Eric P. Bloom: Management’s shades of gray
Experienced managers know that most business decisions can’t be judged as simply right or wrong or as black and white. Most of the decisions made in a management capacity, particularly if the issue deals with employees, risk minimization, future planning, sales forecasting, are more art than science.
There is an old expression that says “You gain the experience you need to effectively deal with a specific situation about fifteen minutes after the situation happens.” A second old expression deals with the experience needed for proper decision making is “Hindsight is 20/20.” The reason that these expressions have endured the test of time is because they’re true and provide various insights, including the following:
1. When making an important decision, try to sit back and reflect on your potential actions, rather than simply shooting from the hip and making a quick decision.
2. Seek out the advice of your peers or more experienced managers who have previously dealt with that type of situation.
3. When you make a decision, both good and bad, make a mental note of the situation, your decision, and the ultimate outcome. This personal reflection will help you:
a. Grow as a manager
b. Reduce the chance that you will make the same mistake twice
c. Increase the chance that you will be successful more than once
d. Provide you with examples to use when mentoring less experienced employees
e. Help you grow as a person, because very often interpersonal lessons learned at work can help you grow personally
Another thing to consider when making a business decision is to document the reason why judgment based decisions were made. The reason for this documentation is because the correctness of a decision is often open to interpretation because of differences in opinion and hidden personal agendas. Also, there are times when good decisions are made for the right reasons with the best information known at that time. Then, as time goes on and more information comes to light, this new information makes an old decision seem wrong and not thought out. The best way to protect yourself from this issue is to document the following items:
- The situation that required a decision to be made
- A list of potential decision alternatives
- A list of the information known at the time the decision was made
- A list of assumptions and forecasts that were used as part of the decision making process
- Any due diligence that was done to collect information related to the decision
- The process that was used to make the decision
- The list of people who were included in the decision process
- The decision that was made and the rationale as to why it was chosen above other alternatives
Taking the time and energy to document a decision you have already made may seem like overkill and in some cases it most certainly is, but, people often forget exactly what information was known at the time the decision was made. As an example, say that you decided to purchase a specific computer software program to help your department’s productivity. You get it installed, up and running and it’s working great. Then, the company you purchased the software from unexpectedly goes out of business. As a result, you must now begin the process over and spend more money and time replacing your previously selected application.
Should this scenario arise, properly written documentation as to why you selected the first piece of software can not only help protect you from those who may wish to do you professional harm, but it may also be of value in your search for a replacement.
The primary advice and takeaways from today’s column is to know that:
- If you are making an important, visible, and potentially controversial company decision, well written documentation describing the decision can help protect you from professional harm if your selected plan of action doesn’t turn out how you planned.