Managerial Gut Instinct: Fact or Fiction?

By Steve Schumacher

It Takes Years To Develop An Instinct In Business, But It Does Happen And Can Serve You Well.

When I graduated from college, I went to work as a financial analyst for a large aerospace company. My whole career was spent looking at spreadsheets, analyzing data, forecasting costs, and oftentimes going “data blind” with all the numbers.

I learned to put business strategy together using numbers and formulas. I was educated to believe in data, and work reinforced that belief. When I got into the consulting business, I carried that foundation in data analysis over to my work with clients. I could see no way to run a business, and make decisions, other than putting together key metrics and monitoring them regularly to see how things were going.

After a couple years of focusing on data and metrics, I met a senior director who was much wiser than I when it came to managing people. He taught me that using data is fine, but a good manager is one that puts his gut instinct into play before making decisions. It’s important to gather all the data you can, but then ask yourself, “Does this make sense at a gut level?” If it does, go with it. If not, rethink your decision.

Over time, I have changed my thinking and have always told my clients to use data, but temper it with a sanity check. Some areas you might consider applying your gut instinct:

Interviewing – I am a big believer in Behavioral Interviewing. Take your job description and make some behavioral questions from it. Ask every candidate the same questions and score their answers 1-5.

Add up the scores and see who did the best. Before you make your decision though, ask yourself if there are some “gut instinct” considerations.

Were they late to the interview? Did they ask some good questions of you, other than salary and benefits questions? How was their body language?

Even though the candidate may have scored high with the questions, if your gut instinct says they are not a good fit, take that into consideration.

Meetings – Yes, have an agenda and send it out in advance. Have a set time to start and finish. Do your best to keep everyone on task.

Make sure there are solid action items and follow-up dates. Every now and then though, the discussion may become more or less significant than you originally thought. In those cases, go with your gut instinct and let the discussion go longer or cut it shorter, based on what your intuition tells you.

Discipline – Certainly, you will have policies and procedures that guide how you deal with bad behavior in the workplace. When giving corrective feedback and possible discipline, check your gut instinct.

Some people will change their behavior after a mild scolding. Others will not until you start a formal discipline procedure. One size does not fit all when disciplining employees.

Positive feedback – You should always look for opportunities to catch people doing things right. Do it right away and be very specific with what the person did and the impact of their behavior.
Your gut instinct will tell you that some people need more positive feedback than others. Stay tuned in to each person and the amount of praise they need to continue their good behavior.

Vendors – I see too many people bring on vendors or contractors because they have the best price or they commit to delivering the product or service faster and/or with higher quality than others.

Test your gut feeling and make sure the contractor is a good listener and can work well with your people. The best price and delivery is worthless if they alienate the employees they have to work with.

In summary, a gut instinct is an essential tool for managers in business. It sometimes takes years to develop. Do not discount what your instincts are telling you in business. Put it into play whenever and wherever you can. It will pay dividends for you and your company. 

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]


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