What Does the Presidential Election Tell Us About Executive Decision Making?

While this post is about the election, it is NOT about politics.  Rather, it’s about decision making and how letting pre-determined analyses about the facts affect the process.

In this case, the facts were the polling data regarding the presidential election (you can see which ones were the most accurate here).  For the last 40 years, the polls have been pretty accurate and their errors are evenly distributed among the two political parties (see this link).

So, I’m at networking business lunch the day before the election discussing what might happen on Election Day.  Most the people at my table were pretty strong Republicans.  When I talked about the tracking data and their historic accuracy, they dismissed those facts with anecdotes.  For instance, saying that Obama wasn’t drawing big crowds but Romney is, etc. as being indicative of turnout, when pollsters explicitly base their data on those who say they are likely voters.  They clearly had an idea in their heads and nothing would have convinced them to let it go.  I’m sure if the situation was the exactly opposite (sitting with a group of Democratic partisans talking about the Republican candidate’s lead) it would have been the same conversation.

This reliance of going from the “gut” instead of with facts is something I see from some (certainly not all) supervisors, managers, and leaders all of the time.  The question is how do we consult with managers to help them make better (read: unbiased) decisions in the HR arena?

One approach is to find out the person’s biases upfront.  If the person already knows the “right” answer to the questions s/he is asking you, ask them what kind of data would change his/her mind.  If the answer is “nothing,” then you at least know how much time you want to spend on the project.  You have to pick your battles.

When it comes to selection, managers have a built in bias towards systems that have (or haven’t) allowed them to progress.  If they’ve passed tests to help them move up, then all test results are accurate.  If someone else got the promotion after going through an assessment center, they are a waste of time and money.  The challenge here is to get them to see the pattern of effectiveness, not just a single result.  There are plenty of good analytic tools for doing this.

It’s important to remember that when a person has this type of bias there is a reason for it.  The bias itself comes from some other experience.  Learning more about how the person developed the strongly held opinion gives both of you a better understanding of it.  This will also allow you to present data that may be more acceptable to him/her.

Finally, remember that the person’s bias may lead him/her to the best decision (just because someone’s has their mind made up does not make him/her wrong).  However, the process is important.  And presenting solid HR data can only help you in the long run.

For more information on leadership, please contact Warren at 310 670-4175 or [email protected]

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