Monday, July 21, 2008

Emphasizing Reasoning

Years ago while in the Army, I had the good fortune to encounter senior officers who, rather than rushing to blame if subordinates chose a course that didn't work out, would instead ask for the reasoning. At first I was stunned when they'd say "That was a reasonable decision" but I quickly learned that the culture had enormous respect for the person on the ground who had to make choices rapidly and with incomplete information.

Other professions, such as academia and politics, lean in the exact opposite direction. A decision is made and the second-guessers descend to pronounce why this or that was wrong. The critics have the advantage of time and more information, of course, but that doesn't inhibit them from grilling what Theodore Roosevelt called "the man in the arena" and announcing that the decision maker was grossly deficient. I routinely see political criticisms of decisions that are so shallow that they say far more about the ineptitude of the critic than of the person who had to decide.

Emphasizing reasoning will ultimately produce a consistently higher level of performance. Emphasizing the results without analyzing the reasoning behind them will produce an inconsistent record and will discourage initiative by those who have to make hard decisions.


Larry Sheldon said...

This is hearsay evidence but some years ago at Great America (owned by Marriott at the time) the Guest Services contact with angry guests were teenagers, and the principle guidance was to do what ever they had to do to make the guest happy with a reason to return and give the Park another chance.

This meant that they were to try to please the guest without giving them cash, else they would have no reason to return.

But there was no watching over the shoulder, the kid was prettymuch one his or her own.

And they were not second-guessed after the fact, either--any discussion about how it was handled was NOT in the form of "You should..." or "You should not...".

There might be a "Did you consider...?"

The place always impressed me from a management viewpoint (I don't care much for amusement parks, per se). It was interesting to see the kids, in the Park on their days off, picking up blowing trash, and such as they moved around.

Michael Wade said...


Great story. In organizations that continually second-guess you can find a lot of upward delegation coupled with lack of initiative.

I believe Ritz-Carlton has one of those "please the guest" policies that gives considerable discretion to the employees.