'Whether you think you do or not, you do have a theory of human behaviour. The only choice is in deciding which theory you will use. And the choice is an important one. It will determine how you see people, how you treat them, your assumptions about them - including yourself. It will affect your values, your views about motivation, the quality of your interactions and your leadership.'
- Elliott Jaques
Dr Elliott Jaques was a psychoanalyst by profession. He believed that you don't change organisations by changing people, you change people by changing organisations. Or perhaps you free people to become who they are, by changing organisations.
He had a lot to say about decision making in his book Requisite Organisation. Here is a selection.
'Retrievals and calculations are often confused with decision-making, a confusion which weakens our understanding of true decision-making.'
'All human thinking, and therefore all human work, is a continual and powerful interplay between non-verbal mental processes and the knowledge which we use to direct and focus those processes.'
'The work which you experience as the effort in decision-making is the effort in giving energy and direction to the non-verbal mental processing and bringing or allowing the outcomes into verbalisable awareness, so that they an become part of your knowledge and available for conscious use in problem-solving.'
'Decision-making has to do with human uncertainty:
- It is precisely the uncertainty inherent in human work, the feeling of never being quite sure, that makes you close your eyes and agonise over decisions.
- You do not have all the words, and as you agonise you get hold of raw ideas, clothe them inwards, and dig them from the unverbalised recesses of your mind.
- If you are given tasks of complexity beyond your capability in a role with too long a time-span you become anxious and eventually confused - there is a longer run of uncertainty and more variables than you can cope with.'
'Decision-making and action call for judgement and discretion based upon non-verbal mental work. I term our ability to do this our complexity of mental processing.'
'But never forget, at the actual moment of choice, the choice or decision just gets made, as though on its own, and we become aware of what we have chosen only after we have committed ourselves to some specific particular choice.'
'Skilled knowledge helps to organise and simplify work by enabling a person to carry out parts of a problem-solving activity without having to think about them, thus freeing discretion and judgment which would be otherwise engaged.'
'The important thing is not to confuse the skilled knowledge with the work.
- Skilled knowledge you do not have to think about: work is the part you have to attend to, think about, and make decisions about.
- When you are skilled at touch-typing you no longer have to think about which keys you are seeking - that is automatic: but you do have to think about whatever it is that you are using the typewriter to record.'
'The art of the good society and of the good organisation is to ensure opportunity for the use of their full potential by all of its people.'
'My whole orientation is towards the performance of individuals in carrying out purposeful goal-directed activities.'
'What we all really yearn for is to have work at a level consistent with our current potential and for progression in line with our maturation, and the chance to get the necessary education and training. That is the true democratic dream.'
'What is more, subordinates yearn for someone above them to sit down with them and discuss their careers and opportunities: and this includes not only those with growth in potential ahead of them but also those who know that they have matured to full potential and seek assurance of continued opportunity to work at that level.'
'You have no idea of the positive galvanising effect upon your people of having their intuitive awareness of their own true potential confirmed by understanding managers-once-removed who have been charged with this duty. Indifference is annulled and a flow of creative energy is released.'
'Manifest Organisation: the organisation structure as it is represented on the official organisation chart: at best a very rough approximation to what is actually going on, if you can even make sense of it.
Assumed Organisation: the structure as different people assume it really works; likely to have as many variations as you have people, and produces confusion.
Extant Organisation: the system as it actually functions, as demonstrated by systemic study. It will always be an approximate picture. It requires that you dig in and find who is actually being held acceptable for what, and what authority they are in fact able to exercise in relation to whom and toward what.'
'If you want each and very one of your managers - at all levels and in any and every function - to be able to be held accountable for deciding what outputs each of their immediate subordinates is producing...then you must ensure not only that they have the following minimum authority but also that they have been taught that they have it and have been instructed in how to use it:
- Veto any new appointment
- Decide types of work assignment
- Decide effectiveness appraisal
- Decide removal from role.'
'To ask a manager about specific tasks which she/he assigns to a subordinate comes as an unfamiliar experience for most - and the managers find replying equally strange and awkward until they get used to it.'
'There is a very important point to be noted here, which will save a lot of susbsquent confusion if taken into account.
- Work (and its complexity and difficulty) is not the traversing of known paths.
- The work is to choose pathways or construct new ones, and to adapt them as you encounter unanticipated difficulties in traversing them.
- Obeying known rules and regulations is not work: it does not constitute a problem: deciding how best to obey under particular circumstances may do so, for rules and regulations set boundaries (prescribed limits) within which your choice of pathways is constrained.'