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Mihalicz_MistakeIn most organizations, there is a strong temptation to try and simplify processes in the name of fairness and objectivity. The intent is to help create consistency in decision-making, which should make it easier for managers to do their work. While this is a worthy goal, too many procedures, checklists and tools can have negative consequences.

And while the reasoning is valid – the more objective you are, the more fair you are – many managers lack full capability to work in their jobs. Some are missing critical skills or fail to apply themselves, and HR departments feel the need to supplement them with tools to help them do their work.

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Simplicity Often Undermines Judgment

Einstein once said, “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution, and it is always wrong.” He was a firm believer in the notion that we should always try to make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. True to his words, there’s real danger in simplifying organizational processes, because we often push too far. What we find is that many systems are too simple, too checklist-oriented and too procedural, which undermines the ability of managers to use judgment in making decisions.

Human Dynamics and Complex Managerial Work

Checklists are fine for certain procedures, like when a mechanic has finished a repair job and needs to make sure he completed every step. However, when it comes to human dynamics and the process of managing, things are more complex. For example, during a performance review with an employee, there is seldom a finite list of things to discuss, but rather, a variety of ways to provide feedback. Managers need to have diagnostic capabilities to gather information and the ability to use their judgment to help the organization become more effective overall.

With performance management, for example, we want to ensure objective and fair treatment of employees. However, to the extent that we design tools to create objectivity, we undermine the ability of managers to use their diagnostic capabilities. Rather than try and replace the work, what we should be doing is making sure they have what they need to be effective, including the right context from their manager. The takeaway? We need to be careful in how we support our managers and cautious that in our efforts, we do not accidentally replace sound judgment with simplistic checklists.