BIASES IN MANAGERIAL JUDGMENT – OVERCONFIDENCE

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One way to integrate faith and learning in the principles of management course is to tell short Bible stories or share short biblical wisdom sayings that illustrate some of the principles. This adds to the biblical literacy for students. For some students, understanding the issues that managers and organizations face can add interest to their reading of Scripture. Citing biblical narratives in class may spark a conversation about the biblical perspective on management that otherwise cannot be achieved.

Overconfidence may be the mother of all biases.” (Bazerman & Moore, 2013, p. 14) Furthermore, very few people, if any, escape it. We tend to be too sure of our own abilities, judgments and the accuracy of our decisions. We have little interest in testing our assumptions. We discount or dismiss evidence that is contrary to our own opinions. We think we are better, smarter and more capable than we really are. We think we rank higher than others in certain dimensions of life. We act as if we are sure that we know the truth. Even Christians experience this with their own religious belief structure!

So pervasive and so insidious is overconfidence that people of all ages and experience levels believe that they don’t need to learn anything about it. We tend to disbelieve the research results on this problem. We tend to think that if we learn something about this topic, we haven’t learned anything useful.

When you present this topic in principles of management course, you may very likely encounter students who “zone out” simply because they assume that this topic doesn’t apply to themselves or that it is not practical! Some of the ways to counteract this is to include the following:

  • Tell stories of real businesses whose managers were overconfident.
  • Have students tell stories about other students who were overconfident. It is easier to see the splinter in someone else’s eye than to see the log that is in our own eye. (Matt 7:3-5)
  • Tell a story of when you were overconfident. This shows that it is acceptable to face your own “issues.”
  • Encourage students by letting them know that it is a human problem, not a sin problem and that it is acceptable to face this problem head on by first “owning it.”
  • Tell stories from the Bible where one or more characters were overconfident. This provides a natural segue to discuss issues of faith.

Here are a few examples of Bible narratives that illustrate the problem of overconfidence described in Bazerman & Moore (2013):

Overconfidence In The Bible

  • The people who built the tower of Babel. (Gen 11:1-9)
  • The prodigal son asking for and then wasting his inheritance. (Luke 15:11-14)
  • Lucifer’s belief that he could ascend to be equal with God.  (Isa 14:13)
  • Parable of the man who underestimated the amount of money it would take to construct a building. (Luke 14:28-30)

Reference

Bazerman, M. H. & Moore, D. A. (2013). Judgment in managerial decision making. (8th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Discussion Questions

  1. Ask students to think of other examples from the Bible.
  2. Ask students to reflect on times in their own experience where they have either experienced overconfidence in themselves or in others. This might come in the form of writing on a small card anonymously. Have the cards handed in and then share these with the group. Anonymous sharing protects the ego of students but allows them to learn about themselves and others around them. [Generally, people find it easier to see these biases in other people but not in themselves. We tend to believe that while other people are subject to these biases, we probably are not. This is a function of the Overconfidence bias.]
  3. Where have you seen overconfidence in your parents? In a teacher? In a pastor?
  4. Is overconfidence a sin?
  5. What are the benefits of being overconfident?
  6. Isn’t it true that “ignorance is bliss?” In other words, does it really harm us to be blind to our own overconfidence?
  7. How might overconfidence undermine effective leadership?
  8. As we talk about overconfidence, do you find yourself saying, “I don’t see the relevance of this or the practical value of this for a manager?” What might that thought tell you about your own blindness to this problem of overconfidence?
  9. How might a leader counteract the tendency to be overconfident?
  10. If overconfidence is such a problem, why do we see so many leaders succeeding in spite of it?
  11. Why do we see overconfidence in other people but not in ourselves?
  12. How might overconfidence become a barrier to spiritual maturity?
  13. In what ways, if at all, might overconfidence limit the Christian’s expression of faith in the marketplace?
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QUITTING YOUR JOB FOR FAMILY

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Ask your students to read the short Wall Street Journal article from September 17, 2014 titled “Quit a Job to Spend More Time with the Family? You Bet.”

In interview with management professor Scott Behson at Fairleigh Dickinson University, MongoDB’s CEO Max Schireson explains more about this decision to resign his position as Chief Executive Officer.  Schireson happened to mention his intent to resign when writing a posting for his blog. The news went viral.

Schireson still works for the organization as Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. So he still works following a “normal full time schedule” instead of a “crazy full time schedule.”  His decision came just as his son was on the verge of starting high school. So, one might ask, what did he really give up? For one, frequent cross-country trips from San Francisco to New York.

Mr. Schireson commented that his decision may be easier than for other fathers given the fact that he has had “good fortune” in his career.

Schireson was asked to give advice to other fathers who make it part way up the ladder of corporate success and find themselves at a similar crossroads of decision. His advice:

  • If you think that the next rung on the ladder of success is what you must focus on (and it does require a lot of focus), stay one rung below that while you consider the tradeoffs that will come if you climb one level higher toward success.

Discussion Questions

  1. How should a father manage the stigma of not being ambitious or lacking dedication to his company if he decides to make a change in his career which gives him more time at home with the family?
  2. Is it true that a man will have fewer career options going forward after a decision such as the one Schireson made? If so, so what? What is the value of career options?
  3. Did Schireson really give up that much?
  4. What does “balance” in work-life really mean?
  5. Is balance an achievable goal or is it an illusive target?
  6. Do you truly have balance if you have to give up a lot in order to spend more time with family?
  7. Do some research to find out how various types of people have reacted to Schireson’s decision. Does it matter what other people think about him now?
  8. Consider a father who is in a different situation, maybe a front-line supervisor or team leader in a manufacturing company. His pay is nowhere near that of Mr. Schireson’s. His retirement account may be very small. How might such a person experience the same work-life balance issues? If such a person makes the same decision to step down the ladder of success (or refuse to be promoted to a higher level of responsibility), are they making the same decision that Mr. Schireson made or are they making a different decision?

STRATEGY: COMPETITION IS FOR LOSERS (OR WINNERS?)

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One way to integrate issues of biblical faith when teaching management is to consider a current story and use it as a natural segue to talk about the faith experience of a Christian in the marketplace. Here is an example that you might use when teaching the topic of strategy in a principles of management course.

The September 13, 2014 issue of the Wall Street Journal contains a story by Peter Thiel titled “Competition is for Losers.” In the article Thiel makes some interesting assertions:

  • Big businesses can be bad businesses if they don’t capture some of the value they create.
  • Capitalism and competition are opposites: Capitalism is focused on the accumulation of capital; Competition (at least perfect competition) results in the reduction or elimination of economic profits.
  • All successful companies are different: Each earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition.

The article is a review of microeconomic theory comparing companies that enjoy monopoly power with companies that have no power, i.e., those who are playing in the perfect competition markets.  It is relevant to discussions of organizational strategy. However, apparently content to deal with the extremes of microeconomic theory, Thiel doesn’t comment on monopolistic competition where there is strong competition and opportunities to gain some degree of monopoly (pricing) power.  He also does not comment on oligopolies.

Thiel compares Google with the airline companies that are in perfect competition with each other. He also reviews the point that it is the definition of the market that makes the difference in labeling it as monopoly or perfect competition. This is no great insight. Thiel does not seem to offer the magic formula for knowing the most appropriate way to define a market.

Here are a few Bible verses related to monopoly power:

     Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

     Proverbs 11:26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him, but blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

     Proverbs 23:23 Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding.

Discussion Questions

Assign students to read the story in the Wall Street Journal. The following questions may be used to lead to a discussion of issues related to biblical faith.

  1. Is the comparison between Google and the airline companies a valid comparison?
  2. Google is mentioned as having a 68% monopoly in the Internet Search Engine market. Can you think of companies in other industries that have a monopoly?
  3. Couldn’t one argue that an airline which takes you to a small town where only one airline services really a monopoly for that route? But, if an airline enjoys a monopoly on certain routes to small towns but is in perfect competition on other routes between large cities, is this airline truly in perfect competition?
  4. If someone wrote an article for the WSJ titled “Competition is for Winners,” what might be the thesis of such an article?
  5. Aren’t there other ways that airlines have increased their monopoly power in the face of a highly competitive market?
  6. Thiel seems to suggest that it is in leaving competition behind that a firm becomes successful. Is this really true over the last 150 years of business history in the USA? Aren’t there a few large companies that have successfully played in competitive markets and lived to tell about it?
  7. Couldn’t one argue that competitive markets are good for business, not bad for business as Theil seems to imply?
  8. What is the most appropriate way to define a market in order to determine the degree or monopoly pricing power and/or degree of competition?
  9. What is the Christian view of competition? Do Christians agree that it is best to develop monopoly power or best to avoid monopoly power in business?
  10. Because of the legitimate authority of a manager, the manager has “monopoly power” on doing good to those who deserve it. (Prov 3:27) If the manager who has the power to do good withholds this, how will employees find substitutes?
  11. Why do people curse the organization that has monopoly power? If customers hate companies that get monopoly power, do they also like companies with monopoly power?
  12. One of the mantras at Google is “Do no evil.” Is it possible that Google is the first for-profit company in a free-market economy that has not misused its monopoly pricing power? How is this possible?
  13. The only “commodity” for which the Bible says we should develop a monopoly power is “Truth” (in the ancient Hebrew this word Truth means faithfulness when tested by time and circumstances). See Proverbs 23:23. We are encouraged to keep buying truth but not ever sell it. What would happen in a community if all business owners and managers found ways to develop more faithfulness to promises and faithfulness in relationships?

RESISTING THE DEVIL AS A MANAGER

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One of the grand themes of Scripture is the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, good and evil. We see this conflict played out in stories from Genesis to Revelation.

Believers are asked in the Bible to participate in this conflict. We are to resist the Devil. We are to put on the whole armor of God in preparation for this spiritual battle. Here are a few of the Bible verses that talk about this:

  • The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13)
  • do not give the devil an opportunity. (Eph 4:27)
  • And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; Ephesians 5:11
  • For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God… (Eph 6:12-17)
  • … Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith… (1 Peter 5:8-9)
  • Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean for the Christian manager to resist the Devil? Should this be limited to resisting personal temptations to sin? Or, should the Christian manager resist evil when it comes in the form of organizational policies and actions?
  2. What is the most evil thing you have seen or heard of in a business organization?
  3. Can you give an example of how evil might be exhibited in an organization or in a marketplace? How should the Christian resist this evil?
  4. Is it better just to keep quiet when people do bad things in organizations?
  5. Whose responsibility is it to speak up to people in authority when bad things are done in or by an organization?
  6. Should the Christian resist industry-wide practices that go against the principles espoused in the Bible?
  7. Should the Christian resist evil in the marketplace and expect to keep his job?
  8. What are some ways you can resist evil and still keep your job?
  9. Read the whole passage from Ephesians 6:12-17. What elements of armor listed here are useful for managers?
  10. Jesus once said that we should be wise as serpents but harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). Isn’t it impossible to be harmless and also resist evil?
  11. When Paul the Apostle preached in Ephesus against idolatry, the local artisans who made and sold idols ran Paul out of town. Later Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and encouraged them to expose “unfruitful deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:11) Shouldn’t we expect that if they did this, they would be persecuted also?
  12. Doesn’t resisting evil often lead to persecution (i.e., getting fired)? If so, how can a Christian manager be effective in witnessing for God if their witness results in getting them fired?
  13. How do you know which battles to fight and which battles to walk away from?

AN EXTRAORDINARY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE MARKET

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An extraordinary thing happened on the way to a New England market…

Market Basket, a regional chain in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire, employs 25,000 workers and has a net worth of about $4 Billion.

Late in June, 2014, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas and two other top executives were fired from the New England chain of 71 Market Basket stores. The firing was the culmination of a feud between members of the Demoulas family when supporters of his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas gained control of the Board of Directors. When Arthur and the others were fired, two other persons were elected by the Board to be co-CEOs: Felicia Thornton had been CEO of Knowledge Universe US an early childhood education company and James Gooch formerly CEO of RadioShack Corporation.

The result was swift and dramatic. Employees walked out. The supplier-to-warehouse-to-retail stores chain dried up when 700 warehouse workers walked out in protest. No warehouse workers, no receiving shipments from vendors and no sending inventory to the retail locations. This action left store shelves inadequately supplied with inventory. Customers began boycotting the stores.

The standoff between these two key stakeholder groups (employees, customers) and the Board dragged on for two painful months.

Early in July 75 of the supermarket’s managers, supervisors and key staff support staff met with corporate leaders and declared that they were independent of the new management team.

In the middle of July, 2014 Employees sent a letter to the new CEOs demanding that Arthur Demoulas be reinstated as CEO. The letter also stated that employees would not work for anyone except Arthur T. Demoulas. The letter demanded a reply within 24 hours. No reply would be considered a “No” answer.

Later in July some employees were fired who had organized protests against the corporate leaders. Employees at some stores threatened to keep the doors locked if their demands were not met. The new leaders warned employees that if they abandoned their jobs, they would be let go. Employees retaliated by encouraging customers to stay away until the dispute was settled.

The leverage that these key stakeholders created for Arthur T. Demoulas did not go wasted. In the end the pressure from employees and customers was too great. Arthur T. Demoulas negotiated to purchase the controlling interest in Market Basket. And he was reinstated as CEO.

Ask students to view the videos published by the Boston Herald newspaper in the wake of the firing and rehiring of the CEO of New England’s successful Market Basket supermarket chain.  Part of the story can be viewed at the Boston Herald site: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/08/arthur_t_demoulas_to_market_basket_workers_you_are_simply_the

Discussion Questions

  1. This is a remarkable story of extraordinary loyalty among employees and customers. How do you explain the trust that seemed to be exhibited among customers who voluntarily stopped shopping at Market Basket stores when employees protested?
  2. Which group(s) of employees had the most leverage in the whole situation?
  3. If you were a manager or supervisor at one of the Market Basket stores during the dispute, would you participate in the open protests? Would you sign the letter sent to the corporate office?
  4. Was the firing of Arthur T. Demoulas an injustice? If not, was it wrong for employees to organize protests?
  5. If you were a manager caught up in this dispute, what would you tell your employees who asked you whether or not they should participate in the protests and walk off the job? Would you have the authority to promise that these employees’ jobs would be protected?
  6. If you were caught in that situation, would it have been possible to take a neutral position?
  7. How would you treat employees who disagreed with the protests and walk-out?
  8. After the resolution of the dispute and Arthur T. Demoulas is reinstated, what is the best way for a store manager to bring healing among employees?