We have all experienced mobile phone coverage issues that make it difficult to get the information we need from the other end. This incomplete information, when received but not verified, could lead to a misunderstanding of the facts and potentially less-than-optimal decisions being made. Clarity of information and communication is critical to informed decision making. Similarly, the exchange of poor or unverified information with customers or internally amongst an executive team can severely impact the decision-making process. As incorrect information is passed along several exchanges among various members in the company, it can be diluted even further. In many cases, executives and leaders can manage the process and verify the information, but that doesn’t eliminate their vulnerability at critical times. So how can we more effectively assess and rationalize the information we receive for informed decision making?
- External orientation on all information – take the time to understand external customer needs and to determine how a decision will impact these customer requirements. Often, we make internal decisions in manufacturing, finance, and procurement without rationalizing how these decisions may impact the external customer. At a conceptual level, leaders do agree with this process, but also recognize that it doesn’t always happen. For example, the Target security breach was illustrative of a decision to save on internal costs without considering the need to provide a solid prevention system for these occurrences.
- Shooting the messenger – if the providers of information impute and distill facts down to something the leaders want to hear, it will always be distorted. We need to look at the climate we create and foster in regards to bad news and facts that don’t match expectations. Do folks in our organizations feel they can shoot straight with us?
- Selective listening and bias – leaders continually get streams of information from many sources and methods. And it’s getting even more complicated with the growing reliance on various social media avenues. Leaders also put stock in the person or sender of information based on how much they trust the person and any prior experiences with that individual. We find that higher tenured managers have less credibility than newer ones. At Northpoint, we hear this all the time from the tenured folks that feel tuned out. The essence of this built-in bias towards those we have become comfortable with doesn’t enable the information to be received in a way that it can useful.
- Information receiver bias – as information is collected, it’s important that the data be representative of the customer, group of customers, or the internal source. We need to ensure that the person developing this information used a process that could produce an effective outcome of true vs. biased facts. It’s always good to remind ourselves to thoroughly inspect the process used, as much as the outcome of facts.
This all may appear to be intuitively obvious and standard operating procedure for your organization. It is fair to ask: “Why are you bringing it up?” Well, a sizeable number of decisions are based on information received from various channels. We can often get sloppy when wanting to make fast decisions. This bias towards speed is a lot like practicing shooting free throws and various shots in basketball. It’s not that we can’t shoot well, but we do need to practice and remind ourselves to take the time needed to properly set up the perfect shot.
At Northpoint, we are often tasked with providing a clear view on key initiatives in the decision-making process. A steady diet of information (“garbage in-garbage out”) needs to be effectively managed by the internal team. We work with many incredibly smart business leaders. But their intelligence and business acumen are only properly leveraged when facts are correct and well understood.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact us for an initial consultation. We are very interested in your perspective and learning more about your organizational challenges.