If you were selling a car that was worth $10,000, how much would you ask for it?

When I pose this question in a training session, there are all sorts of answers. “$10,000,” say most. “I bet I could get more,” say others – a common response when working with salespeople. And there’s the dreaded answer, “It depends.”

I dislike “it depends,” because it is so vague, so I persevere and counter with, “Depends on what?”

“How much the other person is willing to pay,” the learner says, or, “How many potential buyers there are.”

Needing to push the learners a bit more, I ask the room, “Why would some be willing to pay more? And are there circumstances where you’d accept less? What if you needed cash quickly for some reason?”

The Right Decision, In Context

The car question is all about the “it depends” factor. Professional decisions take place in context. When choosing a partner or supplier or sourcing a component, there is much more to consider beyond the spreadsheet. What’s the cultural fit? How desperate are we for the component? Do their values align with ours? If so much of our decision-making falls into the “it depends” category, how do we know which decisions are in the best interest of the business?

Employees participate in a variety of training programs and exercises. Unfortunately, they are rarely built around awareness or in the context of the situations the learners face on a day-to-day basis. When training uses a scenario-based context – recreating situations that the learners would face – employees are able to see a real correlation to their work.

For example, after embracing remote working, several of a company’s teams now work outside of the office. Managing this transition took time and involved an investment, and it was trickier because most of the remote employees are external-facing. During the transition, productivity fell by 8 percent overall and by 17 percent for some teams. Two members of one remote team gave ad hoc advice to customers relating to inquiries regarding a product line that they were not qualified to speak on. There was no guarantee that their advice was accurate or that it could not be misinterpreted.

Consultants listed a series of assertions and asked the team whether the statements were true, false or not known, so individuals could process the potential impact of the given scenario:

  • Where productivity fell, it is fair to conclude that the roles were not appropriate for remote working.
  • The risk this breach represents is unacceptable, and we recommend temporarily ending remote work for the team in question.
  • Other teams within the business unit are looking to adopt similar working arrangements. The cost-benefit analysis should incorporate the potential benefit from alternative uses of office space.

This type of scenario training connects individuals to a situation and asks them to make a judgment call. In actual practice, the results were revealing. While there was much agreement across the team, there was also disagreement – often on serious issues, such as regulations, policy or commercial judgment. These types of differences can lead to (at best) poor business decisions or (at worst) regulatory or legal action. When asked why they made particular judgments, responses were familiar: “Well, it depends.”

While this example may capture some of the situational ambiguity of decision-making, there is still something missing.

The Hidden Ingredient: Confidence

The key to good decision-making lies not only in the knowledge of the facts, or even situational factors that may influence those facts, but in how confident you are in that knowledge. To capture this element, we must add a second dimension to assess employee understanding. As well as assessing a statement, it is equally important to understand the level of confidence in their assessment. Are they 100-percent confident in their answer? Only 80-percent confident? Or even less?

Target, Tailor and Contextualize Training

Assessing competence and confidence allows organizations to identify employees whose judgment is aligned with the business strategy and values and who are highly confident in their judgments. These people represent best practice.

However, identification of people who are misaligned, and areas where misalignments emerge, is just as important. Training and development will be most impactful when it is targeted at those in need and in the identified areas. Running this sort of assessment with workforces in the hundreds will result in significant savings in time and money. With workforces in the thousands, the savings in time and money are substantial.

If your aim is to align your people’s decision-making to support the business’s strategy, you’ll need to give them the training and support they need to make the right decision. And if reducing your learning and development spend by implementing efficient and effective training solutions is music to your ears, you may find that the scenario-based approach to collecting data and structuring your training is an advantageous first step.