Optimal Decision Making

I saw an interesting Ted talk today called “Dare to Disagree”.  It was not exactly what I had expected–it was not a primer on how to disagree without being disagreeable–but was still thought-provoking.  In her presentation, Margaret Heffernan shares a few stories about how a competing perspective can identify gaps in a leader’s thinking, or confirm the accuracy of it.  Uncertainty is a given in Healthcare these days, but as a leader it is critical that we eliminate as much of it as possible in our decision making.

Where we fall short

In the past, I have worked with executives who are not completely comfortable in their role.  One symptom of this affliction is a tendency to dissemble and undermine transparency.  I remember working with a senior leader at GE who explained to me the benefit of invoking the term “The Business” as a way to minimize accountability and give yourself “wiggle room” in negotiations.  By making statements such as “the direction for the timing for the fix for this product issue is under review by ‘the Business'”, or “the actual products for which you are compensated is being evaluated by ‘the Business'”, he insisted, one could create a miasma of jargon around the outcome of any situation, while still sounding authoritative.  At one time when he was brought into a negotiation with executive leadership for a large deal that was predicated on addressing some ongoing product issues he employed this tactic in an attempt to minimize the challenges the hospital was experiencing and focus them on the benefit of the solution we were proposing. Though he was very eloquent when he spoke, as we walked out of the meeting, the hospital’s COO pulled me aside and asked that I not bring him to any future meetings.  I felt as though sharing this feedback with him would not be appreciated, especially after seeing him get very angry when my peers would try to pin him down for answers.  Unfortunately, his leadership style led his direct reports to leave him out of serious decisions and go around him for support when higher level approval was required.

In Practice

You cannot hope to keep your team engaged unless they see the big picture or the overall vision of the organization, and understand how their role contributes to it.  When you must choose between being open with your team, or keeping them in the dark, trust them to understand, and hear their perspective.

It is critical to team unity that everyone is engaged and it is critical to the success of the organization that they are doing their best work. This can be accomplished to a great extent when the contribution of each person in the organization is valued and they are encouraged to speak up when their opinion differs from the consensus.

The least among us?

In hospitals today, it is easy to forget that folks without letters at the end of their name may have valuable insight to provide.  I came across an interesting article called SELF-ORGANIZATION AND POLITICS: HAYEK AND “HEALTH” ECONOMICS that refers to economist Friedrick Hayek and his thinking around predicting behavior.  Though Hayek is specifically describing public policy and its ability to drive political outcomes, I find one element of this thinking particularly relevant here.  Hayek believed that central planning structures were destined to fail because administrators could never fully understand the constituent parts of the system.  More specifically, there was knowledge that was inherent in the work done at one level that was not available at other levels.  According to his research, the prices of goods were determined at the level of the transaction and were not amenable to fiat control.  The takeaway is that there is sustained value at each level of organization that is not evident to other levels of organization.  Sometimes our culture falsely assumes that the amount of education, or authority that someone has is proportional to the value of their perspective.  Leaders can handicap themselves by adopting this view.

Bottom Line

It is important to leverage each of our employees and team members and create synergy by encouraging them to feel good about their role in the organization, and do the same with their peers, supervisors, and direct reports.

In my next post, I will talk more about some of the ways to do this.