Never Assume: Pursuit of Truth Makes Decision-Making Better
We live in a world of gray at work. We would prefer to make fact-based decisions, but facts need checking and we don’t always have the luxury of unlimited time to stress-test assumptions. Plus, as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Finding out what we don’t know is hard if we are not constantly looking, either.
Working against that is the fact (stress-tested over the centuries!) that subjectivity sub-optimizes decision-making.
This subject came up while reading this article by Catherine Luff, which explored how subjectivity in talent assessment (both when hiring and assessing performance) leads to poor talent acquisition and development decisions.
Luff cited research done by U.K.-based talent development company Silent Edge Ltd.
- Silent Edge asked 61 managers and trainers to rate a recorded performance of a senior-level manager conducting a meeting.
- The viewers rated the manager on 26 competencies on a scale of 1 to 10.
- The average scores ranged from 16 to 64 percent, a fourfold difference for the same skills, knowledge and behaviors.
Yes, these people were all viewing exactly the same video. Frightening!
“This variation of opinion raises issues for performance and productivity,” wrote Luff. “Under such subjective influence, there is a risk that the wrong decisions may be made. Choosing new hires based on likability rather than capability can mean that they lack vital skills, while leaving managers to guess at employees’ development requirements may result in training that fails to address their true needs.”
Let’s give this some legitimately positive spin:
Reducing the influence of subjective judgment in decision-making is a critical goal that, if achieved to any significant degree, can provide a competitive advantage to your organization.
But, back to our main point: How to achieve objectivity in a rushed, high-quantity-low-quality-information environment? The keys are:
Permanent knowledge acquisition – Never stop learning and challenging your own assumptive filters.
Truth seeking – Do you demand justification and back-up for ideas and recommendations from staff? Do you abhor “yes-men” and demand that they change their ways? Do you reward subordinates that ask you to consider alternatives that challenge your preferences?
Think and plan ahead – In an imperfect business world, where we operate with incomplete information, we need to hedge our bets and anticipate fact-needs ahead of time.
To do that, you need a leadership mindset we call the Pursuit of Truth. How is this mindset constructed?
Challenge assumptions – When assessments and recommendations are presented to you, ask for the background.
- Examine the “why” of each conclusion.
- Understand the facts used to support a point of view.
- Find the holes in logic and ask those to be filled in.
- Remain constructive and encouraging when challenging data or recommendations – Keep the focus on the task, not the person.
Train your subordinates to challenge their own assumptions – Running self-stress-tests on recommendations should be second nature.
- Where are the holes in a recommended course of action?
- Have all stakeholders and resource-holders been involved and their feedback sought?
- How have external concerns been addressed?
- What further investigation could help firm up a point-of-view or decision recommendation?
- What is the source of information, and how would you assess its reliability?
Stress-test your own experiential assumptions against the marketplace – What was once true may no longer be so.
- Does your experience still reflect marketplace reality?
- Have you been away from the frontline too long as a team leader?
- Is it time to discount your own belief system, to open your eyes to new information that may devalue your past experiences, and replace old assumptions with new perspectives?
In business, knowledge may be power, but only if the knowledge is still valid! Old knowledge that has not been updated is weakness, and needs remediative action! Adopting a mindset of permanent Pursuit of Truth is the path to remediation.
Find out more about our Pursuit of Truth and Foundations of Excellence methodology.