15
Make decisions
ASKED HOW SHE HAD MANAGED TO SUCCEED in
such a male-dominated environment, the first woman admiral
in America, the formidable Grace Hopper, reportedly growled
her secret for successful decision making: I guess you do it
first, and apologise later.
The detached and impassive executive may fit our mental
picture of the ideal corporate decision maker, yet people
actually make better choices when they experience intense
emotions. Ignoring the emotional content of a decision can
also prove costly.
British Airways changed the design of all its aircraft tail fins
by dropping the Union Flag in favour of art from around the
world. The company based its expensive repainting decision
almost entirely on the numbers from consumer feedback. But
a smaller group of highly-profitable and influential custom-
ers, who disliked the new design, eventually forced the airline
to scrap it. The best decision makers embrace
emotions and the use of intuition, without
allowing these to lead them astray.
Making decisions is what managers are
supposed to do. Real life can be very different.
The number of decisions made by a new or
making decisions is
what managers are
supposed to do
LEIGH_ESSENTIALS_OF_MANAGEMENT.indb 198 18/01/2012 12:33
Make decisions 199
relatively inexperienced manager is far less than the traditional
image of a busy manager. So it is important that the ones you
do make are as good as they can be.
Only robots make decisions based entirely on numerical
data. But a whole science of decision making uses complex
models, subtle theories and clever systems for identifying
options, attaching probabilities and assessing risk. Is that what
the management job is really about, and does it mean you
must master this discipline or risk being a failure?
Often you have to rely on your intuition, remarked
Microsoft’s Bill Gates. This gets you closer to how the world
actually works.
Satisficing
In studying those making high-stake choices, researchers ini-
tially assumed they would be rational, just like the decision
models predict:
Gather information, identify possible solutions, choose the best
ones, and evaluate the results.
Their assumptions were wrong.
The evidence revealed people seldom bother with compar-
ing difference choices. Instead, they merely find something
better than their starting point. They commonly select the first
reasonable option they encounter an approach called satisfic-
ing. It happens because of time pressures, the low penalty for
guessing wrong, or awareness that weighing many options may
not improve the chances of success.
Most managerial decisions therefore emerge as satisficing,
mixed with some effort at being a little more rational. Only
when the stakes are truly exceptional is there usually some
attempt to go beyond straight guessing.
LEIGH_ESSENTIALS_OF_MANAGEMENT.indb 199 18/01/2012 12:33
200 PART 3 MANAGE THE ORGANISATION
Even using elaborate decision-making methods, you can
seldom accurately predict all the consequences from a partic-
ular choice. You may have done the calculations, gathered all
the available facts, studied and compared all the options yet
the outcome still proves different to expectations. How else can
one explain all those expensive failed mergers and acquisitions
around the world?
All this suggests that you will be better with a rather dif-
ferent decision-making approach from the ultra-rational one
usually thrust at new or inexperienced managers.
Essential decision-making behaviour
In a 1999 charity auction for life-sized, black and white fibre-
glass cows intense rivalry surfaced for the artist-designed objects
and over-bidding led to crazy prices for the cattle. It was a clas-
sic case of dangerous competitive arousal, which also affects
managers when they go in single-minded pursuit of victory.
Rivalry, time pressures and being in the limelight may all
reinforce each other to distort decision making. In fact, the
brighter the spotlight, the greater the potential for competitive
arousal and bad decisions. Be alert to the potentially harmful
dynamics of competitive arousal and make sure your decision
making occurs in a more ordered way. Set out to defuse rivalry,
reduce the time pressures and deflect the spotlight.
Intuition, as we have seen already, plays a vital role in most
decision making. While intuition can seem magical, it mainly
relies on using knowledge based on experience. When being
intuitive you move knowledge from your unconscious to your
conscious mind, which is why sleeping on it before finally
deciding makes sense.
You do not learn intuitive decision making so much as tap
into this human capacity with four steps:
LEIGH_ESSENTIALS_OF_MANAGEMENT.indb 200 18/01/2012 12:33

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