Sabotaged By Conflicting Advice

Business teams are fed advice that undermines the quality of their work and the information decision-makers need.

  • What will be, will be OR Life is what you make it?
  • Look before you leap OR He who hesitates is lost?
  • Clothes make the man OR Don’t judge a book by its cover?
  • You get what you pay for OR The best things in life are free?

Conflicting advice abounds in all of life and business advice is no exception.  I had to smile when reviewing Management Tips on the Harvard Business Review website.

One Set Of Rules For Decision-Makers…
HBR’s guidance to decision makers is clear: Demand evidence and examine the logic behind claims because gut instinct isn’t good enough (See HBR’s Tips On Decision Making). Guard against biases that cause good people to prematurely settle on initial impressions, then miss better solutions and develop unhealthy momentum proving those initial impressions correct.

…And Another Set For Teams?
The advice offered to business team leaders, however, diverges dramatically (See HBR’s Get Your Project Going Fast). Following the decision makers’ expectations is derided as “jumping through hoops.” Teams are urged to circumvent the very best practices executive decision makers are urged to enforce.

Run with your gut instincts, build momentum covertly, and reveal your business case only once it is fully baked and impossible to decline. This advice comes not only from HBR but is also commonplace throughout the popular business press. Unfortunately, this guidance steers project leaders directly into the path of destructive decision errors such as anchoring, confirmation bias, and sunk cost fallacies to name a few.

Proposals will appear compelling, but the development process was polluted. Better solutions may be overlooked or proposed solution may be supported by overoptimistic projections. In short, the information decision makers must rely on is… unreliable.

Staying On The Same Page
Executives must be mindful that their people are being fed this very appealing but very flawed advice. If and when these maneuvers surface, confront it directly and immediately – denouncing the work as inadequate and the team’s performance unsatisfactory.

Battling these misguided ideas is easier when expectations for developing proposals have been thoughtfully structured and the rationale for each element is clear. If any element is little more than hollow bureaucracy, cull it from your processes to maintain justifiable commitment to the whole.

Then, hold firm to what we know is worth following.

© 2012 Verax Point Consulting, LLC

About Dave Wittenberg

I am all about equipping business teams to enjoy greater payoffs on their biggest bets. I bring a unique combination of evaluation expertise and behavioral insights developed over the course of more than 300 major strategic initiatives. Applying a highly effective, disciplined framework, teams unleash their full capabilities to generate better solutions, wring out hidden waste, and deliver superior returns. Specialties: Investment Evaluation, Decision Excellence, Strategic Analysis, Mergers and Acquisitions, Investor Relations, Leadership Development, Education & Training
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