Robert Smith

Believe it. Live it! Practising good judgment

The Corporate Communications & CSR team recently sat down with BMMI’s Chief Operating Officer – Contracting & Logistics, Robert Smith, to hear his thoughts about the importance of good judgment in today’s fast-paced and globalised business environment.

Good judgment is always a great thing to have, but why is it particularly important in today’s business world?

I think that with the environment we operate in, particularly in Africa and remote locations, one of the key strengths you look for in management is good judgment. You cannot give some big manual and say this is how you practise it. At the end of the day, you’re faced with so many different things, some of them unpredictable, and you cannot have instructions that cover everything. Good judgment is a crucial human skill that needs to be developed.

So if it’s is a skill, how can it be developed?

Critical thinking is very important. You need to be able to listen to different viewpoints and you need to be able to gather information. And sometimes, you have to do that very quickly. You might have to be listening to what people are saying, extracting the relevant information, assimilating it, judging what’s right and what isn’t, what’s worth listening to and what’s worth discarding. But it doesn’t’ end there, you need to evaluate the pros and cons of that decisions, while not losing sight of your objectives and what it is you’re trying to achieve. You have to always bring it back to your goals and to keep in mind how important your values are. Having a moral and ethical compass is crucial.

How have you developed critical thinking along your career?

When I was a young graduate trainee, my employer would bring me into more senior level meetings and would actually ask about my opinion and input. In those meetings, you could obviously observe, listen and see how a discussion would take place around a particular problem or particular opportunity. You also got to witness how managers would make their decisions. Unfortunately, young people don’t get exposed to that kind of thing very often. And at the same time they must be willing to give their input and be allowed to give their contributions. That way, they can see how the process works, and how people evaluate and make decisions and how they make sure those decisions are within the values of the organisation.

What else besides critical thinking do you believe people need to develop in order to come to better decisions?

Listening skills are crucial. They help you develop the ability to cut through lengthy conversations and pick up the salient points, as well as the real key things that will help you make this decision so that the judgment you’re taking is the best for the organisation. The old example, taught in many business courses, about picturing a newspaper headline about this decision, remains a great strategy. That helps you think, when you’re in doubt, whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of the line.

As a leader, how do you try to encourage your people to practise sound decision making?

Effectively, at the end of the day, you have to give them the chance to make decisions and judgments. If you believe the judgment they’re taking is wrong, you have to let them know why. That can always be further facilitated by letting people know how you made a certain decision, rather than just saying ‘this is the decision get off and do it.’

How do you know if the decision you’re making is actually based on good judgment?

Every time we do make a decision we try to go through a process. We go through really considering the pros and cons, what might go wrong, whether we have the ability to control the situation, whether we understand or don’t understand. If you simply go forward without a good plan, without knowledge of what you’re doing, and having the right people there to do it for you, then you’re making a bad judgement call.

How do you find a balance between the pressures of making quick decisions in today’s fast-paced business environment and making the right call?

Sometimes you can be pressurized, and sometimes people can say about a manager that they’re not quick in making decisions or they can’t make a decision, or even worse….that they make bad decisions. The key to making a fast and effective decision is that you’ve got to be able to get to the right information quickly, ask the right questions and then assimilate that information in your head and form a decision. Good judgement comes from having the right information and there’s a lot of information out there.

If we’re talking to people starting their careers, are there any more tips you would like to share?

It’s a bit like when you learn to drive your car, at first you’re driving with a great thought process. But after a few years, it becomes almost an instinctual process. It’s the same with decision making. In the beginning, it’s something new, so give yourself a framework that you are comfortable with, which allows you to help make that decision and then test it to see if it’s working. And then adapt it. Don’t overcomplicate it, but just find something that works for you. Keep in mind that good judgment will definitely come with time, the more you practise it the more you’ll perfect it.