Ironically, most people take it as fact that the fictional detective Joe Friday coined and overused the phrase that is the title of this post. According to Snopes.com, though, it was popularized by a parody of the Joe Friday character and not by the Joe Friday character himself. It illustrates that what appear to be facts are not always facts, and that we take for granted things that we believe or want to be true when they’re not.
As insurers select new systems, be particularly careful with how you gather and use facts. You must use care in how you lead your system selection teams and guide the ultimate decision makers. You will encounter the following challenges, but following the guidance here will help you arrive at a good decision.
People don’t agree that facts are facts – If the listener does not trust the source, they doubt the information or the decision maker values another source more highly. In either case, present additional sources to bolster the fact in question.
Decision makers make decisions based on other factors – Key decision makers and executives can approach system selection decisions from very different points of view. You should expect that decision makers will want facts but also expect that other decision models might be at play. Furthermore, it is likely that your organization will use a mix of models. The models are:
• Selection teams should think about how systems were selected in that past. This will help you anticipate how future decisions are likely to be made and make you more alert to changes in the way decisions are being made.
• Political – Those with the most political power and influence will make the decision for everyone.
• Incumbent – The vendors already serving the company are heavily favored (or heavily unfavored).
• Reactionary – “Whatever is not working now, we will do the opposite.” This is a common approach, particularly when there is little understanding of underlying root causes.
• Competition – Simply matching what competitors are doing. “If it works for x it can’t be all bad.”
• Fact – Reliance on facts, observations, tested principles, and objective third parties to make decisions. This model often is easiest to build consensus around as well.
• Confirmation bias – People hear what they expect or want to hear despite evidence to the contrary. Where should you watch out for confirmation bias?
• Reference calls – if reference calls are made too late in the process, it is possible that the team already has a favored vendor, and negative comments about the favored vendor are likely to be overlooked. When the reference calls happen earlier in the process negative facts can be integrated into the overall decision process.
• Positive interactions or personal relationships with vendors – Past experiences or personal relationships can make people blind to facts that are contrary to an existing position.
• Previous negative interactions with vendors – Negative experiences with vendors can blind decision makers from seeing positive facts.
There are a couple of key strategies you can use to handle confirmation bias. They are:
• When you create a summary of the facts, be very balanced in the presentation. Include both facts that reinforce the bias, and run against the bias. This will help you avoid creating a combative environment.
• Remind the team that the selection exercise is more about finding the system that is best aligned with the company’s needs. So experiences with vendors in other contexts may be important, but they may not be as applicable in the current context.
• Give biased individuals opportunity and time with the facts that might be contrary to their bias. For example, if a team member believes that a system is not very configurable because of their experiences several years ago, give them an opportunity to work with the system and experience first-hand the configurability of the platform.
Moving your organization toward fact based decision making will help you manage the system selection process and will help you move the project forward.