11 June 2017

Decision making - an underrated skill

Today, there is an article in Sunday TOI about maids and the rising class divide in the Indian context. Yet another context is the manager vs worker class in corporations. The former is regarded with a severely jaundiced eye - some even regard managers as the useless bunch who have no talent to speak of and know only to delegate to their underlings. You might think how the two themes above are intertwined. Well, in my opinion, they are because of one distinctive trait that runs amongst employers & managers. And that is the skill of decision making.

I will not argue that there are disparities in society and some employers do treat their employees unfairly. Life is inherently unfair afterall. But what I want to talk about is that no matter how talented or hardworking one may be, 90% of the people do not want to be in the seat for decision making. Hence it is the remaining 10% who eventually call the shots. Its the trait that separates leaders automatically. Ever seen kids playing? The one who decides which game to play or who should play automatically becomes the leader. There are those who propose, there are those who follow. But the one who says decisively (not plaintively or wisely, mind you) gets his way.

In a family fabric too, one often thinks why it is the dad who always gets to decide everything. Or in some cases its the mom or the grandmother etc. This person is automatically regarded as the resident Hitler :-) But no one realizes that this person has taken it upon himself/herself (or sometimes circumstances thrust it upon them) to think what is good for all. Whether its which restaurant to go to for dinner, or which school to send the child to, or where to go for vacation etc. This person has undertaken the not-so-glamorous task of weighing which might be the more successful alternative given a set of people or circumstances (many times in a split second). This person is not only willing to take the blame if the decision falls flat but also has the resourcefulness to do course correction.

Is decision making an inborn trait or something one can acquire? Why is it only there in 10%(or even less) of the population? The reason is simple : Most people do not want to take the blame or responsibility when things go wrong. Everyone wants attention, appreciation, credit. But when there is a chance that you may lose popularity because of something you decided for a bunch of people (and chances are generally high that you will as you can never please them all), only a few people stand up. Also, this kind of responsibility requires one to move out of one's comfort zone. Human nature is such that getting out of comfort zone does not come easily. And usually its the males who do get out of it, women are sheltered in our society right from childhood so it does not come easily to them. Most women do not even want to decide how to get from A to B location, they want someone (husband, father, brother, driver) to plan and execute for them.

Now consider the case of maids & nannies. I've been handling them for the last 20 years. My experience is that their sole purpose is to squeeze as much salary and perks out of the employer as possible. Despite serving for years in the same household, they have not mastered the art of what the employer expects. Without an explicit instruction, is it safe to do something out of their own judgement? Most are too scared of being chided or scolded. Hence, they will go on doing the same thing year on year and keep expecting superior entitlement due to their tenure. In case of the nanny, if the child refuses to eat something, they let it be. There is no attempt to call the employer to figure out what can be given as an alternative. Or whip up some mouth-watering snack themselves to entice the child to eat. Most times, they do not know how to use a phone or how to read food labels. So even if options are available they do not feel empowered to act. They fail to realize that between an adult and a child, the onus in always on the adult to improve the relationship, soothe the child or resolve a problem, even if the adult is a nanny. Another instance with a maid is actually commendable. I once told my cook that I would be getting dhansak from a Parsi colleague that evening. So she need not cook dinner. Now the maid not only knew what dhansak was but had actually prepared brown rice to go along with it for dinner! Definitely exceeded my expectations.

One part of decision making is also action. Sometimes the action involves convincing a difficult person to do something against their wish. This may take a lot of perseverance and negotiation. Now, if its with a child, usually its the mother who does it. But if its with the landlord, then the husband/father does it usually. So the one who has the stomach for that particular task, usually undertakes it. Sometimes the dad has to do it in mom's absence and wife has to do in husband's absence. And that is when they realize that it is not an easy task. Its only when you are in the decision maker's shoes that you understand where it pinches.

As for delegation - Communication, negotiation, decision making requires a lot of time and effort. Many technical folks think that the HR is an easy stream to be in. But the human factor is often the toughest and dealing with different personalities, sometimes across geographies, takes up a lot of bandwidth. In such cases, delegation is the only way these people can find time to take up this additional activity. Delegation is an art and should not be treated lightly. Not everyone can delegate or trust others to do their tasks as well as themselves.

Thus, its easy to comment about people who decide, delegate, boss around. But since majority of the population is not in their boat, they seldom get the credit that they deserve.

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