A Blizzard of Bad Judgment


In the past 10 days, much of the country has been blanketed by snow, courtesy of a blizzard that swept through the Midwest and buried the Hogan offices under nearly 30 inches. Stores closed, events were cancelled, businesses sent everyone home, and most of the area hunkered down and braced for the worst. The local meteorologists provided marathon sessions of analysis and updates, warning everyone not to go outside unless absolutely necessary. In the following days, the city cleanup crews described their efforts to clear the streets, noting that the largest obstacle was the number of abandoned cars on the road. This included cars deserted in the middle of the street, on the side of the road, on highway ramps, and just about everywhere.

This made me think about the judgment exercised by the owners of the autos lining the roads. The majority of these vehicles were smaller cars that had virtually no chance of navigating the streets. I assume that most of the owners simply walked home, as they couldn’t have possibly made it far before getting stuck. Was it that they were skeptical and didn’t trust the weather forecast? Did they believe their driving ability was far superior to others? Did they think the warnings and advice didn’t apply to them? Or did they really just not understand that 15 inches of snow was too much for them?

Whatever the case, the same types of characteristics that drive these decisions will influence decision-making and judgment in the workplace. We’ve all encountered the skeptical co-worker that doesn’t trust others and plays political games, the employee who believes that his or her talents are infinitely superior to those around them, the folks that don’t believe the rules apply to them, and the ones that just don’t seem to have the ability to analyze the situation and make good decisions. Often the results won’t be as immediate and obvious as an abandoned car in the middle of the street, but over time the results will become visible and detrimental.

While we can’t dramatically improve other motorists’ skills on the roads, we can identify and target the types of behaviors that lead to these bad decisions in an organization. Many of these characteristics are rooted in our personalities and cognitive abilities. We can screen these characteristics out of candidate pools, or we can raise awareness of these characteristics with current employees and enhance decision-making styles and abilities.