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May 14, 2015

Designing Content to Develop Better Decision Makers

By Nash Musselwhite

 I spoke with Jay McNaught of Zoetis about their innovative leadership development program. Jay is an expert in developing organizational leaders to be more effective decision makers. He gives us a peak into the design, philosophy and content that Zoetis uses to develop better decision makers.


Nash Musselwhite- Can you describe at a high level Zoetis’s overall development goals and objectives?

Jay McNaught- “We have five core beliefs and all of our development aligns with strengthening colleagues to practice the core beliefs. We have identified leader behaviors associated with our core beliefs and the leadership development curriculum is mapped to these core behaviors.”

NM- “Why does Zoetis consider effective decision making to be a critical component for leadership development?”

JM- “Effective decision making generally aligns with all five of our core beliefs and directly aligns with two of them:  Always Do the Right Thing; and Run It Like You Own It. The first belief reminds us that our values must underlie every decision.  The second reminds us that we must take initiative and that we are empowered to make decisions – to run the business as if we owned it!”

NM- “How long has effective decision making been a component of your leadership development initiatives?”

JM- “We have taught some form of decision making in our leadership development curriculum for the last six years.  This means that we were teaching it back when we were still a division of Pfizer.  Since we have become a stand-alone company, decision making has played a more prominent role in the curriculum.”

Nash Musselwhite- “Were there specific leadership gaps?” 

JM- “Our curriculum does not focus on gaps.  Rather, we believe in building on our strengths.  I believe that we have been good at decision-making for as long as I’ve been with the organization.  My desire is to improve on this fundamental competency that is already a strength.”

NM- “At what level of organizational leadership does Zoetis invest in decision making as a key competency for development?” 

JM- “The simple answer it at all levels.  We offer a course titled “Dynamic Decision Making: Helping Leaders Decide How to Decide.”  This course is repeated three times during the year.  The course is promoted and offered to all leaders in the organization.  Leaders are encouraged to attend the course based on their own individual development plan needs.  We get excellent participation from all levels of leadership.  Additionally, I have been certified through Columbia University, as an executive coach.  As I coach leaders in the organization, I find decision-making as an excellent focus area with great opportunities.”

NM- “How are you measuring improvement in your organization’s ability to make decisions?”

JM- “For all of our leadership courses, we use Knowledge Advisors assessment tools to measure impact.  We currently use a post course assessment of the learner to determine their impressions of the effectiveness.  In 2015 we begin a 60-day follow-up of the learner and the learner’s manager to measure job impact.  Additionally, we follow-up with learners and ask them to provide evidence and examples of how they are making decisions better than they did before taking the course.”

NM- “Do you think that effective decision making will continue to be a relevant leadership competency in 5 years?”

JM- “Always… as long as leaders need to make decisions.”

NM “What changes in the business climate (generally or specific to Zoetis) have you observed that lead you to draw that conclusion?”

JM- “I do believe that leaders at lower levels in the organization are being empowered to make more important decisions.  As such, it is important to provide training and skill development in this mission critical area.”

NM- “How did you reach the decision to include individual assessment as a component of your leadership development program?”

JM- “Based on my doctoral dissertation research, I identified decision making as an area were leaders could greatly benefit from training.  Using the research findings and a survey of the literature, I devised a simple decision-making framework.  The model identifies five dimensions that are integral to the decision-making process.  In each dimension, it is important for a leader to know how they are “pre-wired.”  Leaders differ dramatically on where they fall in each of the dimensions.  Assessment tools are very useful for helping the leaders learn this about themselves.”

NM- “How did you decide to include Decision Style Profile in your leadership development program?”

JM- “One of the five dimensions in the Dynamic Decision Making Framework is “inclusiveness.”  When I discover the Decision Style Profile, I realize that it was a perfect tool for helping leaders understand this dimension of decision making.”

NM- “In what capacity are you using the Decision Style Profile?”

JM- “I have every leader who attends the Dynamic Decision Making course take the assessment.”

NM- “How would you describe its effectiveness at helping your organization’s leaders to develop effective decision making skills?”

JM- “This dimension has proven to be very valuable in helping leaders gain new insights concerning their decision-making process.  I particularly like how the individual results are compared to normative data so the leader can quickly see if he/she is more or less inclusive than other leaders.”

NM- “In your experience with Decision Style Profile have you found overall that Zoetis’s leadership culture is more inclusive or exclusive when making decisions? What impact did that have on the organization?”

JM- “My sense is that various parts of the organization are different on this.  When I teach a course, I get participants from all levels of leadership, and all parts of the company.  What I see is a continuum with a few being over-inclusive, a few being over-exclusive, and many falling somewhere in between.  I have recently activated the feature in the DSP system that will all me to start tracking data just for our company.”

NM- “Of the five decision factors were there any that Zoetis was consistently not considering when making decisions? How did you address this?”

JM- “In my estimation (entirely based on anecdotal data) the Level of Commitment factor plays a big part in many decisions.  Most of the decisions our leaders make require a high level of support from others to implement.  I believe that after going through the Dynamic Decision Making course, the participants are more aware of the importance of this factor.”

NM- “What advice would you provide to leadership development professionals who are considering or are currently developing LD programs that include effective decision making as a competency?”

JM- “I would caution them to not overlook this important function of leadership.  Leaders are only as good as the decisions that they make.  Unfortunately, most leaders have never had formal training or coaching on their decision-making process.  Most make all of their decisions using a very narrow or homogenous process.  Most think they are already very good at decision making (after all, they have been successful in the past) so they are blind to any flaws or areas where their decision making could be improved.”

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Jay McNaught works for Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health) based in Florham Park, New Jersey.  He holds the position of Senior Manager, Leadership Education and Development. In this position, he works with all levels of leaders in the organization to help them develop their leadership capabilities.

Jay has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education from Indiana University.  He has a Master of Business Administration degree and a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University. His dissertation research focused on how leaders use intuition in their decision-making process. 

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