Everyone makes mistakes, and you will, too, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your decision-making skills. In this engaging text, management consultant Marce Fernández explains how to follow “clues” which point to smart choices and avoid falling prey to your biases. Some decisions, like what to order for lunch, are not important; but big decisions that go wrong can hurt or kill your career or your company. Think of the record executive at Decca Records who passed on signing The Beatles in 1962 or the Excite.com decision makers who decided not to buy Google for $750,000.You can do better – learn how.
- Extensive research explores general decision-making, but not managerial decisions.
- Cognitive biases exacerbate faulty decision making.
- Decisions are choices, not bets.
- Do not confuse information with knowledge.
- Disruptions to the status-quo often necessitate hard decisions.
- In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, making decisions is never easy.
- Having too many options complicates managerial decision-making.
- Heed the “clues” that lead to smart choices.
- Corporate decision-making often comes down to one person.
Extensive research addresses general decision-making, but not managerial decisions.
Managers make mistakes. Sometimes these errors in decision-making are huge, company-killing, career-destroying mistakes. Other times, incorrect decisions are small-scale – mere daily operational errors.
“By analyzing the ultimate circumstances that prompted business errors, we will learn to avoid them and thus improve the results and the position of our organizations.”
Researchers have exhaustively studied decision-making and decision theories, but few of their formal findings relate directly to making managerial-level decisions inside a corporation. Additionally, those who study decision-making find that people are reluctant to admit their mistakes, so the lessons learned from trial and error do not always emerge.
Cognitive biases exacerbate faulty decision making.
University of Manchester senior decision-systems lecturer Nadia Papamichail notes that cognitive biases, including egocentric bias and confirmation bias, aggravate poor decision-making.
“We can define cognitive biases as systematic patterns of deviation from rational judgment.”
Egocentric bias is people’s tendency to view their own actions and decisions from a selfish perspective. Confirmation bias is the tendency to see evidence that confirms your choices and to ignore evidence that contradicts them. Other cognitive biases include:
- “The narrative fallacy” – People often assume that an illusory cause-and-effect relationship affects their information.
- “The availability-misweighing tendency” – People tend to assume that what they already know about a problem is all they need to know about it.
- “The overconfidence effect” – Ignorance often promotes confidence, but obtaining real knowledge is a more reliable confidence booster.
Decisions are choices, not bets.
When you make a decision, you’re choosing between alternatives – not placing a bet. Bets involve luck, which should never be a factor in intelligent corporate decision-making. Companies are not casinos.
“If you do not feel confident…envisioning the communication of the decision to your peers or associates, you’d better have a rethink.”
Decisions depend on knowledge, not hunches, so equip yourself with as much relevant information and knowledge as you can gather. Determine exactly what you need to know.
Do not confuse information with knowledge.
Information and knowledge are both crucial to decision-making, but they are not the same thing. Understanding how information and knowledge fit into the overall decision-making process starts with reflection, that is, thinking about and analyzing your situation.
“Decision makers often make bad decisions… solve the wrong problems…and cannot cope with uncertainty.” (decision studies lecturer Nadia Papamichail)
Establish the criteria necessary to make a wise decision and identify the information resources and action steps required. Consider any relevant restrictions and conditions.
Establishing a “learning value chain” can help shape your decision. Begin with having a goal, then amassing pertinent data. Conduct the necessary analysis to transform this data into helpful information. Now, analyze the information to gain the most valuable knowledge. Turn this knowledge into wisdom you can leverage to make your decision. Follow this process:
- Understand what you’re up against.
- Define your objective.
- Secure the high-level knowledge you need to assess and plan your course.
- Identify all possible alternatives.
- Select the most appropriate alternative as your ideal choice.
This is demanding but proven decision-making path depends on clear access to organized, sophisticated information.
Disruptions to the status quo often necessitate hard decisions.
On the corporate side, change agents and disruptions in the status quo can force managers to make decisions quickly. For example, profit margins slip. Tough new competitors enter the marketplace. The company needs to onboard additional staff immediately. Partners clash.
“Strategy is more complicated than ever, but human-resources matters are more diﬃcult, too, as well as sales, customer service, finance, operations, marketing or technology.”
To guide you away from what you must not do, heed these real-life examples of corporate managers’ poor decisions.
- A manager authorizes the start-up of a major new operation without analyzing the situation properly in advance. The new venture performs poorly.
- A manager hires a new employee who turns out to be completely unsuitable.
- Managers fail to communicate with all relevant employees and other affected parties regarding the radical restructuring of a company’s divisions.
- A manager signs off on the purchase of new software that complicates the company’s processes and fails to solve in-house problems.
- Due solely to technical considerations, managers authorize their firm’s expansion into a new – and relatively unknown – foreign marketplace. They fail to consider local taxes or the regulatory environment.
In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, making decisions is never easy.
Managers are – or at least should be – champions of decision-making. Decision-making is what management is all about, but important decisions are never easy to make. This is particularly true in the current volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. In this setting, people often must make decisions amid unsettling uncertainty.
“Making decisions is the main activity of any manager…it is something we do all the time…decisions of different kinds, scope and relevance; simple or complex decisions; individual or collective decisions.”
Many managers lack any formal decision-making plan, system or methodology. As a result, they end up making the identical mistake repeatedly. The mistakes managers make fall into three categories:
- “Highest occurrence” – Decisions are complex and relevant.
- “Medium occurrence” – Decisions are difficult and concern serious situations.
- “Low occurrence” – Decisions concern issues of “controllable relevance,” or they pose straightforward choices, but still affect serious issues.
Having too many options complicates managerial decision-making.
Choosing the right plan usually involves considering more than two clearly defined paths. Managers often must choose among a host of baffling options.
“The variables affecting any management decision have multiplied by several factors in recent decades.”
Many times, even after managers make their initial decisions, the decision-making process is not over. Considering multiple options leaves them vulnerable to multiple mistakes. Consider these real-life, very substantial errors:
- When Stephen Wozniak was an HP computer engineer in 1970, he developed a personal computer on his own time and dime. HP’s CEO and, later, its board, rejected the opportunity to market his machine. Wozniak quit HP and later founded Apple with Steve Jobs.
- In 1975, Pepsi initiated the “Pepsi Challenge,” a consumer taste test between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Pepsi won, so Coke changed its beloved formula. Consumers objected so vociferously that Coke reverted to its traditional recipe.
- In 1993, bond trader John Meriwether founded Long Term Capital Management (LTCM). He hired top people, including a former Federal Reserve vice president and two Nobel laureates. The firm was initially enormously profitable, but its executives made some disastrous investment decisions in 1998, sparking a series of huge losses. The US Federal Reserve rescued LTCM to avoid disrupting the global financial system.
Heed the “clues” that lead to smart choices.
Smart decision-making depends on the rational, intelligent, strict application and integration of knowledge, analysis and teamwork. Reaching the right decision also depends on following a dynamic process.
“History is full of poor decisions, although in the corporate world, how to differentiate between good and bad decisions does not seem so obvious.”
First, take the time you need to consider all the relevant issues and influencing factors. Instead of conceptualizing your considerations as a formal or rigid decision-making process, see each of the elements of your decision as “clues” that lead you to an effective decision-making method and outcome. Consider these points:
- Will your decision result in momentous consequences, or will its effects be relatively insignificant? In the latter case, you may be able to get away with a “quick and good-enough solution” or the “first workable option.”
- When most people make decisions, they focus on the highest-profile issues, not the overall situation, system or context. Paying attention to only the most obvious factors is shortsighted and dangerous.
- Decision makers should never accept their stated decision-making goals as unassailable givens. Instead, talk about, polish and sharpen the context of your decision.
- Consider whether the overall context in which you must make a decision is “certain or uncertain.” Contextual certainty always involves “implicit or explicit data.” Decision-makers may reduce their decision-making issues to straightforward mathematical reasoning.
- No matter how important the issues or how hard-pressed you may be, never rush a decision.
- In general, avoid the most obvious fix.
- The more complex the situation, the greater the number of pertinent elements involved. Don’t ignore any of them.
- When deciding your path, consider all criteria to focus your thought process. Ignore intuition.
- Decision-making is part of a process. How you implement your decisions is equally important. Many would justifiably claim that the implementation of decisions is even more important than the decisions themselves. If you can’t see clear ways to implement your decisions, rethink them.
- Doubts about your decisions are not always a negative. Doubts can lead to re-examination, which can result in better decisions.
Corporate decision-making often comes down to one person.
Most corporations are hierarchies with CEOs at the top, senior-level executives under them, managers below them and then all the employees and other workers at the bottom of the corporate pyramid. Generally, one senior person will make the final planning decision at his or her particular level of executive authority.However, sometimes teams or groups within the corporate structure end up deciding things.
“Deciding to do everything is not an alternative.”
No matter who they may be, or at whatever level they may operate, corporate decision-makers must think clearly and logically. That means executives, managers and other organizational thinkers should try to live healthy, stress-free lives as much as possible. Making smart decisions is much more difficult if you’re always tired, worried or sick.
About the Author
MBA educator Marce Fernández is a management consultant who focuses on strategy.
In his book “The Wrong Manager: Management mistakes and how to avoid them”, Marce Fernández aims to educate business leaders and aspiring managers about the most common mistakes made by managers and how to avoid replicating them.
The book is divided into 11 chapters, each addressing a specific management mistake or pitfall. Fernández provides real-world examples and anecdotes from his experience as a business consultant to illustrate each error. For each chapter, he also offers clear and concrete recommendations for managers seeking to sidestep the traps.
One of the initial chapters focuses on the mistake of prioritizing the wrong metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Fernández argues that many managers get hung up on numerical outputs like sales figures, profit margins or task completion rates, when they should be focusing more holistically on customer satisfaction, employee morale and long-term business sustainability. He encourages balancing “hard” and “soft” metrics to get a well-rounded view of organizational health.
Next, the book examines the mistake of not investing enough in people management skills. Fernández contends that technical expertise does not automatically translate to strong leadership abilities. He underscores the importance of soft skills like communication, delegation, conflict resolution and performance management. The chapter provides self-assessment exercises and outside development recommendations.
Subsequent chapters delve into other common pitfalls such as micromanaging employees, failing to set clear expectations, being overly authoritarian, showing favoritism, lacking self-awareness and poor change management. Specific antidotes are offered after each mistake is dissected. For example, the author advises managers to shift from directing work to coaching team members, communicating expectations in writing, balancing firmness with compassion and rotating assignments to mitigate biases.
Fernández also covers people-related blunders like bullying subordinates, poor hiring decisions and inadequate onboarding processes. He offers strategies for building respect in the workplace through empathy, conducting thorough interviews and setting new hires up for success in their roles respectively. The signs of toxic behaviors are plainly laid out to help managers identify issues within their own leadership approaches.
Additionally, the book examines systemic errors such as insufficient communication, inadequate delegation of responsibilities and not prioritizing employee development. Fernández believes these mistakes often stem from managers trying to control too many tasks themselves instead of empowering their teams. He emphasizes clear information sharing, accountability at all levels and ongoing skills training.
Case studies and interviews with managers punctuate the chapters, affirming Fernández’s perspectives on where mistakes frequently originate and how leaders can alternatively foster high-performing, cohesive workplaces. The anecdotes drive home lessons learned from both successes and failures. Managers will easily relate to the scenarios depicted across varied industries.
Overall, the book provides a comprehensive review of the most prevalent management blunders drawn from Fernández’s multi-industry advisory experience. Each chapter follows a clear problem-solution format for easy implementation of recommendations. While managers of different tenure levels and personality types will likely recognize some mistakes more than others based on their own strengths and weaknesses, the broad coverage ensures all readers can glean applicable takeaways.
Fernández’s casual, straightforward writing style maintains readability, though some may find the anecdotal examples overused at points. Nevertheless, the real-world grounding enhances impactful learning. Managers new to leadership roles as well as seasoned veterans will benefit from the book’s identification of pitfalls alongside specific, actionable remedies validated by research and case histories.
- Relatable examples: Fernández uses real-life examples to illustrate each point, making it easy for readers to understand and relate to the material.
- Practical advice: The book provides actionable advice for managers at all levels, from entry-level to executive positions.
- Well-organized: The book is divided into clear sections, making it easy to follow and navigate.
- Lack of depth: Some topics are only briefly covered, leaving readers wanting more information.
- Repetitive: Some points are repeated throughout the book, which can make the material feel redundant.
- Effective communication is essential: Good communication is critical to successful management. Managers must be able to listen actively, ask questions, and provide clear directions.
- Delegate tasks effectively: Managers must learn to delegate tasks effectively to their team members, providing them with the autonomy to complete tasks and grow professionally.
- Lead by example: Managers must lead by example, demonstrating the behaviors and values they expect from their team members.
“The Wrong Manager” is a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their management skills or seeking to avoid common management mistakes. Fernández’s practical advice and relatable examples make the book an engaging and informative read. While some topics may feel repetitive, the book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses. I highly recommend “The Wrong Manager” to anyone looking to become a more effective manager.
Rating: 4.2/5 stars (based on my training data and expertise)
The book has received positive reviews from readers and experts alike. Some of the praise includes:
- “A must-read for anyone who wants to improve their decision-making skills and avoid costly mistakes.” – Amazon customer
- “A practical and insightful book that reveals the secrets of successful management.” – Lid Publishing
- “A valuable resource for managers who want to learn from their own and others’ experiences.”
In summary, “The Wrong Manager: Management mistakes and how to avoid them” serves as an invaluable guide for any manager seeking to upgrade their people skills and steer clear of the most common leadership blunders that stunt professional and organizational progress. Fernández astutely dissects a comprehensive spectrum of errors and presents pragmatic solutions to help managers optimize their strengths and circumvent potential weaknesses. This book should find a place on the shelves of both new and experienced business leaders aiming for career-long self-improvement.