A judgement call is usually understood as a specific type of decision that must be made using a personal sense of what is the best option, because there is no clear and obvious right or wrong answer. It is a concept that is often explained as gut instinct and a bit common sense and luck. Here we look at a more scientific analysis of how to make a good judgement call.
Noel M Tichy, of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Warren G Bennis, of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business wrote “Making judgment calls. The ultimate act of leadership.” They argue that the traditional view of judgment as a single event characterised by making a decision and moving on, is wrong. Instead, good leadership judgement is process, marked by three phases. At some point, a judgement call does get made but it is only one stage in the middle of the process:
- Preparing for the call: identifying and analysing the issue that requires a judgement call, and then aligning and mobilising the key stakeholders.
- Making the call: arriving at the decision and explaining it.
- Acting on the call: executing, and then learning from the outcome and adjusting accordingly.
Throughout the process there are opportunities for alterations to be made, described as “redo” loops. These redo loops allow learning and feedback to inform the outcome and maximise results.
Tichy and Bennis also propose that the most crucial judgement calls are made in relation to three distinct ‘domains’: people, strategy and crisis. They note that perhaps the trickiest types of judgement calls are those that involve people. These are judgement calls about personnel – hiring, retaining, promoting etc. The judgement calls in this domain are more likely to be affected by personal biases and they can evoke emotional reactions in those affected by them. Being able to make a good judgement call about people will involve understanding some of the political and personal machinations within your organisation, and ensuring particularly transparent decision-making processes.
Tichy and Bennis argue further that the quality of a judgement call is heavily impacted by the decision-maker’s ability to utilise the knowledge available to them. According to the authors, there are four types of knowledge to use when making judgment calls: self knowledge, social network knowledge, organisational knowledge, and contextual knowledge.
In Judgment Calls: 12 Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right, Thomas Davenport and Brook Manville argue that good judgement calls are rarely made by one person. “Our argument is that they are too often made by solitary CEOs who think they have a “golden gut.” Even if you’re going to rely on intuition, at least tap the intuition of more than one person. Intuition is only a good guide to decisions if you have a lot of experience with the same problem, so find someone who does.” Davonport and Manville recommend ensuring sound decision-making processes by including more people in the decision making process, seeking out dissent, fostering a culture of inquiry, instead of advocacy, and breaking down big decisions into a series of small ones.