During a major consulting assignment, I asked the CEO what it takes to be successful, no matter what the function or level. His answer was simple yet provocative: SOUND JUDGMENT.
His rationale was that most people show the usual attributes that are required, like skill, knowledge, experience, performance and so on. But the elements that move talented people up the organization are those that demonstrate an unerring sense of good judgment. Over the years, I’ve found this insight to be true.
I’ve seen talented and experienced managers make bad judgments based on faulty assumptions, incorrect information or a destructive attitude. Most of the judgment calls that negatively affect careers are caused by not understanding the dynamics of change:
- A CHANGE OF MANAGEMENT – By far the most common factor affecting judgment within an organization is when there’s a change in top management or boss. When the management of an organization changes, so does many of decisions points and judgment factors that normally formed the base of actions in the past. Judgments that were made before the change may have been applauded, but now those same judgments may be questioned, criticized or even reversed. Example: When a top manager creates a highly participatory organization, and then is replaced with a new executive that has an autocratic and controlling management style, there’s usually trouble ahead. The reverse is also a problem: From top-down directives to bottom-up participatory.
- A CHANGE OF STRATEGY – When events negatively affect results, there follows a change in strategy, style or direction. Judgments are affected in that decisions that were simple before are now complex. Example: When in a growth mode, revenue was the primary driver. As operating results begin to slide, cost savings or expense elimination becomes the driver. There may be a need to cut staff or the timing of staff reductions. Waiting too long and those judgments will be questioned. The reverse is also true; moving from cost cutting to an expansion will affect judgments about strategy.
- A CHANGE OF STANDARDS – Whether we like it or not, standards of performance for organizations and people need to keep rising in order to keep up with the changing world. Judgments have to be made about staffing, training, technology, financial support, products, services, and many more decision points. Example: When the skills or experiences of employees fall behind the marketplace, new standards have to be implemented. Technology upgrades are one of the many standards of concern, but also growth itself. When a company is growing at 20% or more a year, most all systems and practices have to be redesigned every 3 to 4 years to accommodate a doubling of the company’s size and complexity.
Sound judgment never goes out of favor no matter the industry, function or personal style. It’s the inflexibility of an individual that causes careers to hit the wall. It’s a matter of fit.
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