Mastering effective decision making is a key skill in any field. But many feel that it is an innate talent, rather than something that can be learnt or practiced. This is wrong. Decision making, like any other life skill, does have an element of inbred talent to it, but it can still be improved through focused learning and attention. Taking this focused approach will help you make better decisions faster. Here, we will run through how to make good decisions and one way to help make the process easier.
How to make good decisions
When presented with a problem to overcome or an opportunity to exploit, we can be overwhelmed by the field of possible ways forward in front of us. But by taking a practiced, organised approach to decisions, we can narrow down our options until we identify the most beneficial one.
1. Identify the problem or opportunity
Clearly laying out what question needs to be resolved is your first step in coming up with a good decision. This should not be too broad, say for instance ‘boost sales’, but should focus on something manageable and measurable so that it can be tracked properly. If you lay out achievable goals, and name potential problems standing in your way, you are already well on your way to making a good decision.
2. Gather information
Good decision making is based on good knowledge and information. The internet is a great resource. There are thousands of cases of people facing similar decisions and how they responded. These can be used as lessons to learn from or approaches to avoid. You will also need to gather data from your business that will help you track how well your decision played out. With a clearly identified decision, what this data is will be obvious. This stage can often lead to paralysis, with more and more information gathering not contributing to a better decision. Place a deadline, or have a checklist, and stick to it so you can make an effective decision quickly.
3. Evaluate the evidence
With information in hand, you can now come up with alternatives and rank them. Each will have its own benefits and drawbacks. There are always multiple ways to achieve a goal. Some are better than others though. Each one will need time and money, and often there are trade-offs. A less time intensive route may not have immediate outcomes, but the opportunity cost of following it will be less. Write down the pros and cons of each and then decide on a course forward.
4. Lights, camera, action
It is time to move forward and put your decision into action. A well laid out plan and way of working are important. But to boost your decision making in the future, you have to record how things went. Include any unforeseen obstacles, aspects of the decision you overlooked and unintended consequences. Then you can move on to the final stage.
With all your information and experience, you can now review how good your decision was. Did what you foresee materialise? What can you learn from this going forward? It is important to be critical at this stage. Write down things you missed or failed to appreciate properly. Learning from this experience will make you a better decision maker in the future.
Making good decisions is tough. One way to help is through a decision log. This will not only help you record outcomes, but also aid communication between key stakeholders. This process should be formalised. Creating a decision log will require some time, but the benefits are many.
It should include, as a minimum, the current situation, objective, complexity of the problem, deadline, who’s in charge and any assumptions you’ve made. The next part of the decision log is then recording what the possible options are. This section will include advantages and disadvantages, who would be involved, what needs to be invested, risks and how it aligns with your core business principles or best practices.
A decision log ends with a recommendation and a record of what decision was taken. This may seem like added paperwork, but it helps. It keeps people in the loop and reduces times when the right people are not involved in the process, the process taking too long, poor communication and data gathering, and more
This process is not needed for every decision. These are principles that help guide major decisions and design authorities. While smaller ones will benefit by putting into practice some of the principles, the ones to focus on are recording outcomes and reviewing decisions, proper communication, and keeping to deadlines.
By adhering to these, you will become a better decision maker, contributing to a thriving business and reaping the professional benefits.
by Mitch Thompsett