June  2016     Edition 124
Decision Making - from Content to Context


One of the most important transitions individuals must make

when they become leads, supervisors and managers is to transition the focus of their decision making process from content to context.

Successful individuals build up an expertise

in particular areas or with a particular set of circumstances.  They can make well informed, quality decisions, because they are an expert in the subject matter and can put all of this knowledge together.   Individuals’ career advancement is often directly related to how well they do this.

So one day, because they’re so successful at creating solutions

, they get promoted to a supervisor or manager.    Their transition training is focused on delegating responsibilities, priorities, setting goals, dividing the work among the team, providing feedback and tracking results.  These new managers are generally fully capable of solving any of the problems they delegate because they’re an expert … why they were promoted in the first place.  They can easily make a decision because they judge the merit of the solutions that others create based on what they know, what they would do, and what they think is the “right” solution. 

Then one day, there’s a new problem,

one they have never seen, perhaps incorporating a new technology, or something they never dealt with and have no experience in.  One of their reports has the responsibility to solve this.  How does the manager evaluate the merit of the proposed solutions?   The first inclination is for the manager to ask questions of their reports to educate themselves, as if the manager had to solve the problem.   When the manager is comfortable with the information they can either agree or disagree with the solution.  The manager is still focused on the “content”.    This method is time consuming, often resulting in the manager bogging down the decision process, (they become the critical path) and solutions that contain unfamiliar content to the manager might be rejected.

The manager needs to get on the other side of the content

and transition to context. They shouldn’t ask questions with the purpose of educating themselves in the content, but to understand the thinking process.  They should ask questions about the quality of the information and how that information was processed to create a solution.

Consider the following equation …


Skilled People + Good Information + Good Process = Good Solutions.  Which side of this equation are you on?  New managers tend to focus on the right, the content, the solutions.  Successful managers focus on the left, the context and the process.  Managers should focus their efforts on ensuring that people with capable skills are assigned to a problem, those people have access to quality information and are using a good process to digest, critically think about, and assimilate that information.   The result;  their reports will produce high quality recommendations, the manager won’t be in the critical path, employees will feel empowered and responsible for their recommendations and quality decisions will be made faster.

The Takeaway:
Whether you’re a manager, a lead, a committee chair or a parent, consider evaluating the merit of proposed solutions not from what YOU know, but from the thinking process of others.   See to it that others have a good process to ensure the information they have is good and are they using quality thinking (aka critical thinking) to evaluate that information.

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