Today is a big day in the UK with the Chancellor’s budget speech. Whilst he will be laying out what is a set of political policies, much of the proverbial ‘column inches’ will be focused on the underpinning economic facts, figures, and assumptions. In a recent post (‘Are you a ‘digital native’ – and how would you know?‘) I highlighted that one of the impacts of the digital world that we live in is the increasing prominence and expectation that communication is underpinned with data and evidence. The political world has many years of practice in using such ‘evidence’ to justify policy to a wide population, however, often in the business environment there has been more latitude for judgement based decision making.
Whilst both evidence based decision making and judgement based decision making have their place, and in reality are usually blended together, with the increasingly complex and interlinked, dynamic business world there is an increased need for a higher level of evidence based decision making in many cases.
The real art in developing the optimum balance is, in simplistic terms:
- Firstly, knowing when to use evidence and when to use judgement (which could be argued to be judgement in itself).
- Secondly, the ability to create unbiased and transparent evidence that supports decision making even when it perhaps doesn’t back up the judgement. The key here is that it supports the decision making, rather than making the decision. Arguably, if the evidence makes the decision then there is no need for the human in the decision loop at all.
- Thirdly, the ability to balance risk and opportunity in terms of whether to use judgement over evidence in making the decision.
As I wrote in the previous article the digital world is more that just a world filled with digital gadgets, it is also about a world where we are surrounded by data and figures. Being able to filter, assimilate, and articulate them is increasingly a fundamental skill, however, whilst a generation of ‘digital natives’ are coming into the workforce comfortable with this, there are many who are more comfortable with judgement based decision making.
Developing the skills, competencies, and experiences to thrive in this kind of environment is key to success in the digital world. When I was in the education system the teaching of maths was very much slanted towards the theoretical end of the curriculum, with applied maths focused mainly on engineering/science problems. Today, it’s heartening to see the syllabus moving to incorporate skills such as decision maths and statistics in more prominence.
This highlights a challenge that is two-fold: there is a need to help digital natives to gain the skills to be perhaps ‘less literal’ and enable them to blend evidence with experience; and from the other end there is a need to help people more comfortable with the judgement based approach be more able to articulate the judgement with evidence.
Whilst you can often teach the skills required to underpin evidence based decision making, being able to apply it for successful outcomes is something that requires judgement and therefore has to be developed. Whilst most people would agree that those organisations that make the best decisions are those that perform best over time, there is a disproportionate focus on the teachable elements of this key skill rather than the elements that require development.