If you are a busy executive or a middle level manager, you are, first and foremost, a human being (even if you would rather have all your workers think differently). As a consequence, you are susceptible to human weaknesses or simply to all human limitations, despite all years of training. One of those limitations is ability to stay concentrated, to be analytical, logical and fair throughout the working day. All of those are features you need when making decisions – stuff you will most probably be paid for, as long as those decisions prove to be correct, long and short-term.
As mentioned in current (September) issue of Harvard Business Review on page 72 (article by G. Sargut and R. G. McGrath) “most executives think they can take in more information than research suggest they actually can” (see article here) – a limitation which applies to everyone, not only executives. We all think that we are masters of our own lives, that we can juggle all events around us and stay on top of everything. In truth, we have only very limited time during the day to really think through a few decisions or analyse few events, the more complicated, the fewer. After that, we are tired and we resolve to cognitive short-cuts – without consciously realising that we did so. Thinking about thinking requires energy as well, where supply of that energy is limited.
It is therefore important for any one of us to use that energy correctly. Use it only with the most important issues which really require deeper thought. Sounds easy, but how to do it when you are being bombarded by issues which are important to all except you? Workers coming in with their problems, politics, broken coffee machine, your spouse complaining about you not being there… you get the picture. Your private life, your health issues take a big chunk of your “thinking” energy. The next chunk is taken by surprise events as those occur – crisis management or such. The rest remains for what you have planned or for the rest of unplanned issued that day.
I am not discovering anything unknown here. After all, this is the reason why executives have assistants, why organisations have various levels of management or why there are different responsibility areas, or why there are committees (as in more people can have more energy for thought). Many executives though do not like to use assistants as they cannot force themselves to trust them or they cannot accept the simple fact that there are many ways of taking care of various tasks in addition to “my way”. Many executives choose their managers not because they think differently and bring new angle at looking at things (which requires more thinking when considering them), but because they think the same (which eases the burden). Many also treat committees as political arena to show off their force, not as a chance to analyse issue at hand. Multiply that by the fact that today’s managers and executives are most likely responsible for more decision areas due to layoffs and de-layering.
Those are all dangerous signs – if you have such an executive, I will bet you that he/she is sliding in his correct decision factor (good ones divided by bad ones). He makes less and less of good ones, replacing cognitive process with short cuts. We all use them – we use our experience to help us out in those turbulent times in our daily decisions. We mostly buy the same milk, the same cheese, the same wine – not because we like them so much, but because considering any other choices is tiring, especially after a long day at work. The same short cuts or templates are used by executives, this is also the reason why the ones with more experience used to be correct more often.
And here I have finally arrived at my point – short cuts based on past experiences are not enough in today’s environment. The old templates are not worth a damn right now, especially when it comes to corporate decisions (people relations luckily stay pretty much the same). We need to demand from executives to consider and ponder their decisions more, to get deeper in analysis of the consequences of those decisions. They need to act consciously to accept different points of views or opinions of experts. They need to do it quicker as well, which also means that their time needs to be freed from other, less important tasks. Using old templates in order to make decisions and being at the same time convinced that we are in control got us to where we are now. Staying with that mode of taking care of business will never get us out.