How Intuition And Decision Making Work Hand In Hand

When it comes to intuition and decision making, one approach isn’t any better than the other and this CEO's experience had led him to blend both.We all have our own way of referring to intuition…’something tells me,’ ‘I just have this feeling,’ ‘my intuitive reaction is’ and on and on. Some of us listen to those voices, others of us rely exclusively on facts; one approach isn’t any better than the other and my personal experience has led me to blend both.

While intuition has played a part in the multiple management roles I have had, I share with you here the influence that it has specifically had on hiring decisions I have effected over the years.

I always felt, and still do, that the hiring process must include ‘measurables,’ whether in the form of profile tests, aptitude scores and even job specific skill assessment. I even developed my own list of clinical interview questions requiring scoring answers (on a scale of 1 to 10…), list three things…etc. And yet, usually within the first five to ten minutes of being with a candidate I developed a sense as to whether the person sitting before me was a ‘keeper’ or not.

Ironically, as I became more aware of that sense my challenge was not to tip my hand to the candidate. On the negative side I did not want to cut an interview short and disrespect the candidate by doing so nor did I want to tip my hand that the interview was successful and raise expectations of compensation beyond the level that had been set!

Two examples, two different outcomes:

• Screening controller candidates for a client company I interviewed a technically qualified individual who had a decade plus experience with a large public company and most recently a few years’ experience with a smaller one. After some general questions and a review of specific work responsibilities I pressed as to why the candidate had left the larger company. Response – and I’ve heard it many times before from others…’uncomfortable with the direction the company was moving in.’ Sometimes I take a pass on that response if I know about the company, sometimes not. In this case, my intuition told me to bore in deeper.

It took some effort but eventually the candidate told me that in the absence of his boss, he had been asked to withdraw $10,000 cash from the bank. The cash was then ‘gifted’ to a visiting politician (apparently not the first time) and law enforcement closed in.  The candidate asserted that he had been made the ‘fall guy’ and was fired and then arrested.  Before trial, he succeeded in getting a job with the smaller company and after standing trial and being sentenced to six months in jail and probation, his new employer stuck with him, even visiting him in jail on weekends to discuss company financial matters.

When released from jail the candidate returned to work.  Now, after two years with the new employer I asked…’why would you even consider leaving an employer that supported you the way he did?’  Flippant answer —‘His wife and I don’t get along that well.’  End of interview!

• Similar circumstances, different outcome. In this case, the controller candidate had worked for one company for nearly twenty years but was now unemployed. Again, the non-introspective response as to why he was no longer with the company was something like… ‘they were starting to go in a different direction.’  Red light!

I didn’t have to press hard on this one. After a few more questions the candidate slumped in his chair and put it all out there. Every Friday he would go to the bank and withdraw money from his personal account for the weekend. One particular Friday he was too busy to do so. He worked in a cash heavy business and one of his responsibilities was to make the night deposit.  On the Friday he didn’t get to the bank to make his personal withdrawal he ‘withdrew’ a few hundred dollars from the company’s night deposit. My immediate response was, ‘how many more times did you do that?’ and his answer was ‘three.’

The candidate was devastated and after composing himself said, ‘look, I know I’ve blown this interview but can you give me any advice as to how to deal with this when it comes up in future interviews?’

My reply was twofold.  First, I counseled that it’s best to be forthcoming.  Not doing so would work against him if his circumstances had to be dug out, as with me, or worse, discovered after he was hired.  Second, following my intuition, I told him that he wouldn’t have to worry about that for now; I was going to recommend him for hire with the condition that he not be responsible for cash for at least the first year!  He was hired and was a loyal and contributing manager for the next eighteen years until the company was sold.

We can’t be right all the time but there are times that intuition helps us make the grade!  Lessons learned.

Read more: Hit A Plateau On The Way To The Top? Rest But Recalibrate

Fred Engelfried
Fred Engelfried is Director/Chair of North Coast Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary Lewis Tree Service, Inc. He has been a member of the board of directors of Lewis for over 20 years, and for 10 years prior to that worked with the company intermittently in various consulting capacities. He also is President of Market Sense Inc., a participative management firm that has served more than 100 regional clients over 35 years.