It’s just a matter of time, isn’t it? With every persona, real and fictional, someone gets the notion to write a book of lessons we can learn and apply to management. Considering how fast the latest Harry adventure has jumped off the shelves, I suspect that right now someone is working hard to turn Harry’s wisdom into our next agenda for organizational salvation.
Are there some potentially valuable insights we can gain from the wizard? That remains to be seen. What we do know, though, is that with people decisions, unlike with other areas of business where information is more factual, fiction already abounds and much is open to personal interpretation. Decision-makers and decision-influencers operate within their own reality. That’s the “art” part of management, and for many in the role, it is a much greater decision factor than is “science”.
This license to interpret reality and create personal decision-making rules is one of the primary causes of poor management decisions, and is obviously very costly. But the way it plays out is subtle and not always that visible to other people.
For example, a manager believes certain things about behavior, interviews a candidate, and makes a decision based upon those beliefs. Because evaluating candidates is a subjective process, and because that manager is responsible for the performance of whoever is hired, who’s to argue? Similarly with employees – a manager makes a placement or a motivational decision within a framework of personal beliefs, and who can say that another course of action would have been preferable?
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression, so I must state unequivocally that I believe that art is every bit as important to management as is science. Personal discretion is fundamental to management and is what distinguishes the front-runners from those in the middle of the pack. As well, I recognize that most managers don’t operate with a completely distorted view of reality. More often, they stake their faith in partial truths that, at least on some level, they can justify when necessary.
This is not a call for tighter controls or more rules as the answer to making better people decisions. I think the answer is knowledge. We must make certain that managers understand and apply what science has taught us about organizational behavior, so that their perceptions of reality are grounded more in science than in myth.