Ready, fire, aim; more haste less speed

I’ve always been confused by the idea of “more haste, less speed,” never really having understood the difference between haste and speed. More resonant to me has always been the expression “ready, fire, aim.” In a previous job it was the stock phrase used by a boss when he felt a project hadn’t been adequately planned, when analysis was weak or objectives had been poorly defined. “That was a bit ‘ready, fire, aim’ wasn’t it Laura?” wasn’t something I relished hearing.

I’m reminded of this phrase as we look at the headlines speculating on job losses and relocations as a result of Brexit. On the one hand we’re facing massive uncertainty, there isn’t yet a plan. On the other hand, some businesses are seemingly leaping to some big decisions. And our own polling last week has shown that as HR practitioners, we’ve been quick to reach conclusions as to the impact of Brexit. 70% of respondents to our poll last week believed that the Brexit outcome would either weaken, or significantly weaken, morale. Less than 50% of respondents felt it was too early to know how the outcome would impact recruitment, with 14% already anticipating a recruitment freeze.

At the CIPD (as I hope you’d expect!) we’re always interested in the human side of any business. And although decisions about relocations or job cuts are discussed in the media as “business decisions,” they are of course decisions being made by mere mortals. Our research insight on decision making sheds some light on what we’re witnessing and experiencing post the referendum. Having just swotted up on the topic, here are the things I’d suggest it’s worth bearing in mind over the next few volatile months:

1. We like certainty: The certainty effect describes the bias whereby we strongly favour a certain outcome in comparison with highly likely outcome. So we might rush for certainty, the comfort of a decisively drawn up plan, rather than live with uncertainty for any longer than we must. How many of us rushed to action, shocked by the Brexit result? Here at the CIPD, many of my colleagues remarked how reassured they felt the minute that they threw themselves into blogging, polling and planning how we could support our members.
2. We don’t evaluate outcomes dispassionately: “Losses loom larger than gains.” In the same way as losing a £20 book token given by a great aunt four years ago causes us way more pain than the joy of finding £20 in the pocket of an old pair of jeans, does the – as yet unevaluated - risk of financial loss or loss of key EU staff feature so disproportionately that our response is skewed almost to the point of delivering a self-fulfilling prophecy?
3. We’re very creative, sometimes unhelpfully so: Research shows that we don’t apply a purely “rational” approach to interlinking facts. We flesh out facts or evidence with general knowledge or assumptions. So our decisions (and scarily this research was based upon jury behaviour!) are based upon a blend of evidence and an account that our mind has busily been creating in the background. Something to watch out for in uncertainty; how much are we filling the gaps to compensate for unfolding or inadequate knowledge?
4. We’re humans, not robots: Tired, anxious or stressed? Our brains can get fatigued, worn out with repeated decision making and this fatigue can influence later decisions, often negatively. Frequently, it’s the task after the “critical task” that suffers. So if you’re meeting your team or managers to make critical decisions about Brexit (or indeed about anything else - there’s more to life after all!), think about when you call the meeting, the atmosphere you create and whether those around you are in the right frame of mind to consider, reflect and decide. Extra biscuits aren’t necessarily the answer!

But in and amongst all these heeds for caution, there’s good news. We can get better at decision making. And let’s face it, making good decisions in uncertain times is never going to become a redundant skill. Expert decision making usually means very detailed knowledge of common or repeating situations. Templates start to form in experts’ minds that they can call upon to organise apparently disconnected facts. So perhaps this is one of those times where it’s worth seeking out those who’ve “seen it all before.” And taking their learning and making it yours. Whether it’s how your business responded to the global financial crisis in 2007/08, or creative approaches you or colleagues have taken in the past to boosting morale in your workforce, seek out that wisdom and let it help form yours. Then share it generously with those around you – a source of calm and good judgement in turbulent times.

“Experts” have taken a bit of a bashing over the last few months. But I’d say expertise in human and organisation behaviour, how we and our colleagues and bosses respond to threat, change and incentives, is worth having. And there’s so much to learn, and such a huge and positive difference to make to peoples’ lives when we get it right.

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