Decision Making: The Pitfalls of ‘Over Correcting’

Pleasure & Pain – The Heart of Decision Making

At our most basic fundamental level, human decision making is driven by two things:  moving away from pain and moving toward pleasure.Pleasure and Pain

Within the personal development literature, there is a very compelling argument that ‘towards’ goals are more emotionally compelling than ‘away from’ goals.  In other words, that if we want to change our circumstances, identify what it is you do want instead, rather than focusing on what you don’t want.

Skip Prichard wrote a very compelling blog post about this where he explored why this is – in particular, he notes that ‘toward’ goals seem to be more energising, and that ‘away from’ goals don’t address the root causes of the pain, which can actually end up following you!

This ‘rule’ applies very well to a great many personal situations:

  • The personal relationships you leave/seek out
  • The jobs you leave/apply for
  • Your financial circumstances
  • Your physical fitness
  • Your habits (smoking, drinking, eating etc)
  • The way you raise/avoid raising your children

In this post, I’ll talk about the way this rule manifests in your professional life, particularly within organisations.  I’ll share five common situations to be on-the-lookout for the ‘over correction’ trap and what to do if you discover you’ve already fallen in!

Decision Making:  Recognising the Over Correction Trap

Over Correction Trap One: Recruitment

One of the most critical and important decisions you make within an organisation is who to appoint to key roles.  Chances are, we’ve all got it wrong from time to time, or inherited the consequences when someone else has!

This is the classic over correction trap: because of your bad experience with a previous employee, you inadvertently seek out a replacement who is the opposite of the departing employee.

Hiring StaffImagine the person who left was a poor communicator, frequently creating conflict by not sharing what she was working on, never delivered a project that ‘stuck’ because she didn’t foster engagement and buy-in, and she never wanted to act until she was absolutely sure that her analysis was accurate.

Now this is a mission-critical role.   Your business depends on it!  You can’t afford to make the same mistake twice!

So you head into the recruitment process seeking someone with strong communication skills, relationship management skills, and an action orientation.  Sounds great! What could possibly go wrong!

In you desire to get a better outcome than last time, there is a risk that you over-value these skills by comparison to the previous employee, rather than focusing on what you actually need in the role.

You run the risk of ending up with a super-communicator who focuses exclusively on building networks and relationships, who relies on gut-feel and stakeholder feedback, rather than analysis, to solve problems and guide decisions.  This could be just as bad as what you had before!

Over Correction Trap Two: Contract Design

Vendors!  We’ve all had a bad experience with a vendor that just doesn’t seem to understand what you need, or who speaks a completely different language to your company.  It’s frustrating, time-consuming, and can be incredibly expensive!Vendor Contracts

So you’ve just managed to rid yourself of a tricky vendor – perhaps the contract came up for renewal or maybe the vendor could no longer provide the service you need.  Whatever the reason, don’t design contractual performance indicators based on what your previous vendor failed to do!

I once took on the challenge of rescuing a software based service delivery platform that was failing miserably, and when I read the (nearly 100!!) Key Performance Indicators in the contract, they were all identifiable as things that the previous vendor had not done well or delivered inconsistently.

Yet the new vendor’s service bore no resemblance to the old service, and many of the KPIs were meaningless.  Not a great position to be in when you have 100,000 people relying on your service to deliver for them every fortnight!

Over Correction Trap Three: Customer Service

Let’s face it – customers can be tricky!  Some can be a down-right pain!  Maybe you’ve even had a customer who has actually cost you far more than their value due to their demanding expectations!  You delivered, but they maintain it isn’t what they wanted, they want you to make it right, they want to complain about the sales rep, they want to complain about the fine print, they want to give the product back and expect a full refund – and then they threaten to tell 73 of their friends unless you send them a $100 Amazon Voucher!   Talk about entitled!Customer Service

You want to avoid that happening again, right?

So you tighten up your processes a little.  You change the wording in your disclaimer, and make it more prominent.  You ask your reps to be a little more discerning in screening prospects.  You tweak your website to try and filter out this type of customer before they even hit the “checkout” button.

The consequence?  You don’t notice immediately, but you start to lose good sales reps, or leads start to decline, or profits start to fall.

You’ve successfully made it so hard to purchase your product or service that you’re losing great customers just as frequently as you are avoiding the bad ones!

Over Correction Trap Four: Internal Policies and Procedures

Someone stuffed up.  The unthinkable happened.  A mess up at work that caused major disruption, cost (time and money) and distracted everyone from what they should be doing.

Perhaps someone came to work reeking of alcohol.  Or one of your managers stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the company.  Or any number of other serious events that can go wrong.Red Tape

You deal with the situation at hand.  Then what?  Naturally, your mind turns to how can you prevent it from happening again.

So you review your policies and procedures.  You notice that the Code of Conduct isn’t as specific as it should be about alcohol consumption at work.  You spot the gap in the Harassment Policy and close it quick smart.  You tighten up your financial delegations and procurement policies so that no money moves about without at least two other delegated staff approving it…

And before you can say ‘call the lawyers’ something else happens that you didn’t anticipate… And in the meantime, you’ve buried your otherwise productive and high-performing staff in layer after layer of bureaucracy!  Stifling creativity and killing engagement at the same time.

Now I’m not saying don’t be risk aware, you absolutely must take steps to protect your employees, your customers and your company from unnecessary harm, but just be aware that you can’t design a process or a policy to prevent accidents or highly motivated miscreants.

Over Correction Trap Five: Product Design

This one tends to pop-up in one of two ways:  either you have a personal experience of a poorly designed product or service OR you were responsible for bringing one to market.

In either scenario, the desire to engineer out the flaws from the failed product is compelling.  If only it had done this, or offered that, or was pink or purple or shaped like a unicorn…

The reality is, all amazing product/service design starts with the customers’ problems in mind – otherwise, at best, you get incremental improvement on something they already have.  You certainly won’t come up with the next iPhone or Uber.

Help!  I’ve Fallen into an Over Correction Trap!

Well done!  You’ve noticed!  That’s the most important thing.

Once you have recognised that you are being driven by moving away from something, rather than towards something, the rest becomes vastly easier.Decision Making Traps

Focus on what you’re actually trying to accomplish:

  • What are the characteristics of your most effective employees?
  • How could you work with your potential vendors to understand the solutions they are proposing, and ask them how you would know whether they were delivering what you need?
  • Who are your dream customers?  What do they have in common? How do you make it as easy as possible for them to find your products and buy them?
  • Do your corporate policies and procedures encourage the right behaviour rather than focusing entirely on preventing the wrong behaviour?  Do they make it just as hard to do the right thing as well?
  • What do your customers actually need?  What are the problems they need you to solve (possibly without even knowing it themselves)?

By doing this, you move back into a position where energy and inspiration will guide you, rather than fear and avoidance.


What other ‘Over Correction’ traps have you come across?

What did you do about them?

I’d love to hear from you!

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