Diamonds in the Rough

I recently typed in an inquiry for Google search. My query was in the form of three simple words. "Decision making techniques." The search yielded fifty-five million, five hundred thousand results. It was suddenly very hard to make a decision on which decision methods might be best to begin helping me make decisions properly.

The very first link I randomly picked - yes I made a definitive decision to go random - had very informative clarifying information on how to make proper decisions. It started out something like this:

”Decision making is the study of identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision maker. Making a decision implies that there are alternative choices to be considered, and in such a case we want not only to identify as many of these alternatives as possible but to choose the one that best fits with our goals, objectives, desires, values, and so on."

Wow. It is quite apparent that anytime I want, I have the wisdom of the ages right at the beck and call of my nimble little keyboard typing fingertips. With this in mind I have to pose the question, "Why do I make so many wrong decisions?" And taking it to an even higher level, the question can be asked, "With so much information available to help us take the proper actions, why do companies make so many wrong decisions?"

Several years ago I was working for a global company that had a midsize department doing specialized functions for a specific customer base. On the surface, this department made a good profit margin. The employees were stable and the customer satisfaction was high. But because it was a specialized service offering, support for the offered services was difficult for anyone outside of this department to provide on an ongoing professional assistance basis. With this in mind, the decision was finally made at an executive level to eliminate this department along with the specialized services that were offered.

Of course, there was an immediate outcry by those who worked in and oversaw this department. It did not appear to make immediate sense that a well-run operation that made a fair profit margin could be so arbitrarily dismantled. Having a sound business mind, the manager of the soon-to-be-defunct department commissioned responses from his front line employees centered around how they thought this new policy would positively and negatively affect the company overall. He sent the employees a comprehensive, intelligently devised survey to gather information about the possible company wide impact, reasoning that the employees who had been working in the department for several years would have a unique excellent form of targeted input type that the executives who made the decision might like to know before every decision was finalized and implemented.

As happens frequently, the executives in charge of the decision felt they did not need the input and expressed that the departmental "close down" would proceed as already outlined. The employees did not lose their jobs, but were moved to other departments so it appeared that no harm was done and the product support team found their jobs much easier to perform overall now that the specialty services did not have to be taken  into account.

In three months, company wide profitability began to drop. In a year, overall success numbers were slipping significantly in many areas. After eighteen months, the news was very dire. In an effort to stem the flow of red ink in on the profit/loss statements, the executive committee commissioned a high profile consultant group to help find out why things were heading downhill so quickly. As most of us will expect when reading this story after the fact, the expensive consulting company found that the profit loss was a direct result of the shutdown of the specialty services department. What surprised most individuals in the situation was that the consulting company's impact report nearly mirrored the report generated by the original department manager and his line-level employees. The main reason for loss of revenue was this; though the specialty service was used only infrequently, the clients using the service were, as a rule, quite large and tended to use the normal services far more that they utilized the specialized services. When the specialty services were no longer available, however; they began leaving the company as contracts expired to go to competitors that would offer both lines of service (specialty and normal) in a simpler one stop shop mode.

In retrospect this repercussion should have been easy to predict. Why did the executive committee not see it? They were competent and intelligent individuals and should have known better. Further, how did the line employees predict the outcomes so accurately? Most of them were uneducated and possessed of little formal consulting and management training. Of course the answer is simple.

The employees worked every day in a specific targeted environment that involved many changes and variations in day-to-day service; changes and variations that these employees and immediate managers had worked hard at meeting with excellence every day for many years. As a result, these line-level employees were a wealth of relevant information. Rather than commission an expensive report from outsiders, it would have been possible to get the same reports from within the company from the personnel who were actually quite close at hand.

We hire outside consultants because they bring in a fresh, concise view that usually has no hidden agendas attached. This a good and useful practice. But sometimes, an outside agency is too divorced from the inside working of a business to enable the best advice to be provided. One thing I learned well in reading about business decision making in my Google search; to arrive at the proper decision it is crucial to have the right balance of many varying factors. The right balance of executive input, the right balance of outside objective input, and the right balance of internal experienced input, and more. Essentially, the right information from the right balance of sources.

With consultant companies and experts close at hand it is easy to forget that the diamonds in the rough represented by our local staff should never be overlooked. In addition, not only can we get relevant information from our personnel staff that can at the least increase profitability and at the most maybe even save a line of business, but when employees are sincerely asked for their input, they feel valued and more important and therefore much more satisfied with their jobs. Essentially this translates to a winning hand all around.

Diamonds in the rough are not recognizable by the untrained eye. They actually look like average worthless rocks or pebbles. It takes training, teaching and professionalism to spot a diamond in the rough and extract it to gain great wealth. The same goes for mining our employee knowledge. It takes training, experience and professional understanding to allow us to extract the right info and use it to gain great profitability.