Archives for posts with tag: decision-making

I came across an interesting little piece this morning in which a psychologist bemoans the limitations of the much-used Myers Briggs Type Indicator in the form of a Dear John letter. You can read it here, but I’d rather you carried on reading this.

In the article the author points out that the science behind MBTI is, at best, not terribly scientific, and asks that the people behind it do the math and move the tool along to be a bit more in keeping with proper psychometrics.

All well and good, I am as keen on rationalism and scientific rigour as the next chap, but, for me, the article misses the point ever so slightly on what MBTI can be used for – rather than a diagnostic tool to understand your personality, it gives people symbols, metaphors, if you like, and is a great way of developing teams.

I have blogged previously on this, and don’t see the need to bore you with it further, but suffice to say it can be useful to know that a team has a Ginny Weasley as well as a Sirius Black and a Hermione Granger, for example. Also, a quiz, here is a list of six characters who, apparently, share my MBTI type – a prize* for the first commenter to correctly identify me:

  • Hermione Granger  off of Harry Potter
  • Professor Fring off of The Simpsons
  • The holographic doctor off of Star Trek (DS9/Voyager era)
  • Billy off of Adventure Time
  • Wall E off of Wall E
  • Sherlock off of Sherlock (my personal favourite – I’ve always considered myself a text-book high-functioning sociopath, it’s no wonder I work with people…)

MBTI is, of course, based on the thinking of Carl Jung, Swiss analytical psychotherapist, dream interpreter and all round polymath. Jung is a man for whom my passion for rationalism and scientific rigour happily gets parked; he worked, as far as I can tell from my admittedly limited reading of his work, off instinct and insight rather than the statistically tried and tested tools beloved of those who spent their youth watching rats run around mazes in search of cheese.

My work, too, is based largely on the examination of data and the drawing of insight from it in order to help organisations to become more effective; having worked in financial services with cool people like actuaries, I know how important it is to have done the maths (yes maths, with an s on the end) when presenting anything to people who need evidence for doing anything.

But there is still, I think, room for the Jungian intuition in developing the insight you need to engender change. Data can take you a long way, and talking to people to deepen that understanding helps as well, but you still need to do something to make that jump from data to insight.

This process can take place in any number of ways; in a workshop, bouncing ideas around, in your head as you are putting together your report and associated slide deck, it can be communal or individual (although, let’s hark back to MBTI and Professor Jung here, extroverts tend to enjoy doing it with others and introverts like to do it by themselves), but it requires a human thought process which takes data and translates it into something different and meaningful.

Going with the gut feeling, making a decision based on intuition and instinct are generally frowned upon in the world of business. My recent adventures studying change management and process improvement are firmly based on using data, evidence, statistical analysis as the basis for decisions to be made in a business.

In my experience, however, people rely much more than they would probably admit on instinct and gut feeling. Any insight or data or evidence you give to people will always pass through their mental filters and be adapted into their own world view before they make any decision on it, and they are more likely to take a course they wanted to in the first place.

An example – in an organisation I worked with, people said they wanted more leadership visibility. Leaders took this to mean getting out and about in town hall meetings and generally doing more formal communication activities. 

What people actually wanted was a more personal connection with their leaders – they wanted better recognition and clarity that their leaders understood what life was really like for them on the shop floor. They wanted managing by walking about,m they wanted to know leaders were really in touch.

The leaders, however, found this kind of thing difficult; they found the kind of instinctive, informal and spontaneous contact their people needed was too hard, and they chose, instead, to go with a safer, more formal and safer way to tick the leadership visibility box, and then were surprised and upset when people told them their leaders were still out of touch.

A more intuitive perusal of the data may have lead them to a different conclusion and more effective leadership behaviours.

So, have a think – be rational about the rationality of your decision making. Do you go with brain or gut? Or is there a bit of both? Which is the braver option? And which is more likely to be effective?

*There’s not really a prize. Sorry.


In previous blogs I have threatened to metaphoricalise the Ashes and the lessons that this most arcane and wonderful sporting occasion brings to the world of work; this is that blog.

First up, just in case we have any readers from countries where cricket is not played, you have my undying sympathy and a quick explanation: the Ashes is a series of cricket matches between England and Australia; each match lasts up to five days and there are five matches – known as test matches – in the series. England recently won the last series 3-0, and if you want to know more, look no further than here

Any road up, there are many, many things that can be learned from embracing the wonder that is test cricket in the world of work. There is the lesson of finding and working to your strengths – for example, it is important to keep a cricket ball dry so that a bowler can make it move in the air when he bowls; to this end, England captain Alastair Cook is in charge of polishing the ball because he doesn’t sweat as much as other players.

There are different players – batsmen, bowlers, and different types within each type – there are opening batsmen and middle-order batsmen; there are fast bowlers and spinners – and even leg and off spinners.

Cricket, in short, is the perfect example of the notion of diversity being strength – everyone has their own skills and needs to perform to their best to deliver this strength in order for the team to succeed. But as well as individual strengths you need team-work; for a bowler to be successful you need the fielders to be in the right place at the right time and do their part; a batsman can only build an innings if he builds partnerships with other batsmen.

Cricket also tells us that you need the right people at the right time – you need to have have the right team to make the most of conditions; if the sky is overcast and cloudy, you need your swing bowlers; sunny on a dry pitch and your spinners are the best option.

Thus it is in work; if you have a change project you need people to kick it off, get it started and underway; these are the opening batsmen, making a start and laying a foundation for others to build upon. Their success is key to enable later success and you need the right kind of people to do this – doers, planners, people who can manage stakeholder and establish a vision and path to the future.

Once the foundations have been laid, then it is up to the middle order to really get things done and deliver the project; these are a different kind of person than the openers; they build on previous success, use the relationships the openers have built already to ensure success, they consolidate and they take things on.

A rich vein indeed, for the sport-minded business person to mine; in this blog, however, I want to focus on two things that happened in this most recent Ashes series, and specifically in the final test at the Oval.

First was the decision by Australian captain Michael Clarke to declare at tea on the last day and set his team the challenge of bowling England out before they could reach the winning total. The decision was sporting; it was in the spirit of the game, and set up for the spectators a spectacle, a thrilling denouement to a great game and a great series. For me it showed courage and a sense of fair play, and so two great aspects that leaders need: the courage of their convictions and to take risks, and a sense of fairness and reason to temper that courage so that it doesn’t lose perspective and become rash or foolhardy.

The second thing was a decision made many months before the match, in a committee room by a group of bureaucrats. This meant the match had to end with only four overs – 24 balls – to be bowled and England needing only 21 runs to win the game and claim an unprecedented 4-0 series victory. The light was worse than it had been at a previous point in a previous match, and because of the bureaucrats the umpires had no choice but to end the game; there was no room for common sense or in the moment thinking, only an arbitrary line marked in the sand by officious suits.

This ruling robbed the crowd of a fitting climax to the match, and England of a likely victory, but it also robbed the umpires of an opportunity to exercise common sense and manage in the moment, in the now.

The lesson here that while we all need rules in a business setting, they should not be so arbitrary and hard and fast that they prevent a sensible and reasonable decision be made to take an opportunity; bureaucracies stifle organisations because they limit thinking and discourage decisions being made in the moment.

Had the umpired been free to make up their own minds, then the courage shown by Michael Clarke to give the watching public a real show would have been vindicated; as it was, it was lost, denied by bureaucracy.

Have a think about your leaders in your organisation – are they courageous? Fair-minded? Do they balance what it right for themselves with what is just right?

Think about your organisation, about its rules and regulations (and remember these can be unwritten rules, not just the “official” ones). Do they prevent the courageous and fair-minded leaders from leading in the right way? Do they allow common sense to prevail and let people manage in the now? Can your organisation learn a valuable lesson from the strange and wonderful world of cricket? I hope it can.

Last week I shoe-horned Glastonbury into a blog about making work fun; this weekend have seen a couple of sporting events worthy of note, from which, I contend, lessons can be taken for the world of work.

First up the Welsh Lions, sorry, British and Irish Lions thumped Australia to win their first series in way too long; second British (and not Scottish anymore) Andy Murray won Wimbledon, ending 77 years of hurt, apparently.

The Lions, then. There are any number of things here – team-work, the strength provided by diversity – but I need to save that for my Tour de France blog in a couple of weeks. Instead I will concentrate on the biggest story in the run-up to the final test, the dropping of the iconic centre Brian O’Driscoll by coach Warren Gatland.

Gatland has described the reaction to his decision as vitriolic; people – and not just people on twitter but proper, informed people who get paid to have a sensible opinion on these kind of things, described it as a terrible decision, stupid, wrong-headed, a gamble too far, handing the test and so the series to the Aussies.

In the event, Jonathan Davies the (Welsh) centre chosen ahead of O’Driscoll played a blinder and his (just as Welsh) fellow centre Jamie Roberts ran in one of several tries in the second half to turn the defeat into a rout. The word “vindicated” has never been more apposite, I think; Gatland’s decision now ranks alongside Alf Ramsey dropping Jimmy Greaves for the 66 World Cup final as an exemplar of an unpopular decision that came good.

So what is the lesson we can take from this? Leadership; it’s not about making the popular decisions, it’s about making the right decisions; right for the team. Gatland based his decision on how he saw the team should play, and based his selection on form and what was right for how he saw the game would go. Unlike the prognosticators and experts who berated him, who based their judgement on the past success of O’Driscoll; history rather than the needs of now.

In the world of work it is often easy to make the wrong but popular decision; people, on the whole, like to be liked. An example many people who find themselves leading teams will be familiar with is the annual appraisal. The popular and easy thing to do would be to give everyone a top grade, ensuring the biggest bonus and top pay rise for the whole team.

Easy, but very likely to be the wrong decision for the team. In your team you may have a member, let’s call him Brian, who has consistently delivered in past years, been a top performer, a star turn. More recently, however, things have changed. Customers need something a bit different, and what delivered success for Brian in the past isn’t delivering that success any more; he’s also made a few mistakes recently. You have a newer member of the team, let’s call him Jonathan, who seems more in tune with what customers want these days; he also works really well with your other star player, Jamie. When it comes to appraisal time, the easy thing to do is give everyone a top mark; the right thing to do is give Jonathan and Jamie top marks, and have a difficult conversation with Brian about why his work isn’t giving the customers what they need any more.

Of course, in the world of work, there is no reason why that conversation can’t turn Brian’s work around and make him a star player again, which is one reason why sport metaphors don’t always bear scrutiny.

Anyway, on to Andy Murray, yet more reasons for proud Celts this weekend just gone. What can business people learn from him? Any number of things; dedication, attention to detail, the importance of preparation, and having the right team behind you.

Again, there is the lesson of making the right decision; Murray famously dropped the coach who had taken him to the brink of greatness and took on the taciturn Czech winner Ivan Lendl; as with Gatland’s dropping of O’Driscoll eyebrows were raised when Murray made the move; and vindication resulted with grand slam wins at the US Open and, most iconically, at Wimbledon this weekend.

But I think more than that, Murray’s success on the grass courts of SW19 is a story of dedication – of having a vision and ruthlessly and relentlessly working to deliver that vision. More than that, it is about building the right team around him to ensure he achieved that vision, making the right decisions at the right time, and building on natural talent to achieve what he set out to do.

In business it is vital to have a vision, a place to aim for, and it is equally important to unite people towards delivering that vision. That united group of people, aimed at delivering your vision, is your business.

Your thinking this week; then:

  1. How do you make decisions? Do you go for easy or right? Think through some recent decisions you have made, an think about how you reached those decisions, what was your thought process, and how did you reach your outcome?
  2. How is your vision defined? Are you clear on what you want to achieve? What is your Wimbledon? And do your people know what it is?

In a recent post I discussed my experiences of the public and private sectors – and how similar they seemed, on the surface at least.

In that blog I said I would return to that point – where you see the same things but they come from different places, and how important this was for cultural diagnostics.

I’ve used a few diagnostic tools in my time, and some of the most useful look at behaviours in an organisation – what people do. Even better is to uncover the behavioural norms that underly these – what kinds of behaviours do people need to demonstrate in order to get on and get along within an organisation.

Regular readers will know that these form part of the Rousseau culture model – layers two and three of the five-skinned onion, in fact. And these are vitally important = you need to know what people are doing so you can compare it against what you want people to do – defined effective behaviours.

For example, if you are (or are striving to be) an innovative organisation, then you need people to be open and honest about mistakes, because you learn from them and build upon them, in order to produce something new. If, however, you have a culture where people hide mistakes, or look to blame others, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes and you don’t learn – the behaviours are ineffective.

So behaviours = important, yes? Yes.

Now, imagine you are re-organising, bringing new teams together, perhaps. Or even merging two separate organisations. You take a look, and do a behavioural diagnostic and you see similar behaviours in both sides. Great,you think. Job’s a good ‘un, these two will work together seamlessly, off you pop.

But, being regular readers will know that there is more to culture than the behavioural stuff; there are further layers underneath; there are values and there are the underlying beliefs and assumptions that cause the behavioural norms, and, in turn, the behaviours.

Another example, based on real life; two organisations where people take forever to do things. The behavioural norm is to put things off, prevaricate or otherwise delay implementing things. Clearly this is ineffective behaviour, you need to get things done; no point having a strategy if you’re not executing it, is there?

So how do you address this? Tell people just to get on with it? Just, as someone once said, do it? Fine, try that, and see what happens. Any ideas? Yep, the same thing that always happened, ie not that much.

No, what you need to do is look at the whys and wherefores, understand the reasons behind those behaviours and norms; what values are driving them, what beliefs lie beneath them.

In the example I’m thinking of, there were two organisations. Both had long histories, dating back well over 100 years, proud heritages and, apparently, shared values. Those values were only the ones on the  posters and on the corporate intranets, however; they were the stated or aspirational values, not the actual values; the actual values were quite different.

Organisation A was based in a large city, and was about twice the size of the other organisation in terms of headcount, but just another player in the employment profile of the city; Organisation B was based in a small rural town, and was by far the biggest fish in a tiny, tiny pond.

Organisation A was political; people based their loyalties on a series of mutual favours rather than personal relationships; power was based on knowledge and decisions tended to be made in private, outside of the “official” decision-making forums.

Organisation B was entirely based on personal relationships. Generations of the same family worked there, former schoolmates worked on the  same team, and you were as likely to have a chat about work with a colleague on a night out.

In Organisation A things took forever because the decision to do something was made over a brew between two people prior to them going into a meeting where the decision was apparently going to be made; everyone else at the meeting then spent the next few months trying to change things to support their agenda, stopping things going ahead as originally decided; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

In Organisation B  decisions were made by consensus; everyone involved had to be happy with every aspect of the decision, every sharp corner had to be smoothed off, because the person who might have caught the sharp end could be bad-mouthing you in the pub on Friday night; everything was gone through in detail and over and over again, each iteration being run past everyone again to make sure they were happy with it; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

So, they looked the same, but the reasons they happened were very different, and so needed addressing in different ways; where it went well leaders looked to pull out the positive aspects of both and I ran quite a few workshops on decision-making, demonstrating the value of dialogue over debate and how decision-making by consent tends to be more effective than decision-making by consensus. You could tell which workshop attendees were Organisation A people and which were Organisation B people just by how they related to this workshop, which was fascinating in itself.

So how did we get this insight? That would be telling, suffice to say I have more tools in my toolbox than just behavioural diagnostics. What I hope to demonstrate from this blog is the advantages you can get of going that bit deeper into the layers of the cultural onion.

Have a think, then, about different parts of your organisation, where you see similar behaviours. What lies beneath? Not the schlocky film with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, but beneath those behaviours. Is it the same thing? Or is it different values, different beliefs, driving similar outcomes?

It’s important, because if those behaviours aren’t working out for you, then you need to change them, and to do that, you really need to understand what’s causing them, don’t you?