Updates from McKinsey

Bias busters: Avoiding snap judgments
Despite their best intentions, executives fall prey to cognitive and organizational biases that get in the way of good decision making.
By Tim Koller, Dan Lovallo, and Phil Rosenzweig – The board of a mining company thinks it’s time for a new CEO, one who understands the increased role of technology in the industry and can inspire the next generation of mining leaders. The hiring committee has a few internal candidates in mind—namely, the heads of the copper, nickel, and coal divisions.

All three have similar years and types of industry experience and comparable P&L responsibilities. But the front-runner in the minds of many on the committee is the head of the copper division. After all, copper has contributed the most to the bottom line over the past few years, while the other divisions have been lagging. It must be because the unit head is a tech-savvy people person, with a good understanding of industry trends, they reason. “Seems like a no-brainer,” the head of the hiring committee notes.

But how can the board be sure that it is picking the best candidate for the top job?

These distortions don’t apply only to company performance; the halo effect can also alter how we view individual performance. That’s what happened in the case of the mining company. The front-running CEO candidate’s division had performed well in large part because of a significant spike in the price of copper, something over which he had no control. Yet the halo of high profits shined on the business-unit leader, the hiring committee’s initial impressions of him stuck, and he was appointed CEO.

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Much to the board’s dismay, the new CEO did not demonstrate either skillful use of technology or strong leadership, two capabilities that were critical for this role. Early in his tenure, the company incurred billions of dollars in losses. more>

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