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Decision-making

    Decision-making is something we all do—an activity that is constantly happening inside the confines of each individual’s brain. Our decisions also tend to be of two different types: those which are reached after an evaluation of the available information and options, sometimes over a considerable length of time; and those which we think of as quick, or snap, decisions, sometimes reached almost instantaneously and based solely on our instincts and innate knowledge.

    The focus of this article is on business decisions: decisions which are usually taken collectively and which could involve individuals at all levels of an organization depending on the scope and impact of the decision being taken. Decisions which are strategic and long-term in nature are likely to be taken by the organization’s senior managers, or maybe sometimes just by the head of the organization. Decisions which are of a more tactical and medium-term nature are usually taken by the organization’s managers, while less impactful short-term operational decisions can be taken by almost anyone in the organization. Of course, the latter two types of decision (tactical and operational) are taken within the context and direction set by the higher level strategic decisions. In other words, business decisions are being taken at three distinct levels in any organization—strategicaltacticaloperational.

    Factors which can have an impact on any decision-making process

    There are a number of external and internal factors, such as operational constraints and inter-dependencies, which may play a major role in shaping decisions.Typical internal factors which could have an impact include: strategic goals; business objectives; policy constraints; fiscal limitations; organizational inter-dependencies; operational capacity limits; and, the level of organizational and individual competence and skills.

    Typical external factors which could have an impact include: legal and regulatory obligations and compliance goals; business partners’ needs and limitations; market forces; and, the actions of competitors.

    The Decision-making Process

    Whatever the nature of the business environment, all organizations are looking to make the best decisions they can, so, what are the key elements which support good decision-making?

    1. Having the right information available to decision-makers is extremely important. Without sufficient relevant and timely information decisions can be too narrow in focus, and may have unimagined, or even harmful, consequences.
    2. Another important element is having knowledgeable and experienced individuals who can evaluate and interpret the information effectively.
    3. A third element is having a collaborative mindset: one which looks to leverage the knowledge and skills of all the stakeholders involved in making the decision.
    4. Having a supportive working environment and culture is also important. For example, by providing training in how to make effective decisions, and in facilitating creative approaches and allowing for higher-risk decisions to be made sometimes.

    Of course, business decisions are only effective if they are actively endorsed and implemented by the workforce. Therefore, the real test of whether a business decision turned out to be a good one or not, is the scale of the positive impact it had on the day-to-day working lives of employees.

    An effective decision-making process

    Here is a simple 9 step process you can use to make better decisions:

    Step 1Identify the problem to be solved.

    Question: What needs to be solved and by when?

    Step 2Test the issue against your own personal experience.

    Question: What do I already know, and can I draw any conclusions from it?

    Step 3Gather the necessary information.

    Question: Where can I find out what I need to know?

    Step 4Analyze the information.

    Question: What information is most relevant to this problem?

    Step 5Collaborate with others who are experienced.

    Question: Who has experience of this issue, and how can I use that?

    Step 6Draw your conclusions.

    Question: Once everything has been evaluated, what can I conclude?

    Step 7Apply the decision.

    Question: What needs to be in place in order to implement it successfully?

    Step 8Test for success or failure through a review process.

    Question: Was the decision a successful one or not, and why?

    Step 9Apply any lessons learned through a feedback loop.

    Question: What did we learn, and does it change the way we need to work?

     

    By Niall Sinclair