5 Reasons to Read Judgment Calls

Review of Judgment Calls:  Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right by Thomas H. Davenport (holds President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College) and Brook Manville (consultant and author), Harvard Business Review Press, 2012.

If your organization is mired in a command-and-control hierarchy, this book isn’t for you. However, if you and/or your organization are self-aware and want to tap into the power of effective organizational decision making, there’s much to learn in this book.

The backdrop of the ongoing global economic calamity and the BP oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico prompted the authors to ask why is it “so hard for organizations to do the right thing?” Their search for answers led them to “organizational judgment—the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.”

Judgment Calls:  Twelve Stories of the Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right, contains twelve stories, cutting across a multitude of organizational types and industry sectors (McKinsey & Company, WGB Homes, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, NASA, Partners Healthcare Systems, The Vanguard Group, Media General, The Wallace Foundation, Tweezerman and even ancient Athens), that detail “how particular decisions were made and improved through activities designed to build organizational judgment.”

5 reasons you’ll enjoy this book

1) Focus on capability and possibility. Each of the twelve stories are success stories. There’s no rehashing of failed efforts. Learnings flow from positive efforts rather than sifting through gloomy accounts of leaders and organizations gone wrong.

2) A “work within your culture orientation” rather than proscriptive solutions. As close as the authors get to offering definitive insights is the four-part framework they believe defines “the new paradigm for organizational judgment:”

  • decision making as a participative problem-solving process
  • the opportunity of new technology and analytics
  • the power of culture, and
  • leaders doing the right thing and establishing the right context.

3) Strong emphasis on both-and thinking. Good decision making practices go far beyond either-or thinking to embrace both information and instinct, stability and change, people and process, and what you do and how you do it. The NASA STS-119 story is an insightful look into how an organization rebounded from tragedy, learning how to balance “openness to discussion and debate” with keeping an eye on finding the best outcome.

4) Thorough debunking of the “great man” approach to leadership decision making and an embrace of collaboration. The beauty and power of organizational judgment stems from tapping into collective wisdom:  employees at all levels within the organization as well as informed outsiders. The diversity of thought yields far better solutions than what most “great men” can generate on their own. Dal LaMagna’s use of “community thinking” and open book management contributed to the success at Tweezerman.

5) Sharing through storytelling. While rich with information, Judgment Calls is an enjoyable read. There’s no textbook or academic feel to the content. The stories pull the self-aware reader into possibilities. There’s no pushing to right or wrong conclusions.

We were guided by the belief that the traditional paradigm of decision making—where an all-seeing and wise CEO “makes the call” alone—is being superseded by more participative and data-intensive approaches, and therefore that this concept and capability is something every leader today can benefit from. ~Davenport and Manville



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