In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, leaders are constantly being asked to make decisions based on ambiguous and incomplete information. They are also under pressure to act quickly – and avoid costly mistakes.
“Half of all decisions made in organizations fail!”
According to research[i], organisations are prone to failure. History is littered with examples of corporations making the wrong decisions, including Ford Pinto’s exploding fuel tanks, Nestle’s marketing of baby formula to third world countries, Shell’s sinking of the Brent Spar oil rig in the North Sea, and the sub-prime mortgage crash and global financial crisis which began in 2007.
As leaders today get bombarded with even more information and have even less time to make decisions, it’s no wonder effective decision-making is becoming harder and a highly sought-after leadership skill. But how can you develop wise decision-making and avoid cognitive bias, a lack of courage and logical mistakes?
Developing wise thinking
Peter J Webb2, Director Human Capital Consulting and Organisational Psychologist has developed a new pathway to wise thinking. His WISE decision-making template aims to bring wisdom to decision-making through considerative information processing, which is emotionally balanced, insightful and non-judgmental. It is designed to protect against bias and encourage a slower, more considerate approach to both understanding and potentially solving complex issues.
The WISE template:
Widen your view - Avoid either/or dualities in framing the issue, expand your options
Interrogate reality - Find ways of disconfirming your assumptions, check your sources of information
Sense what is emerging - Go deeper than immediate emotional reactions, patiently observe the possibilities emerging in the short and long term
Enact a way forward - Experiment and prototype possible solutions, take action and learn from each result
Putting theory into practice
To help individuals lead teams in complex, disruptive environments, companies are developing learning experiences targeted specifically at enhancing decision-making capabilities. By recognising the impact of their personal preferences on the decision-making progress, participants in business simulations learn to apply specific decision-making frameworks to assess a situation and determine what kind of information is needed to make a wise decision. This experiential learning process broadens their perspective and provides leaders with an advantage when dealing with decision-making in their everyday roles. Through a fictional scenario, the simulation forces leaders to confront issues already affecting organisations today including how to embrace the benefits of technology whilst understanding the human impact.
“We have forgotten it seems, to train for wise leadership, and we need it now, more than ever.” Peter Webb, Director Human Capital Consulting
As our world evolves, leaders must also advance to keep pace. Decision-making based on intuition and gut feeling might work for some, but it certainly can’t be taught. Deliberative decision-making based on analysing information and existing knowledge to deduce solutions is virtually impossible as by the time leaders have drawn the information together, the world has changed. This third system of considerative decision-making, using the WISE template, can be taught to develop leaders who think clearly under pressure and can guide teams forward effectively.
[i] Paul C. Nutt (2002). Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding the Blunders and Traps that Lead to Debacles. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler