Are CIOs Guilty Of Ignoring Evidence When Making Decisions?

by drjim on May 4, 2011

CIOs Need To look At The Evidence To Manage Well

CIOs Need To look At The Evidence To Manage Well

As a CIO you are going to be called on to make decisions. A lot of decisions. Do you have any thoughts on what the best way to go about making those decisions would be? In fact, have you ever spent any time thinking about just exactly how you make decisions? When you stop to think about the very big impact that your CIO decisions are going to have, it sure seems like you had better make sure that you are not making your decisions the wrong way…

The Wrong Way To Make Decisions

I’m pretty sure that you think that you do a good job of making decisions. Let’s see what we can do to make you change your mind. I think that you are going to end up having to agree that your decision making can at times follow one of the following processes.

The first is when we ignore or neglect new evidence when we make a decision. We trust what we know – basically what we’ve experienced in the past during our career. What we don’t trust is new evidence based on someone else’s research. The problem with this is that our own experiences are based on a very small sample set whereas research generally is based on a lot more samples and is better quality than our limited experience.

CIOs also like to decide to implement measurement systems and performance management solutions that they’ve implemented in the past. It doesn’t really matter if the solution doesn’t fit the current situation. Since most CIOs manage larger and larger organizations as their careers advance, all too often we try to apply solutions that were a good fit for a smaller organization to our new larger organization. Guess what, it generally doesn’t work.

Every CIO has an IT history. That means that when it comes time to make a decision, our thinking is clouded by what we’ve done in the past. A great example of this is shown in CIOs that have worked closely with databases on their way up the career ladder. For these IT leaders, most problems can be solved by creating another database of some sort. Clearly, we need to find ways to look beyond just what we’ve worked on.

Finally, the IT industry is always full of marketing information on “the next big thing”. It can be very easy for CIOs to be swayed by the last trade rag article that they read when they go to make a decision (“cloud computing” anyone?) What CIOs need to keep in mind is that the correct solution to a particular IT problem may be getting no publicity at all. CIOs need to keep a clear head so that they can sort things out and get beyond the hype and marketing.

The Right Way To Make Decisions

This all leads to a very fundamental question: what is the right way for a CIO to make a decision? The answer is simpler than you might think. What we want to be doing is making evidence based decisions. In the medical field, they define this kind of decision making as being “…the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions…”

Now I know what you are thinking: aren’t we all making decisions this way today? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is no. Once again taking a look at the world of medicine, recent studies have revealed that doctors only base about 15% of their decisions on evidence. The rest are based on old knowledge learned in school, traditions, experience, and info that they’ve gained from vendors.

If doctors can’t make decisions the right way, what hope is there for CIOs? I believe that we can learn to make good decisions. What we need to do is to make sure that our decisions are based on the best logic and evidence that we can collect. We need to always be seeking to gain new knowledge from both inside and outside of our IT departments. Finally, CIOs need to be constantly working to update their skills, knowledge, and assumptions.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs need to do a good job of making the right decision. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to make decisions based on faulty reasoning.

There are a lot of wrong ways for CIOs to make decisions. These include ignoring new evidence, using incorrect past experiences, making decisions based on the CIO’s strengths, and getting fooled by marketing hype.

CIOs need to realize that there are a lot of wrong ways for them to make decisions. Once they understand all of the influences that can impact how they make up their mind, then they will be well positioned to overcome these challenges.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Why do you think that CIOs don’t do a good enough job of trusting new evidence and instead continue to rely on their “gut instincts”?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

An important part of the job of being a CIO is the ability to make good decisions. Lots of good decisions. In fact, the ability to make more good decisions than bad decisions is arguably what allows a CIO to keep his / her job. Now the only problem is that it’s really, really hard to make good decisions all the time. To help you do a better job of this, I’m going to share with you four decision making tools that will help you every time you have to make a decision.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Roberts May 5, 2011 at 11:35 am

Good post. You make some very interesting points about decision making. My only observation is that perhaps CIOs don’t trust the evidence (or data) they are presented with (and therefore choose to ignore it)? I just read a report from Nucleus Research that suggested that the average company makes IT decisions based on data that is only 55% accurate and over 14 months old. If that is true, then you could see why CIOs revert to a reliance on old knowledge, experiences etc…

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Paul: ouch! If they really are making decisions based on old data, I wonder what the CEO is using to make their decisions?

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Vaclav Zid May 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Thanks for the article. Interesting thoughts. Generally, I think, it is not only CIO’s inclination to make a “gut instinct” decision. Maybe it is human natural behavior? Companies are moving on the curve. To remain on the top is hard. When the company is successful, C-level managers can lean towards leaving new evidences out of account. For example during fix-line era many C-level managers of successful telco companies literally refused to accept the fact that cell phones had the potential to destroy their until then successful business. They set up the business, they were successful and they believed in gut instincts.

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