How effective decision-making can lead to success

In the second of a series of articles on decision-making, Mark and Anna Withers tell us how taking account of decision-making characters of The Writer, The Knight, The Gambler and The Butler can improve outcomes for the L&D community.

In the 2015 CIPD L&D survey just 5 per cent of organisations rated their talent management activities as very effective. Many companies don’t actually know what ‘talent’ in their line of business looks like. You might want to ask yourself whether every manager in your business is capable of identifying who has talent in line with criteria using objective data? The likelihood is that the answer to this question is at best a ‘maybe.’ This is where talent management looses much of its effectiveness. Managers will use gut feel and intuition to make these important people choices subsequently a whole load of decision making errors can slip in under the radar such as stereotyping and so on.

Anybody who is involved in managing talent needs to have an understanding of the work of The Writer in self and others. Smart decision makers understand that The Writer in us writes scripts about people, situations, ideas and icons and fills in information gaps by using past associations and random facts to create a story which might or might not be true. They will tune in to the stories being written in their own minds and proactively check out these stories against the evidence and use these stories not as an end in themselves but as a basis to ask deeper questions.

The same survey also highlighted that only a quarter of the companies reported that L&D strategy is extremely aligned with the needs of the business which means that 75 per cent of responding companies reported significant discrepancies. A shocking 15 per cent of companies in manufacturing and productions even reported that they are not at all aligned. The question to ask is why is it so difficult to change the culture so that we are more aligned to business values? Some propose that poor leadership hinders alignment, others point to changing priorities or lack of internal consensus on strategy.

When we dig deeper we will find that common barriers to business alignment are actually quite irrational. The answer is found in the workings of The Knight. The Knight represents a set of decision-making errors, which are triggered when attachments we have to people, situations, and ways of working are threatened.

The Knight in us defends against loss, resists change and uses defensive strategies such as holding on, increasing investment in failed strategies or directly attacking perceived threats to protect that which is threatened at all cost. Therefore when it comes to culture change L&D professionals need to realise that defensive impulses are ways of processing loss. L&D efforts should be focused on how to deal with perceived loss or actual loss in constructive ways.

One of the major points raised in the CIPD survey is that L&D professionals understand their role primarily in terms of improving individual and organisational performance. A large number of L&D professionals complained about lack of insight and understanding from senior management resulting in turn in lack of investment in L&D. Accordingly training is often not perceived by senior managers as a proactive tool for organisational development, but as a reactionary tool or a sticking plaster.

This disappointment expressed by the L&D community can best be explained in terms of a cluster of unconscious decision making errors associated with our own self interest. We have termed this cluster as The Gambler at work. The Gambler causes us to be over confident and over optimistic about our own contribution. We also unconsciously try to manipulate situations to our own advantage. Understanding The Gambler at work in ourselves will help L&D professionals come to a more realistic appreciation of the contribution their function makes to the business and what particular interventions work or don’t work. Correspondingly L&D professionals will gain a greater awareness why managers find it so hard to identify underperformance in their departments and then tackle this issue effectively through L&D interventions?

L&D as a support function can also fall prey to another set of decision making errors associated with self interest. We have called this cluster of decision errors The Butler. The Butler in us causes us to serve up what people in authority over us want to hear because of fear of career limiting implications including loss of reputation. The Butler in us often causes us to stay silent when we should speak out and challenge. Frequently L&D professionals find it difficult to resist the unrealistic demands from the business by saying no and expressing their true view of what is happening. The work of The Butler therefore is one of the major contributors to L&D teams feeling overstretched. Yet L&D play a pivotal role in creating and modeling an effective learning environment where people feel comfortable expressing their viewpoint and learning from their mistakes. Grasping how the work of the Butler in ourselves and others undermines our efforts towards creating a learning organisation is an important step forward in becoming more effective in our role as L&D professionals.

Next week the remaining decision-making characters of the Judge, Captain, Archivist and Prisoner are explored.

About the authors

Mark Withers and Anna Withers are directors of Mightywater Consulting

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