In Judgment Calls: 12 Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams that Got Them Right, Thomas Davenport and Brook Manville preach the virtues of Great Organizations — organizations that build the ongoing capability to make great decisions. These organizations employ sound decision making processes, including investigating multiple alternatives, seeking out dissent, and fostering a decision culture of inquiry rather than advocacy. Below, the authors consider good organizational judgment in the case of Cognizant Technology Solutions.
More often than any of us might care to admit, the course of human affairs relies on great judgment. History still puts the Great Man (or, less common, the Great Woman) on a prominent pedestal. Management theorists still praise the solitary, heroic leader. We offer this book as an antidote for, and even the counter to, the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance. Instead of Great Men, we’ll preach the virtues of Great Organizations — organizations that build the ongoing capability to make great decisions again and again, reflecting the judgment to more consistently than not make “great calls” in difficult situations. Great Organizations expand the number of people involved in important decisions, because they know that while individual humans are fallible, in the aggregate they are usually more effective. They tap into their employees’ (and customers’ and partners’) broad range of expertise, and they ask for their opinions; they deliberate and problem-solve toward a better answer, instead of “going with the gut.” They also employ data and analysis to make decisions, because they know that on the whole, the scientific method is the single best guide to decisions and actions the world has ever known. They employ sound decision- making processes, including investigating multiple alternatives, seeking out dissent, and fostering a decision culture of inquiry rather than advocacy. When such organizations employ these approaches on an ongoing basis, we call it good organizational judgment.
Patterns of Change in Today’s Organisations
A sea change is under way in many organizations today, as we observe where and from whom judgment is valued, and how it gets exercised in contemporary decision making. The changes—decision making more among frontline workers, more distributed, more team based, and so forth—are consistent with the decline of the Great Man and the rise of the Great Organization and good organizational judgment. At least four major trends are beginning to shape a new pattern that we think will define good decision making in the future:[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
• The recognition that “none of us is as smart as all of us.” Social media, prediction markets, involving customers in product development—all of these are evidence that leading organizations want to tap the wisdom of the crowd, as Jim Surowiecki put it in his seminal book. While involving multiple people in decisions can be unwieldy and doesn’t always yield a better outcome, it is often both possible and likely to yield a better result.
• The second trend is tapping not just the wisdom of the crowd, but the leadership of the crowd. While hierarchy and leadership from CEOs and presidents are not going away, there are increasing settings in which “collective leadership” is being employed. Of course, we are all familiar with the “open innovation” technologies of Linux and Firefox, but that is only one model. As Mehrdad Baghai and Jim Quigley, the former CEO of Deloitte, have noted in a recent book, there are a variety of collective leadership “archetypes” based on whether the work structure is emergent (as in, for example, community organizing with volunteers) or directive (as in the relationship between a general and soldiers), and whether the work itself is scripted (as in an orchestra) or creative (as in an improv play). These dimensions open up multiple ways for many to work as one, and for organizations to benefit from leadership and decision making by multiple contributors. This means, of course, that the organization would also benefit from efforts to improve the decision-making capabilities of its collective leaders.
• The use of data and analytics to support — and sometimes actually make — decisions. Intuition will never vanish — nor should it — but there is plenty of evidence that when data or scientific evidence is available, they lead to better decisions than intuition alone. Some organizations are “competing on analytics,” while others are simply using them as an occasional aid to better decisions. It may be romantic to believe that we can “thin-slice” our way to better decisions, as Malcolm Gladwell argues in Blink, but the fact is that good decisions typically require systematic analysis. Even some of Gladwell’s examples of supposed thin-slicing actually used detailed analysis—such as the marriage scientist John Gottman. He can tell you in a few minutes of observation whether you are likely to stay married to your spouse, but he can only do so after decades of behavior and speech coding, and deep statistical analysis of it.
• The fourth relatively new factor is one that has continued to alter so many aspects of business and life more generally: information technology. It doesn’t create better organizational judgment directly, but it’s definitely an enabler of the other changes we have mentioned. While early applications of IT have primarily been about better transactions, over the last decade or so they have firmly entered the realms of knowledge, insight, and judgment. Technology makes possible the changes above of increased participation and analytical decision support. It also allows for the capture and distribution of many forms of explicit and even implicit knowledge. While judgment has historically been a subject that addressed human rather than technological capabilities, no current account of the nature of judgment would be complete without significant mention of the latter’s role.
All of these changes come at a time when external conditions in the world have made getting decisions right more important than ever. Businesses face ever-higher levels of competition, and in a climate of increasing economic uncertainty and volatility, markets and customers move faster than ever before. Further, the same technologies that make it easier to tap collective wisdom within organizations also create more transparency into them; the punishment for getting big decisions wrong is swift and stern.
Of course, many things haven’t changed in the world of organizational judgment. As we hope our stories will demonstrate, good judgment and consistently good decision making require such eternal verities as good leadership, strong culture and values, accountability, and good decision processes. These are widely emphasized in the decision-making literature, but rarely in combination with the four new factors that have transformed the judgment environment.
Cognizant: How Will All These Daily Decisions Get Made?
Employees at Cognizant Technology Solutions, a large provider of information technology services, had a minor but annoying problem to solve on behalf of their client. Cognizant’s client, a global manufacturing company with its headquarters in the United States, had adopted a corporatewide system for logging, tracking, and resolving customer complaints. Most business units were using it successfully, but the client’s Korean business unit was resisting use of the system. That unit had previously implemented a different application for complaint management. Corporate executives at the client, who wanted to monitor the frequency of customer complaints across the entire global firm, had insisted that the Korean business unit supply its complaint data for the corporate system. However, Korean managers felt that their local system was better suited to their unit’s needs and customers, so they didn’t want to give it up. In order to comply with the requirement from corporate, Korean personnel were entering the complaints into their own system and reentering them into the corporate system. This resulted, of course, in duplication of effort.
Cognizant supplied not only consulting and systems integration services to this client, but also a system by which Cognizant employees could propose ideas and solutions to the client’s problems. Called the Idea Management System (IMS), it was a component of a broader work management and idea-sharing system that Cognizant used internally called Cognizant 2.0 (C2). Cognizant used C2 for a variety of client service purposes, and it had recently been adopted for idea management purposes at this client. It is at the heart of the company’s organizational judgment, allowing Cognizant people all over the world to share their knowledge with each other and communicate via social media, all within the context of performing the work they need to do.
The particular problem at the Korean business unit was posted as an “idea campaign” in the C2 IMS platform, and associates at Cognizant who were familiar with the client’s situation were invited to suggest ideas. From the list of ideas contributed, a proposal to integrate the local system with the corporate standard complaint management system was taken up for implementation. Thus, the Korean unit’s system was integrated with the corporate system. This enabled a complaint logged in the Korean system to be automatically directed to the corporate system, and reentry of complaints was avoided. The actual complaint resolution workflow was managed in the corporate application, and the status on the complaint was updated in the Korean system. Thus, the goal of top management was achieved without disturbing the existing process at the Korean unit. Productivity was improved, manual reentry errors were eliminated, and two thousand users have benefited from the system interface. In all, $11,600 was saved.
IMS has been used to capture and track many other innovations by Cognizant associates at the same client. In total, the innovation efforts undertaken through IMS at that client have reaped rich business benefits. All 375 Cognizant associates on the account received information about innovation and the use of IMS, but 14 of them were trained extensively as idea champions. During the past year, IMS has provided a platform for 11 idea campaigns in which 310 associates contributed a total of 1,119 ideas. From this total, 124 idea proposals were identified as having the potential to be implemented, of which 75 were approved by the client and 70 eventually got implemented. All this ideation resulted in $1,643,536 of benefits for Cognizant and $1,585,880 worth of benefits to the client. And that’s just one client in one year. Cognizant’s objective with IMS was to help its clients find solutions to many such small innovations, and some large ones. It uses other aspects of C2 internally to solve the daily technical problems resulting from the implementation of complex systems in large, global organizations.
A Typical Technical Problem at Cognizant
On a recent Microsoft client/server development project with a retail client, both onshore and offshore (India-based) Cognizant resources were working on the client system. However, software deployment had come to a halt because of a technical problem at the client site. The software system developed could not upload large documents. The key functionality implemented in the system was sharing design specifications for products to be sold across the client’s geographical units. Since many of the documents shared within this organization were large files with graphics, it was imperative to solve this issue. The onsite Cognizant project manager decided to use C2 to solve the problem. The first thing she did was to search the C2 software component database and locate a component that could potentially solve this problem. Upon further examination, however, she discovered that no existing component fit the unique needs of this situation, including dealing with multiple versions of Internet browsers and Web servers, handling multiple languages, and dealing effectively with constraints arising from very low bandwidth in some countries.
Since these issues required deep expertise, she decided to tap into the wisdom of the community to solve the problem. Using the process template defined within C2 for dealing with help requests, she opened a ticket by initiating a new request and wrote a short description of the problem. Since this problem had impacted the delivery schedule, she classified it as being of top priority. Based on the workflow defined in the system, C2 posted the problem on a Cognizant forum called AskGuru that aimed to address such issues. The question was tagged as dealing with retail, performance management, and Microsoft .NET (a framework for building Microsoft Windows applications) issues. When this question was posed, no one responded initially because few developers had any experience working on projects that had to deal with such a requirement. Seeing that this was an urgent production issue with a client implementation and one that hadn’t been answered in a day, C2 automatically escalated the problem to a moderator. The moderator, after understanding the requirement, helped connect the developer with the right .NET architects, who suggested specific modifications to the reusable component for multigeography support. The moderator also involved the performance engineering team to measure and suggest changes to the design of the component, and provided a solution involving mirroring and replication across servers. A set of retail business analysts were also consulted to ensure that the new approach would have no negative impact on the business process; they also identified aspects of the process that could be accommodated through background processing requiring no telecommunications. Each associate involved in answering the question collected WAH points (similar to frequent-flier points that can be redeemed for gifts). The on-site team couldn’t use the solution immediately, as they had some remaining questions regarding multilingual support. Since every posting on C2 has the associate’s profile information, the on-site team was easily able to track down the Microsoft .NET architect and solve the problem. Once the problem was solved, the project manager answered a feedback survey and closed the ticket.
Cognizant Technology Solutions Background
Cognizant Technology Solutions was launched in 1994 out of a restructuring of Dun & Bradstreet Corporation. It was spun off as a publicly held company in 1998. Cognizant’s strategy was distinguished by several distinctive capabilities, including the following:
• A strong orientation to vertical industry client sectors
• Strong client relationship focus
• An on-site/ offshore global delivery model
• A broad range of IT and business servicesWhile other firms also possessed some or all of these attributes, the combination of their early, widespread adoption and disciplined execution at Cognizant had led to a successful and fast-growing firm—evidence of a good strategy and organizational design, and of effective day-to-day decision making and execution.
Reflections on Cognizant’s Organizational Judgment
In a far-flung global organization like Cognizant, turning individual judgment into organizational judgment has to go beyond face-to-face interactions. Information technology is the only possible route to linking over one hundred thousand minds. C2 is one of the most innovative tools in any organization for creating that linkage. Cognizant not only has employed social media and knowledge management tools to improve day-to-day decision making and organizational judgment, but has done so in a way that improves productivity and performance. Some of the most powerful aids to organizational judgment involve the combination of structured work process tools with social tools for knowledge sharing and collaboration; we call this combination “social + structure.” Cognizant’s C2 “platform” for knowledge workers is truly a platform; it is used for a variety of purposes that benefit both Cognizant and its clients. Of course, the usual warnings apply about the role of technology by itself. Social and collaboration technologies like Cognizant’s are only successful when the organization already has a culture of participation. Senior managers have to support and model not only the culture, but also the direct use of these technologies, in order for both to be successful.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got them Right by Thomas H. Davenport and Brook Manville. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.
About the Authors
Brook Manville is Principal of Brook Manville LLC based in the Washington DC area. Previously a senior executive in media, software, professional services and non-profit organizations, he today provides strategic and organizational advisory to mission-led organizations around the world: www.brookmanville.com
Thomas H. Davenport is a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, the President’s Distinguished Professor of IT and Management at Babson College, and a research fellow at the MIT Center for Digital Business. He is also a senior advisor to Deloitte Analytics and the cofounder and research director of the International Institute for Analytics. Davenport is the coauthor of Competing on Analytics and Analytics at Work.