What does it mean to be a manager? Is it a list of attributes or a specific process? In efforts to help managers manage better, intricate systems have been implemented, but there’s still no real precision around what it truly is to manage. In fact, there’s not even any research to support quantification of managerial effectiveness at all. So how important is the unquantifiable to management? When it comes to decision-making, there is no substitute for managerial judgment.

A common approach to decision making is to create systems designed to support managers by making things more objective. Performance management is a perfect example where companies spend tons of money developing forms, processes, guidelines and checklists only to be disappointed with the results. The idea is that managers sit down with employees and say, “Based on this checklist and these steps, it’s quite clear that you met or didn’t meet these objectives.” At its most basic level, this approach to performance management is a crude form of score keeping and not actual managing.

Objective decision-making has also been applied to the hiring process. Filling a vacant position has been transformed using a variety of resources to make the process as neutral as possible. Government regulations and fairness in hiring initiatives, while well intentioned, help to drive this approach. But unfortunately, it’s counterproductive because there are simply too many factors involved in terms of understanding a candidate’s capabilities, skilled knowledge, work ethic, or previous work experience, and how this information is relatable to an available position. In almost all cases, trying to quantify prospective employees down to 17 factors, weighing them scoring them, and adding them up to select the candidate with the highest score doesn’t make sense.

Stalled Decision-Making: Paralyzing the Organization

The essence of the manager’s job is to take all of the information available into account and use managerial judgment (within the context and boundaries set by a superior) to make a decision. Managers who lack the understanding that judgment is a key part of their job have the tendency to not make decisions, to continue collecting information from objective means. Some strike a committee to help work through the problem; others hire a consultant to do research. The effect? The whole organization becomes paralyzed simply because someone didn’t make a decision that was necessary to make.

Supporting Managers in Using Managerial Judgment

People that rise to higher levels in the organization typically get there because they have intuitively come to the realization that they’re not going to have all the information they need to make a decision and will instead, make the best call they can with the information they do have. They rely on managerial judgment to make decisions, allowing them to move forward. The key is in providing support to help managers understand that their fundamental role is to use judgment to make decisions.

Managers have the skills, expertise and a level of capability that has matured over the years. In my experience as a manager, every time I have gone against my gut feeling – whether it’s with hiring someone new, or spearheading a new project – I have regretted the decision. There are unquantifiable aspects of management that in every case you need to be able to rely on. That isn’t to say that gathering information and establishing feedback loops isn’t important. But a good manager needs to find the balance. With too much information, too many opinions and too many points of view, the way forward may become cloudier rather than clearer. The key is that manager’s need to manage by relying on their own judgment. Get that balance right and the result will be the best decision.