When you're trying to lose weight, experts advise keeping a “food diary,” in which you record everything you eat. This self-awareness helps you understand the problem so you can make the changes that will have the greatest impact. Similarly, when you're trying to reduce information overload in your organization, the first step is to quantify the situation. Here's why this is so important, and how to do so.
Everyone—including senior managers—is experiencing the effects of information overload in his or her own work, but few understand the extent of the syndrome throughout the organization. You have the opportunity to take on the role of consultant/strategist to define the problem and its impact, bring it to the attention of leaders, and recommend solutions. Without this data, you're just a professional with an opinion—with it, you're an expert.
What to measure
Naturally, your approach will vary depending on how your organization communicates, but here are some of the most common criteria:
Start by counting the number of messages employees receive. There are two ways to do so: The first method is to measure how many messages are sent via e-mail and other channels. For example, how many organization-wide e-mails are sent every week? Every month? Who originates these messages?
The second method is to shadow a typical employee and see how much communication he or she receives in a given time period. How many e-mails does an employee receive each day? What percentage of those messages comes from senders the employee doesn't know? In what other ways—meetings, paper, text messages, viewing posters, etc.—do employees receive company information?
Once you've got a handle on sheer volume, take a closer look to see how much time it would take to get through all that stuff. At an average reading speed of 250 words a minute, how long would an employee need to actually read all that communication? (The answer is sure to amaze you.)
Next, analyze the degree of difficulty of communication. This is a critical issue affecting overload because the more complex communication is, the longer it takes for people to process it. One way to do so is to determine the reading grade level of your material. Most advertising today is written at the seventh grade level to make it easy for the audience to understand; by contrast, most corporate communication—which contains long sentences and multi-syllabic words—is written at the 12th grade level.
Once you understand the volume of communication, consider also taking a close look at how relevant communication is to employees. While not strictly a measure of quantity, relevancy has a big impact on the likelihood that employees will pay attention. What percentage of communication is of a general, organizational nature? By contrast, which percentage has an impact on employees' day-to-day work