest in (76 percent), partner with (77 percent), and work for (78 percent).

“As businesses expand to serve new customers in new ways, the number of data inputs they need to get the full picture expands too. Business leaders that make critical decisions about how to manage their companies ignore that data at their own risk,” said T.K. Anand, executive vice president at Oracle Analytics, in the release. “The hesitancy, distrust, and lack of understanding of data shown by this study indicates that many people and organizations need to rethink their approach to data and decision making. What people really need is to be able to connect data to insight to decision to action.”

Decision distress: Drowning in data, business leaders are struggling to steer companies in the right direction

Download The Decision Dilemma.

This global sample of 14,250 people were surveyed in January 2023. In each country, the sample represented employees and business leaders, including titles such as President, CEO, Chairperson, C-Level Executive, CFO, CTO, Director, Senior Manager, HR Manager, and other select leadership roles, confirmed by consumer-matched data accessed via the global insights platform Prodege. Employee samples were calibrated, where possible, to reflect the age and gender demographics of the nation’s workforce.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter