In a nutshell, here’s how that breaks down, using an emergency room and a retail store as examples:
- Preparing. Leaders continually work to identify risks and opportunities, understand them and mobilize the troops to be ready for them. Your frontline decision-makers need “stories” to direct their actions so that even emergencies can be handled routinely. For instance, emergency room staffers use quiet times to prepare equipment, learn new procedures and assign roles. They also develop values systems based on previous cases.
- Making the call. Triage doctors and nurses use this “grounding” to make quick decisions. Example: While Harvard researchers were visiting Harlem Hospital Center to study its emergency operations, a triage nurse quickly reassigned the ER team from an elderly man in cardiac arrest to a pregnant teenager with a gunshot wound. The old man died while the girl and her baby survived. The nurse based her judgment not only on medical diagnoses but also on the value judgment of saving two young lives versus the life of one older person who was likely to die regardless of how well the team intervened.
- Executing. Making a judgment call work requires what researchers refer to as “redo loops,” where a team continually improves by learning and adjusting.
Julie Gilbert, a senior executive at Best Buy, used this knowledge to launch a development team for female employees. The company began training more women to work in Best Buy’s Geek Squad, a company that installs electronics in customers’ homes. The firm discovered that customers feel so comfortable with female geeks that they tack on additional projects. And in Best Buy stores, the more female employees per store, the higher the sales.
—Adapted from Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, Portfolio.