It’s a Judgment Call!

Suresh Raina highlights how successful leaders make crucial decisions.

Suresh Raina highlights how successful leaders make crucial decisions.

People at all levels in an organisation make decisions on any given day. Leaders however, find themselves in situations where they are expected to make the judgment calls. These calls are tough and need the leader to have an edge, and the ability to say a Yes or a No.

The judgment calls also happen to be more important than the usual day to day decisions that one is expected to make. They are critical and sometimes can alter the course of history for an enterprise. Nokia’s recent decision to sell its mobile handset business to Microsoft is one such call that Stephen Elop has made, impacting not only the future course of Nokia mobile phone business, but also the lives of more than 30,000 employees. Judgement call is the pivot around which the enterprise will move and find its future course. The only thing worse is not taking a call at all.

As they say, “If all problems were identical, then making judgements would be a science and not an art.” Judgement calls have an elusive quality to them because leaders are also human and get influenced. Leaders bring forth their decades of experience to bear fruit, as they witness both success and failure, each event registering in the cortex, stored there to be referred to in future when the need arises, the failure and successes equally contributing to the process. This process helps the leader develop a “sure instinct” also called intuition or the gut feeling. An epiphany that comes after years of trying and trialling, mistakes and tribulations, and most of all perseverance.
Judgement calls usually span across three dimensions as explained by Warren Bennis & Noel Tichy in their seminal work, “Judgement-How winning leaders make great calls”:

a. About people: Most critical and if made wrong, can be fatal for the enterprise. Revolves around Talent and many times is political in nature. Also includes hiring, firing, putting the right people at the right place. Infosys Board bringing back Narayan Murthy as Executive Chairman is a recent example.

b. About strategy: This is about finding a new path to success, the ability to look over the horizon and decide the future course. Jack Welch’s, Fix close or sell strategy and be either No.1 or No.2 for all the GE businesses, is a good example. This is about adding value to the company by picking up the right acquisition and making the right investments in existing businesses or divesting it.

c. About crisis: These are time pressured and consequences come very quickly. Decision making is forcibly compressed and highlights the elements of making the judgement call. A recent example is that of General Motors India for the recent episode of discrepancies in the test data for meeting emission norms

What are the attributes one needs to acquire to make better judgement calls? Knowledge, communication, process of gathering & analysing data and the execution, are the essential elements of making a judgement calls. The most important personal attributes that a leader should have are courage, character and values to be able to make that decision.

Possessing the knowledge not just the self knowledge and that about the organisation’s values & goals, but also contextual and social network knowledge, are other important elements. Leadership is a team sport and it is the ability of the leader to draw on the best talent for the best role. It is the leader’s availability and the ability to rely on this knowledge pool that helps the decision making.

The process of making the judgement call is not a single event; rather it is a flowing process. It is culmination of a series of events like recognising the need, gathering data and evidence supporting the situation, analyzing data, making decision based on the evidence, putting a team in place and finally execution and review. One’s intuition/gut feeling also plays a role in this.

Without follow through and execution, a brilliant judgement call can come to waste. A leader cannot work alone, and needs a team that is completely aligned with his/ her vision. Engaging them is critical for the judgement call to ultimately prove successful for all stakeholders.

-The author is Senior Partner, Hunt Partners-India, executive search firm

“Leadership is a team sport and it is the ability of the leader to draw on the best talent for the best role. It is his/ her availability and the ability to rely on this knowledge pool that helps decision making.”- Raina