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Improving judgement in an uncertain world

'Coach Kriengsak, I want to discuss the quality of my judgement," Bob tells me.

"Bob, what's on your mind?"

"This year I'm being monitored on the quality of my judgement. Half of my judgements have been wrong and I'm starting to doubt myself."

"What about previously?"

"Last year two-thirds of the judgements I made turned out to be the right ones."

"Bob, you're talking about results. How do you wish to see yourself after our discussion today?"

"I want to be able to make sound judgement calls at least two-thirds of the time."

"All right. Let's dig into the details. What are the differences between this year and last year?"

"This year I've been involved a lot more on the operations side. Hence, instead of waiting for my people to make their judgement calls, I've been jumping in to intervene more."

"What made you do that?"

"Because of the dynamic nature of change. Things have been moving fast and our internal processes and information flow weren't designed to support this kind of change. If we wait for everything to be in place, things would get worse. Hence, I've been deciding to intervene as soon as I become aware of a challenge."

"It sounds like a good approach. What went wrong?"

"I haven't been in operations for quite some time. Everything has changed, from the business landscape to the customers, competitors and work processes. When I made an operational judgement at the micro level, I was basing it on my own frame of reference from 10 years ago. Hence, half of my judgement calls were wrong and we had to redo more work."

"What alternatives do you see?"

"My team is closer to the problem. They make good operational judgement calls most of the time. But they have two problems:

They have a tendency to wait until they have sufficient information in order to make the right decision.

They don't collaborate well across functions. If I train them to be better in those two areas, I think I won't be tempted to jump in."

"Bob, how do you plan to do that?"

"When it comes to the first issue, I think I have to educate them about the concept of sound judgement in an uncertain world. It means an appropriate judgement with the limited information at the right time. In Work Smarts: What CEOs Say You Need to Know to Get Ahead, author Betty Liu quotes Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP: 'A bad decision on Monday is better than a good decision on Friday.'

"Calculated risk implies that you anticipate some mistakes from your decision. Hence, you also anticipate how to make a correction quickly when a mistake occurs.

"To have this kind of attitude, they have to learn to live with mistakes. They have to embrace the concept of 'fail forward'. We have to learn to accept more failed decisions, let go of our ego and live with them.

"But for collaboration across functions, I still don't have a clue how to deal with that."

"Bob, why do you think people have difficulty collaborating across functions?"

"I guess they're overdoing the kreng jai and hai kiat," he says, referring to the traditional values of consideration for others and respect for seniority prevalent in the Thai workplace.

"In what sense?"

"They perceive that each department head has to have his or her own boundary. Within their empire, the other departments have to respect and not interfere."

"What do you think about that perception?"

"I think it's too old. We're in the fourth industrial revolution. Things are more ambiguous now. If we're too rigid and attach too much of our ego to our roles, we'll have trouble working collaboratively. I need to educate them."

"Bob, it sounds good to me. What could go wrong?"

"These two rationales that I just explained will sound more logical to them if they have the right mindset."

"What's the right mindset?"

"Right now, we as a company are under lot of pressure. We don't have the luxury of being able to squabble internally. The real combat is outside our company. Our stakeholders are demanding more and more. We have to look at this crisis as an opportunity to unite.

"We have to work better as a team that's more than the sum of its parts. Good synergy doesn't mean 1+1 = 2. Good synergy means 1+1=11. To do that we have to let go our old ways, our old paradigms and, most importantly, our own egos that are trying to keep everything the way it used to be."

"Bob, that sounds great. Let's follow up on the next session."

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at