Can You Conquer Process Paralysis?

Aderant Think Tank

Can You Conquer Process Paralysis?

A couple of months ago, I shared about how continuous process improvement can help your firm run more efficiently and effectively, increasing profitability. Sadly, the countless arguments for improving firm processes, efficiency and overall business practices often fall on deaf ears. Most firm leaders already know these changes are long overdue. So what is keeping them from action?

When faced with too many options, unfortunately many leaders freeze up. Commonly known as process paralysis, this condition can undermine a firm’s best intentions and prevent any real change or growth. The most obvious example of this stagnation appears when trying to implement key changes to a firm’s strategy or practices. Here are a few questions that can help you decide if your firm is struggling with process paralysis:

  • Are you seeking consensus on issues when it’s not really required?
  • Are meetings meandering along with no focus or decisions?
  • Are you avoiding any commitment to a specific plan or goal?
  • Are you overvaluing every idea or contribution without narrowing the focus?

These behaviors tend to occur when the leader or group gets stuck, and simply can’t (or won’t) make the decisions needed to move forward. The FacilitatorU site recommends that when your group is suffering from process paralysis, clear direction is needed. As they put it, “When we’re stuck in a process loop, most of us yearn to be told what to do, at least for a moment. And if your direction doesn’t resonate with the group, you’ll know that right away.”

A recent edition of Law Technology Today noted that law firms are prone to overanalyze things, and process paralysis can flow naturally from examining every angle of an issue. It seems natural to focus our attention on the problem, but in doing so we can miss the obvious or simpler solution. When combined with law firms’ tendencies to “formulate overambitious, inappropriate, or vague plans,” strategy and transformative change can’t occur. As they point out, there are consequences when a strategy fails. In a firm’s typical cycle, “a new round of strategizing begins, often enabled by consultants who don’t have to worry about implementation.”

The solution to process paralysis, or any form of decision overload, is fairly straightforward. If you or your group is presented with too many choices, you need to limit them. A recent story in Fast Company on the future of work argued that imposing your own constraints when trying to make a choice can help you make better decisions. They cited a study from New York University found that “restricting the choice of creative inputs actually enhances creativity.” In addition, don’t fall into the trap that complex problems have to have complex solutions to drive change. Sometimes, finding areas where things are working can be easily replicated on a larger scale.

You’ll also need clearly stated written goals, actual deadlines that you are obligated to meet, and early consensus from your group to meet those goals and deadlines. If you get stuck and your plan is going nowhere, go back to the beginning and try a different path. Just remember that the cure for process paralysis is to do something – take an action, make a decision, eliminate alternatives. Even if it’s not the perfect solution, getting moving again will often jumpstart the process.

Join the discussion on LinkedIn or Twitter @Aderant and let us know what you think!