XAT Decision Making Section – Golden Principles for tackling questions related to Management Issues

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

The decision-making section of XAT paper is rightly considered a scoring section that can really boost your percentile. It is an important section not just because of the sectional cutoff that one needs to clear but also because completing this section quickly will give you more time for quant and verbal section.

The questions generally comprise of a short case study write-up and related questions. Though any real-life situation is generally considered to be an open-ended problem with no right or wrong answers, that perception could not be further away from the truth.

There are instances and decisions which are almost unanimously frowned upon by the entire humanity. Genocides, ethnic cleansing, public execution, human torture, etc. are few such examples. And that is your first hint to solving XAT Decision Making questions.

Golden principle #1: Humanity is superior to everything else

(We may go on a different tangent about mass stupidity in homo sapiens, which will nullify the sanctity of our collective wisdom. But bear with me at least till you write your XAT exam.)

You may be a manager of a prestigious company and you need to get work done. Yes, your sincerity towards your employer for getting shit done and making money is of utmost importance but if you may be even remotely violating a person’s basic rights, you’re in deep trouble. It’s easy to cross out options which are evidently unlawful and/or unethical.

A leader should be focused, quick to make decisions and should holistically assess a situation to be able to foresee the business impact. Those values are immensely sought after, but will only add be of any significance if you’re not doing anything unethical.

Quoting the very witty and sharp American business magnate and investor Warren Buffet, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”

From an employer’s point of view, having a morally-flexible person at a position of power at your firm might crumble the entire estate, just like Enron did. So while answering questions related to management decisions, it’s important to remember that there is no situation in which you can possibly compromise on ethics, not even a bit.

Caveat: No room for emotion-driven decisions

Do not get me wrong here, you do have to be humane to be able to conclude what will resound with the collective humans, but that doesn’t mean you can be swayed by emotions or our inherent biases.

You may be a recruiting manager and having grown up studying in a vernacular language school/college, you might connect with a candidate with a similar case and who is not fluent in the working language – English, though it is very important for the role offered, for example, a corporate client facing role. You might also feel it would be considered kind to offer him/her the role unanimously by most people. But that’s your personal bias overriding the main purpose of the interview – hire a capable candidate who will be beneficial to the company in communicating well with the clients. Sure, go ahead and recommend the candidate for a role he has good skills in and yes, providing communications training once s/he joins will be great and probably, the best you can do. It not just gives the opportunity to a well-deserved candidate to improve on his/her weak areas and also makes sure you are not hiring someone the employer might have to terminate from employment later in a rather painful process, for both the candidate and the firm. That brings us to the second golden principle.

Golden Principle #2: Employer’s goals and public image take precedence over your personal opinions and biases

So there’s anything that if reaches the media and/or general public has the potential to create an uproar and taint the company’s image, refrain from doing it. If you can imagine a viral meme circulating on social media about it with the tagline – “I have lost faith in humanity now”, it’ll probably be an idea to be looked down upon. The sooner you internalize that, the quicker you will be to write out such options.

Every employee represents the company, even outside the working hours. It is therefore important to exercise sanity in personal life too. If at home, you tend to underestimate your daughter compared to your son, the chances are you’ll be biased against female employees in your working environment too, consciously or unconsciously. Your personal life and preferences have a stark influence over the rapport you build with your colleagues at work. It is therefore important to take pre-meditated steps to not be an asshole as a leader. A lot of MBA aspirants already have some prior experience with at least employer. And if you are one of them and you’re asked to jot down things you liked/didn’t like about your immediate leader(s), almost all of you will mention if s/he was or was not a helpful, considerate and understanding and/or reasonable person. One study published in Harvard Business Review, Stanford University professor grabbed a lot of eyeballs touching a taboo topic of having an “unreasonable” boss, which later culminated into a book in itself.

The author tried to capture the cost of having an unbearable boss on the company in terms of lower productivity, higher attrition, legal consequences, stifled creativity and inability to attract high-performing candidates.

For example, during an urgent deliverable to a client, a manager shouldn’t ask his/her direct reports to work for long/extra hours, but he shouldn’t jeopardize the employer’s relationship with the client by not being able to deliver on time either. That’s when your not-being-an-asshole will help. Ideally, you can communicate with the team that this is important for all of you and those who can stretch for some more time, will be compensated with a few hours off, the next day or once the project is over. It is also important to highlight it to the client that there were unforeseen problems involved and the team has still ensured utmost quality along with punctuality so that the future timelines can be renegotiated.

Bottom-line: Don’t act like someone you wouldn’t be comfortable working with for long.

Golden Principle #3: Ignorantia juris non excusat

This is a famous Latin quote which means “Ignorance of law excuses no one.”

We have already discussed how any unlawful activity is a strict no-no, what it would translate to in management related situation is being blind to something is not an excuse. Say, you face a situation which may not materially affect your personal growth in a company but might be detrimental to others or the firm as a whole, you do have an option of not taking any action – which will be inconsequential to you. There is no urgency or requirement for you to surge into a matter. One of the options in the questions will be to keep quiet, go on in life and work without giving much thought about it and DO NOTHING. That, my friend, is a vicious trap. Even if you may stand to jeopardize your current position, putting your foot down is almost as crucial as taking the right step.

An example of that could be when you join an insurance company and you start noticing the widespread complacency about incorrect billings by sales personnel to meet their respective targets. It may not be part of your business-as-usual duties, yet being a silent spectator to abuse of freedom/power is not acceptable. The right course of action would be to try to confirm your suspicions and contact a concerned person about your apprehensions.

 This post was contributed by Vasu. Vasu is an XLRI alumni in Business Management (2014-16). She likes to read non-fiction.


XAT Decision Making Section – Golden Principles for tackling questions related to Management Issues
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