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Hearsay Decision-Making

It must be true - I saw it on the Internet.

You've most likely heard this phrase delivered as a punchline in conversations and comedy skits. It speaks to an often misplaced level of trust we have when it comes to information acquired on the World Wide Web, regardless of origin. I'm using this particular line to convey this sentiment extends far beyond the web.

Successfully managing a business is achievable but it's not always intuitive. Many factors, especially those beyond our current range of knowledge and experience, can and do influence how decisions are made, what decisions are made, what business processes are used, and what success or failure is realized. One major influence impacting everything is information. It's the basis for making decisions related to strategy, hiring, partnering, acquiring customers, pricing, and more. The veracity and timeliness of information is paramount, and the ability to determine its accuracy and usefulness requires context.

To have context is to understand. It is the ability to determine relevance and if a piece of information can be used to support an action like making a decision. The value of establishing and reestablishing context is immeasurable and is very often the key to achieving desired outcomes.

Here's why this matters.

Every day I am privy to conversations where business leaders are making decisions. Some of the decisions are of minor importance while others are vital to the survival of the organization. In too many cases, the level of information-in-context needed to make a good decision has not been achieved. When this happens, many decision-makers wind up 'shooting from the hip' due to an overriding need to do something, even if something is not based on solid knowledge, or any knowledge at all. When situational understanding is absent so is the ability to detect what is right and what is wrong. The ability or instinct to acquire additional information in order to mitigate risk associated with decisions is critical. Especially in Federal Contracting, we have a tendency to make decisions based on what we have been told, versus what we have learned. We place too much trust in unqualified information.

How much of what we hear in the course of a day is useful to us? That depends on the source of the information and how it is delivered. In the spirit of "connecting the dots," if the source of the information is not known or reliable, then the information received is simply more 'dots' added to our already large collection of dots. Some of the dots may be immediately useful, some will need additional work before they are helpful, and many will never be relevant, as far as we know. The value we derive from information presented is based on what listening mode we're in. Selective Listening will produce very different and less useful takeaways than Full Listening. This parallels market research tactics. If we ask relevant questions and can acquire information-in-context from reliable sources, we stand a better chance of being equipped to make good and timely decisions.

Just the other day, I spoke with a business leader struggling with a decision related to a recent contract award they received. The decision was about the role of a teaming partner that had not been discussed or agreed upon prior to award. The initial decision made by the business leader was based on what they had heard others do with no detail beyond that. In short, they had information but no understanding of how that information could apply to their situation, or if it applied to their situation. At stake was half the value of a multi-million dollar contract, in exchange for the teaming partner doing nothing and bringing no value before or after the award. No kidding. This was hearsay decision-making in full effect. The remedy was a lively coaching session that provided substance from several qualified points-of-view. This led to a more informed, and more profitable, decision.

Business leaders have a responsibility to do what is best for their organizations and the families who depend on its continuance and success. This means they have an obligation to invest in the development of knowledge, and the skills and resources needed to make good decisions. Otherwise, hearsay decision-making will have its way by thwarting progress and success.

Peace, Health, and Success,

Go-To-Guy Timberlake