People – Not Data – Make Decisions

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By Don Creswell, SmartOrg

Several years ago, I had lunch with the head of R&D of one of the world’s largest chemical companies. He was about to retire. The lunch was informal, accompanied by a beer or two. Mellowing out, the executive mused about the challenges of decision making within a huge, century-old organization whose culture was heavily influenced by tradition. We discussed innovation and R&D strategy and the inertia that impeded the implementation of new ideas. Peering over his reading glasses, he posed the question, “You know what the problem is?” Like most consultants, I could have responded with a list of reasons. But I hesitated, sensing that the question was rhetorical. He continued, “Every four to five years, we bring in a management consultant whose people spend weeks interviewing up and down the organization. They rearrange boxes on the organization chart and move people around. The problem is it’s the same (expletive) people. Nothing new really happens.”

Decision Quality DiagramHe had a point. Moving people about or changing titles and job descriptions seldom have any impact on the quality of decision making. Decisions, despite decision support process and systems, advanced analytics, big data (the current rage), et al are made by people. And people constitute a culture, which can be as deeply engrained in a Silicon Valley startup as in the century-old chemical company. This is the huge challenge faced by anyone who would institute change, no matter how compelling the argument may be for change. This is particularly challenging within organizations seeking to drive innovation.

During my work with managers and executives charged with accelerating innovation I have consistently sensed tremendous frustration in their ability make things happen. Despite a new title, budget and staff, and verbal support from “on high,” they have hit a stone wall. Something is missing.

In the August 2012 ValuePoint, my colleague Somik Raha discussed the need for “head and heart” in decision making (“Cool Head, Warm Heart“). To achieve success, particularly in innovation, both the head and heart must be in balance. Unfortunately, many innovation efforts focus on the head; the numbers may add up, but without the heart, the passion and perseverance, decisions that drive effective change will be hard to come by.

In the April 2011 ValuePoint, I discussed six dimensions that drive quality decisions (“Decisions, Decisions, Decisions“). Many of the dimensions were heavily weighted towards the head. As our work with clients has evolved, we have added the heart to the ratings, as shown in the chart (the red plot is the combination of head and heart).