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Tag Archives: decision-making

Boiling the ocean will not result in good decisions

good decisionsAs a leader, it is your responsibility to make good decisions.  In your department or organization, you are likely called on repeatedly to evaluate and implement a variety of projects.  And many of these initiatives will probably require investigation and research in order to determine alternatives and make recommendations.  But exactly how much research should one do to be able to make good decisions?  That is a conundrum that many leaders face.

There are certainly situations where leaders have been known to make decisions too quickly, without considering all available information.  But in my experience, it is the opposite that is much more likely; in their quest for more data or analysis, the job or project is made unnecessarily difficult, and decision-making is delayed.

Don’t try to boil the ocean!

The apt metaphor in this situation is that of boiling a pot of water versus boiling the ocean.  Continue reading

A decision-making insight from eating peanuts!

peanutsIf you’re a leader, then you’re responsible for decision-making.  Which is why it we have a whole section on Problem Solving tools on the blog.  Today’s insight comes from peanuts in the shell – a concession staple at just about any baseball game!

So think about the last time you purchased a bag of these tasty treats.  As you shelled the peanuts, did you put the empty shells back in the same bag?  Chances are you didn’t, likely for a couple of reasons.  One, because it instinctively doesn’t make sense to put the waste in with the good peanuts, and two (and perhaps more importantly), every time you put the unwanted shells back in the bag, you reduce your chances of getting a good peanut the next time you reach in.

How does this apply to decision-making in the workplace?

There is a workplace equivalent to this scenario, having to do with decision-making.  As a leader, you are charged with making a variety of decisions, often requiring you to select the best choice from a number of possible options.  Using this metaphor, it makes sense to discard choices as you evaluate them as unsuitable.  Why put them back in the bag where they’ll just continue to muddle and reduce the efficacy of your decision-making?  But that’s exactly what we often do.  Continue reading

Watch for the negative impact of self-serving bias in decision-making

positive_negativeThe self-serving bias is a concept that has been extensively studied in social psychology.  Essentially, it is people’s tendency to attribute positive events to their own character but attribute negative events to external factors. It’s a common type of cognitive bias that exists in all aspects of life, including in the workplace.

For example, a salesperson who attributes a significant sale to his own business insight and relationship-building skills, but attributes a loss of a sale to the customer’s lack of acumen or the competitor’s unfair advantage may be exhibiting the self-serving bias. Similarly, a leader’s inclination to take credit for the team’s success, but to blame individual team members for mistakes or missteps is another common example of self-serving bias.

The self-serving bias can negatively impact decision-making

The problem of course with the self-serving bias is that it can negatively affect organizational decision-making.  For example, Continue reading

Worrying won’t help you solve problems or make decisions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on decision-making here on the blog, and I was reminded of that recently when I read the following quote about worrying:

rockingchair“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”

― Erma Bombeck

These words were penned by Erma Bombeck, an American humorist, whose syndicated columns were read twice-weekly in the 1970s by 30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.  Even though Erma’s columns were written primarily from the perspective of a midwestern suburban housewife, this particular adage carries sage advice for leaders.

Leadership is a non-stop journey of dealing with issues, some everyday problems, others full-blown crises. This constant barrage of concerns, complications and quarrels can leave many a leader anxious, uneasy and constantly worried … about what went wrong, what is wrong, and what could go wrong.  And even worse is when these very same leaders fool themselves into thinking that worrying is actually doing “something” about the issues at hand.  It isn’t.

Stop worrying, do this instead

So instead of worrying, consider this two alternative (and more constructive) strategies. Continue reading

Waiting for all the facts … and making decisions

making decisions“We need to wait until we have all the facts …” is something I hear many managers and supervisors say.  It’s often in response to an issue that needs to be dealt with or an unexpected problem that has occurred.  Usually the situation is a difficult one and because the manager has no prior experience with making decisions in an identical or similar scenario, s/he is stalling for time.  The unfortunate reality of course is that if you wait for all the facts, you might be waiting for a really (really) long time; perhaps even an eternity.

When it comes to making decisions, you will never have all the facts

Leadership is about making decisions – it’s inherent in the role of a leader.  The reality is that there are very few instances in which leaders will have complete information … ever.  Whether it is predicting customer behaviour, forecasting sales volumes, expecting employees to act in certain ways, or anticipating your competitors’ activities, you will simply never have all the facts.  Which means that the real question is Continue reading

Don’t just seek advice, pay attention to what you hear

Last year, I wrote a short series of posts on specific techniques you can use as a leader to improve the quality of your decision-making.  This story about a Swedish warship from the early 1600’s emphasizes not only the importance of approaching your team and experts to seek advice, but to also pay heed to the advice once you’ve heard it.

The tale of the Vasa: one king’s folly

seek adviceIn 1626, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered the building of the Vasa, a new warship that was intended to become, for that era, the most powerful marine vessel in the Baltic Sea.  As was common in warships then, the Vasa was to have a rank of cannons on each side of the boat so that soldiers could easily fire at their attackers, no matter what direction the assault came from.

King Adolphus considered himself something of an expert boat designer so he took an immense interest in the actual design of the ship.  About mid-way during the ship’s two year construction, he learned that Poland, his greatest archenemy (and rival to take control of the Baltic Sea), had stepped up their naval firepower by building warships with ranks of cannons on two levels.  Well, Adolphus wasn’t going to be outdone!  Continue reading

Here’s what Google discovered about team effectiveness

Business SeminarIn my practice, I am routinely asked by leaders in organizations for the definitive factors that lead to team effectiveness.  After all, leaders in every organization want to know what it takes to create high-performing work groups that not only exceed objectives but also play well in the sandbox together.  Well Google wanted to know the answer to this question as well, so in 2012 it embarked on an ambitious two-year project to codify the secrets of team effectiveness.  Code-named Project Aristotle, this sizeable initiative, in true data-crunching Google style, set out to study and analyze over 180 of Google’s internal teams to figure out why some stumbled while others soared.

Google’s Project Aristotle

Julia Rozovsky is an analyst in Google People Operations, and here is what she had to say about Project Aristotle.

Over two years we conducted 200+ interviews with Googlers (our employees) and looked at more than 250 attributes of 180+ active Google teams. We were pretty confident that we'd find the perfect mix of individual traits and skills necessary for a stellar team -- take one Rhodes Scholar, two extroverts, one engineer who rocks at AngularJS, and a PhD. Voila. Dream team assembled, right?  We were dead wrong!

Continue reading

The dangers of becoming complacent

worldtravelThe world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  So said St. Augustine in the 4th century.  And it’s a doctrine that I’ve taken to heart.  Those of you who know me know that I love to travel.  However, a recent travel experience taught me a lesson about the danger of becoming complacent, a lesson that applies to leadership as well, and something that I have talked about previously in the blog (see Nokia’s blunder).

Ironically, one of the most exciting things about world travel can also be the most trying … I speak of course about the lack of amenities in some developing parts of the globe that we simply take for granted in countries such as Canada and the United States.  On a recent overseas trip, I spent a few days in a rural community in India where I was harshly reminded that some of what I consider to be the basic necessities of life are actually luxuries in other parts of the world.  I am so used to twirling a tap to get water or flicking a switch to get electricity that I have come to expect these conveniences without even giving it a second thought.  In fact, I have become so complacent in expecting these services, that it led me to make some very poor decisions.

Frozen in the tropics!

Before I left for India, I checked the daily temperatures – they ranged from 7 to 15 degrees Celsius (45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) – in the areas that I was traveling to.  Thinking as a girl who’s spent most of her life in Canada (where we have central heating almost everywhere), I said to myself – “that’s pretty good weather”.  And I packed accordingly.  Continue reading

Making risky decisions: a simplified approach

Making risky decisionsBy definition, there is always uncertainty in making risky decisions; after all, the old adage “no risk, no reward” holds true.  No doubt, leadership instinct and past experience play an important role in determining whether the possible reward is worth the perceived risk, but I am nevertheless often asked by leaders whether there is a more systematic approach to making risky decisions.  Decision-making theory abounds with a plethora of techniques and methods, but there is one relatively simple approach that I have found to repeatedly give positive results.  Ask yourself: does making the decision result in more options or fewer?  If the answer is more choices, then move forward.  If the answer is fewer options, then don’t take that action.

Here is one example

Let’s consider an example to illustrate this approach.  You are trying to decide whether to invest in a new piece of equipment for your manufacturing operation.  There are several risks involved with this purchase including Continue reading

An unexpected lesson from a sea otter

A couple of weeks ago, on my morning walk along Victoria’s Inner Harbour walkway, I was very fortunate to observe a sea otter dive down into the ocean to catch a crab and then swim up to the shore to eat it, approximately 15 feet away from where I was standing. I caught about 30 seconds of this amazing encounter on video which I’ve posted below.

This infrequent experience was exciting in itself, but what I found particularly interesting was that the sea otter took just a couple of bites of the crab, leaving the majority of the carcass behind on the rocks as he swam away. Why didn’t he finish this meal that he worked so hard to obtain? Was it because it didn’t taste very good? Or was there a more delicious morsel he spotted just on the other side of the rock? Maybe it was because he saw us watching quietly nearby. Or perhaps it was because the seagulls were already circling and he wanted to share his bounty (or couldn’t be bothered to fight them off). Continue reading