(Quote from the late W. Edwards Deming)
“I know that is your opinion,” stated a manager, “but where are your data?”
“I don’t trust the data,” responded the specialist. “I rely on my gut-feelings.”
In the era of big data, analytics and algorithms, how important are your instincts? Back in the day, Ford Motor Company’s Edsel model was probably the most researched automobile of the time. Still, the product was a colossal failure. You might say big data failed.
A recent Fortune Knowledge Group study reveals that six in ten executives rely on gut feel and soft factors when making big decisions.
Recently, Google quickly and accurately predicted the spread of flu by tracking people’s online searches. Soon, Amazon will send you products before you order them because they will be able to predict what you want.
Do you want your doctor to rely on years of schooling and experience? Or, would you prefer a computer-generated diagnosis based on a hundred million cases?
Of course, effective decision makers will continue to use both data and instinct. But I suggest that decisions improve as we rely more on data and less on gut-feel.
I’m reminded of the Dilbert comic strip quote, “Where do you stick your head when you listen to your gut?”
“I think absenteeism is getting to be a problem in our division,” a divisional manager explained.
A supervisor responded, “I’ve probably been a little lax enforcing discipline in my group. It’s just so hard to hire people in this environment.”
Another supervisor agreed, “I’m sure I’ve allowed some of my people to come in late too often, but I don’t want them to quit.”
Most leadership decisions do not burn cleanly. They have a “yin” and a “yang.” The benefit of one option becomes a draw-back to another option and vice versa.
Even after making a decision, a leader may still be unsure as in, “Did I do the right thing?” Here is a test—not perfect by any means—to help determine if you made a good decision:
- Did the decision improve overall team performance?
- Did the decision improve team morale?
- After implementation, did you feel an inner peace?
Should you get a strong “no” to any of these questions, perhaps you should consider options for fixing the decision. Often, it is better to make a decision than to postpone it. If the decision sends performance south, make other adjustments.
“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the assignment,” explained a frustrated employee. “I’ve been here longer than Able.”
The manager responded, “You have but I also considered recent work history, knowledge of the client, current work load, opportunity costs, and familiarity with the new software program.”
“My work history is fine. You have not allowed me much opportunity to work with this client.”
“Yes, but this client makes extensive use of a new software package and Able is more familiar with the program.”
“I’ve used the program since it has been required.”
“Most of your clients make minimal use of the program.”
“Why do you think Able has more knowledge of the client? I’ve known the client company longer than Able.”
“You do have more history but not so much with their new purchasing manager.”
And the point-counter-point arguments continued. The more reasons the manager gave to support his decision, the more frustrated the employee became.
It is generally more persuasive to offer one or two justifications when explaining a decision. If an employee does not honor justification number one, your list of eight more reasons will not likely persuade. Usually, more reasons equal more disagreements.
“I think we can use a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software program to track our marketing efforts,” the Marketing Vice President said.
The Information Technology (IT) manager disagreed, “I’ve examined several vendor programs and I’ve not found any that fit our unique needs.”
“Can we modify a commercial program and make it work for us?”
“We can but I don’t think we will be satisfied. With a minor investment, my department can design software that will work better.”
After further discussion, some of which became quite passionate, the Marketing VP defaulted to the IT Manager.
Many design evolutions later, and weeks behind schedule, IT proudly pronounced the program ready. Of course, implementation went sideways. Staff complained about missing data, poorly formatted reports, excessive options and more.
“I should have insisted on COTS software,” lamented the Marketing VP. “But how did I know? I’m not the software expert.”
When dealing with specialists, I think it is the manager’s responsibility to bone up on the subject matter. Question vendors, seek coaching from other experts, explore YouTube videos—do what you must do to prepare yourself to ask intelligent questions and confidently evaluate options.
During the discussion of a serious design wreck, it quickly became apparent that only Juan and Hershel had the specialized talent to restore the project’s schedule.
When Hershel accurately perceived the project’s need for extra work, he spoke up. “I have family obligations the next couple of months and will not be able to work weekends.”
Although the manager was aware that Juan had been putting in a lot of hours on another project he said, “Juan, I hate to ask but do you think you can bail us out?”
Juan nodded and said, “I think I can be of help.”
The much-relieved manager accepted Juan’s offer. Although the manager may not have been aware, Juan also had upcoming personal obligations; but he was not the type to let personal issues impact his work.
Perhaps unintentionally, the manager’s decision had the effect of rewarding uncooperative behavior (Hershel) while punishing cooperative behavior (Juan).
Some would say that Juan should not have agreed if he thought the manager’s request was unfair. But I say it is the leader’s responsibility to avoid stacking work on cooperative team players while allowing self-serving, whiners to skate by with less effort.
It’s the opening game of the season. The receiver for the home team takes the kickoff in the end zone and fearlessly charges up field.
The standing crowd claps and cheers as the under-sized scat-back flattens three defenders on his way to the fifteen-yard line. Spectators continue to roar.
Why? The youngster made a bad decision that cost the team five yards. If the receiver had downed the ball in the end zone, his team would have begun play on the twenty-yard line.
The crowd cheered because the youngster gave a heck of an effort, even though the result was less than desired. Fans and coaches know that fan approval motivates the team to continue striving during broken plays, fumbles and interceptions.
During the game, players (and coaches) make many mistakes; but fans seldom boo their home team. (By contrast, referees make very few mistakes and fans frequently yell bad words at the refs.)
Some days stuff happens. When stress and blood pressure rises, it is tempting for leaders to show their displeasure (“boo”) to employees. But this may be just the time that a loud cheer for “effort” is more beneficial.
VP Roberto surprised Julia with a request. “I need a plan that will reduce headcount in your department by ten percent.”
Several times, Julia approached Roberto to discuss options. Each time Roberto responded with something like, “I’m pretty busy. Give me your best plan and I’ll look at it.”
After considerable thought, Julia produced a plan for ten percent reduction.
Roberto responded, “We have too many supervisors. You need to lose some supervisors. I don’t want all of the shrinkage from employees.”
Julia responded, “I will be relying heavily on my experienced supervisors. There is going to be a lot of confusion when we start realigning duties. And I can’t just demote a supervisor and expect to get the commitment we need.”
“I can’t accept the plan,” Roberto said. “I’ll take it from here.”
Roberto’s eventual decision had no resemblance to Julia’s plan. Of course, the department was confused and disheartened. Turmoil continued for many months.
Roberto could have eased some of the confusion had he stayed more engaged with Julia. But Roberto chose to exemplify Ken Blanchard’s seagull management—he flew in, made a lot of noise, dumped on everyone and then flew out.