November 30, 2021
Several years ago, we came up with a great idea for a new leadership-development offering we thought would be valuable to everyone. We had research demonstrating that when people embarked on a self-development program, their success increased dramatically when they received follow-up encouragement. We developed a software application to offer that sort of encouragement. People could enter their development goals, and the software would send them reminders every week or month asking how they were doing and motivate them to keep going. We invested a lot of time and money in this product.
But it turned out that people did not like receiving the emails and found them more annoying than motivating. Some of our users came up with a name for this type of software. They called it “nagware.” Needless to say, this product never reached the potential we had envisioned. Thinking about the decisions we had made to create this disappointing result led us to ask the question, “What causes well-meaning people to make poor decisions?”
Some possibilities came immediately to mind—people make poor decisions when under severe time pressure or when they don’t have access to all the important information (unless they are explaining the decision to their boss, and then it is often someone else’s fault).
But we wanted a more objective answer. To understand the root cause of poor decision-making, we looked at 360-feedback data from more than 50,000 leaders and compared the behavior of those who were perceived to be making poor decisions with that of the people perceived to be making very good decisions. We did a factor analysis of the behaviors that made the most statistical difference between the best and worst decision-makers. Nine factors emerged as the most common paths to poor decision-making. Here they are in order from most to least significant.
Waiting too long for others’ input. Failing to get the right input at the right time. Failing to understand that input through insufficient skills. Failing to understand when something that worked in the past will not work now. Failing to know when to make a decision without all the right information and when to wait for more advice. It’s no wonder good people make bad decisions. The path to good decision-making is narrow, and it’s far from straight. But keeping the pitfalls in mind can make any leader a more effective decision-maker.
—Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman
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(This article first appeared on Harvard Business Review)
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