By Prof. T. N. Krishnan
The similarity to an organizational context -Like chess players organizational managers are faced with complex situations, are limited in their information processing capabilities and also need to decide under time pressure. Managers do make decisions by doing a cost-benefit analysis, but the interesting part is that most of the times just as in chess situation there are too many variables and too much information that all of which possibly cannot be humanly considered while taking a decision. What this implies are atleast two things. First, they need to conserve their energy and not dissipate it on things that would not yield much returns. Second, they need to simplify the decision making process.
Firstly, it is found that great managers appreciate the unique abilities and eccentricities of each of the employees[1] accept them as they are and offers job opportunities which match their talent. Just as a good chess player knows the possibilities of each piece and accepts its strengths and limitations and creates the positions accordingly. There is probably greater energy wasted in trying to change someone both at an organizational and individual level than increase our capacity to accept the other as they are and offer opportunities that match their interests and talents. Good organizations try to make jobs relevant to employee’s life interests[2] and try to match the motivations and unique talents of each employee to the job at hand[3]. That being said research in organizational psychology has long debated the role of both nature and nurture in human behavior. While something are more stable, some others are less so and can be trained for, but the trick is to differentiate the one from the other.
Secondly, simplifying the decision making process could be done by atleast two ways: one is to perhaps consider only those variables that are most relevant to the decision to be made and the other is to make use of pattern recognition. The work by Simon on bounded rationality choice making suggests decision makers given the constraints, often employ heuristics rather than optimization. Factorial designs and policy capturing studies have become popular as research methodologies in management, and the methodologies are based on the premise that decision makers rely on a relatively small number of factors in making judgements. Not all factors need to be considered and some are more highly weighted than others, given a context. For instance in Employee selection literature though two types of fit – person-job and person-organization fit have been previously established, a recent interesting policy-capturing study finds that one type of fit becomes more relevant to the other depending on the kind of employment relationship and tasks performed in the job and the fit is established based on a small number of factors. In a similar vein, not all choices need to be analysed to make a move. The pattern recognition ability of expert chess players is similar to the case of an experienced business leader being able to make correct choices without much analysis while a rookie manager would have to navigate through piles of information before deciding.  This could perhaps explain why an expert Chess player rattles through his moves in a simultaneous game and still win or why a doctor has diagnosed a disease even before the patient has completed reciting the symptoms. Again the work by Simon provides interesting insights into these.
The dissimilarity between the organizational situation and the chess situation is that managers are invariably faced with different and often competing goals while in a game of chess it could be a singular one (to win).The trade-offs between long-term and short-term goals are popular in management literature and there are numerous research and examples. In an oft quoted example on staffing we often hear the recruiters complaining that there are not enough skilled people to occupy positions. This might be surprising given a recessionary economy the scales favour the employer.But in the interesting study by Cappelli (2011[4]) finds that given a recessionary economy,employers are expecting prospective workers to be able to fill a role right away, without any training or ramp-up time – the paradox being to get a job, you have to have that job already.What this has lead to is a situation in which companies are investing less and less in training and development (less cost) and expecting more of performance (more benefits). A related pointis that in a game each match could be taken in a ‘sportsman’ spirit while in an organizational situation the outcomes of each decision made could have an impact on the ongoing relationship between the affected parties and is often more nuanced than raw cost-benefit analysis.

[1] Buckingham, M. (2005). What great managers do, Harvard Business Review,
[2] Butler, T. &Waldroop, J. (1999). Job Sculpting. Harvard Business Review, 77(5), 144 – 152
[3]Cappelli (2011). Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need accessed on 23rd November 2013T. N. Krishnan is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resources at IIM Kozhikode.


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