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How To Stay On Track When Forces Try To Pull You Off-Course

sidetrackedHow often do you start a project only to watch it derail or make a decision that leads to a less-than-satisfying conclusion? During the December webinar – “Do your decisions and plans get sidetracked?” – Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino explained how to stay on course to get the results you want.

“The problem is we start off with a goal, a clear plan of action,” Dr. Gino said, “and forces derail our decisions often without us realizing it.” By identifying the forces, we can use strategies to avoid unsatisfying outcomes.

Dr. Gino identified three forces that can cause people to go from on-track to off-course:

Forces from within: The human tendency to consider only our own views
“Forces from within” are innate tendencies, factors that exist “by the very nature of our being human.” Dr. Gino said that people consistently rank themselves as higher than average – often much higher – when it is not mathematically possible for everyone to be “above average.”  This overconfidence leads people to consider only their own views when weighing decisions instead of seeking additional opinions. “This can be problematic because it leads us to not review data or be open to other perspectives,” she said, often resulting in unsuccessful outcomes.

Case study:

  • Before entering a race for the first time, an Italian motorcycle company conducted extensive research and studies to ensure a positive outcome. As a result of their preparation, the race was very successful. Before entering the next racing season, the company executives felt so confident that they did not review data or feedback from the previous year. The second year was a flop, and they had to revise their plans completely before the next race.

Forces from relationships: The emotional challenges of working with others
Dr. Gino defined “forces from relationships” as “factors that characterize our relationships and interactions with others.” When working with others – for example, negotiating, conducting a meeting, or interacting on a daily basis – emotions often get in the way of sticking to a plan. “Emotions can be pernicious,” Dr. Gino said. “They can be triggered by something unrelated” to the task at hand and can “impact an important decision” in a different context.

Case study:

  • A man is going to ask his boss for a raise and practices his speech with his wife beforehand. While practicing with his wife, the man is very firm and clear with his request. However, when he is actually in the room with his boss, he gets tongue-tied and accepts an offer that does not include a raise. Discussing a raise with his boss led to anxiety, which clouded his judgment and resulted in a different conclusion than what he planned.

Forces from outside: Environments can affect outcomes
“Forces from outside” are the “factors that characterize the context in which we operate,” according to Dr. Gino. “Situations can derail us, and the way things are presented makes a difference in how people approach business decisions.”

Case study:

  • A company in India experienced high turnover in its call center operations. Feedback from employees indicated their reluctance to express themselves authentically with customers and a lack of ownership and pride in their work. The company changed its on-boarding process for a select group of new employees, asking them to think about their strengths and how they would apply them to their work. After seven months, this group had lower turnover rates because reflecting on their strengths “triggered emotions” that gave employees more input – and therefore satisfaction – in approaching their work.

Combating the forces of derailment

Dr. Gino concluded the webinar by saying that even the most competent people can be derailed by errors.

She suggested not making important decisions when feeling emotional. “Ask yourself questions – am I in the right state to make an important decision? Or I am angry? Keeping a cool head is important.”

She also encouraged attendees to be like “architects” by carefully designing choices and decision processes. It is essential to recognize that “our brains are wired in certain ways as humans that lead to these tendencies,” Dr. Gino explained, and being thoughtful about our reactions is key to counteract them and get better outcomes.

“We all have the power … of looking at the way we interact with others and changing the environment” so that we end up reaching the outcomes we want.


Experience the full benefit of Dr. Francesca Gino’s presentation by watching the webinar today. A full library of previous Forté webinars are available to Premium Access Pass members. For $50/year, Access Pass members receive exclusive invitations to Women Lead webinars and in-person Women Lead events. Access Pass members also have exclusive use of the Forté Job Center; you can browse positions and post your resumé to be seen by leading companies seeking top talent.

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