On a cold January day, a forty-three year old man was sworn in as the chief executive of his country. By his side stood his predecessor, a famous general who, fifteen years earlier, had commanded his nation’s armed forces in a war that resulted in the defeat of Germany. The young leader was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. He spent the next five hours watching parades in his honor and stayed up celebrating until three o’clock in the morning.
Like me when I first read this, you are assuming this is a story about John F. Kennedy. The missing fact is the date of this story is January 30, 1933. The 43 year old man is Adolph Hitler.
I have just finished a really good book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. This excerpt from the book shows how we all make assumptions. And, as the case here, false assumptions based on incomplete information. As bosses in organizations, we do this all the time. And sometimes this is OK but oftentimes it is not. As I look at my more successful and less successful clients, there is a correlation between a company’s success and how often the bosses make decisions based on what they think they know rather than searching out the facts.
What’s the risk of making decisions on incomplete facts? We increase our chance of failure. Sometimes this does not matter much. How often have you gone to a restaurant for breakfast only to find it was closed. The facts were available, you could have googled the restaurant and found that it was closed. Fortunately, you just went next door to a restaurant that was open. Incomplete facts did not matter.
There are other times that we make bad decisions based on incomplete information with disastrous results. Have you ever hired someone on the spot because you thought they would be a great fit? Only to find out they did not have the skills they bragged about. We believe the resume. We believe the presentation. Mostly we believe in our great insights. Hiring is important, we should have done a better job getting to the truth.
So why do we make big decisions without gathering the facts?
- Pride and sometimes arrogance. We know best so we don’t have to bother getting facts.
- Underestimating the threat of a bad decision.
- Not following the idea of “trust but verify.”
- Cost of acquiring the facts is high. Maybe you have to buy a report, hire an investigator, etc. You just don’t want to spend the money.
- Moving too quickly. All of you read the first paragraph of this post and immediately jumped to the wrong conclusion that I was talking about JFK. Sometimes it pays to be thoughtful.
- Making decisions while in an overwhelmed emotional state. I was told a long time ago that I should never make big decisions on bad days. There are times you’re just not up to the task.
What does all of this mean? We need to constantly up our decision making game. If we better the process, we will better the decisions which means a more successful company.