Effective Decision-Making

“The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.”

Those who are effective in their work don’t make a lot of unnecessary decisions.  When  they do make decisions however they  do so with the understanding it can be a very difficult yet extremely important activity in their work life and growth.

Effective decision-makers never start out with facts but rather with opinions.  They  do so because they understand that opinions are nothing but untested hypotheses and, as in science, represent solely a starting point.  Their goal therefore is not to argue the hypothesis (opinion) but rather to test it.

Effective decision-making relies on one’s understanding of the five elements to effective decision-making:

1.  Identification whether or not a problem is generic. If it is generic then it can and should be solved through a decision founded upon either a rule or principle.  What this  means is that once the right principle or rule has been developed, all manifestations of  the same generic situation can be handled through the adaptation of  the rule or principle to the concrete circumstances of the situation.  Rules and principles assist in holding down the number(s) of decisions to be made. It can do this because many of  the problems one encounters can be solved through either a rule or policy

2.  Defining the specifications which the answer to the problem must satisfy– the “boundary conditions” found within the problem. There are three “boundary conditions” which  have to be accomplished through the decision and therefore must  receive consideration in the decision-making process:

  •  What are the objectives the decision has to reach?
  •  What are the minimum goals it has to attain?
  •  What are the conditions it has to satisfy?

3.  Thinking through “What is Right”.  That is, discovering the solution which will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable

4. Building into the decision the action needed to carry it out

5. Developing a feedback mechanism which tests the decision validity and effectiveness against the actual course of events

In decision-making, one has to start out with a determination with what is right rather than with what is acceptable.  However, if one does not know what is right to satisfy the boundary conditions, one cannot distinguish between the right compromise and the wrong compromise.

In this sense, compromise is taken to be the acceptance of a decision by making adjustments that will still satisfy the boundary conditions. Consensus on the other hand is the conceptual understanding of what is right. In the decision-making process it is the role of the dissenter to present conflicting views, to create dissension and disagreement. Through this process the dissenter’s contribution is simply to enable those who are attempting to make the decision understand what the decision is all about.

An effective decision is at best a choice between two alternatives, neither of which can be proved right. If the effective decision maker is to consider all applicable facts, he starts first with with disagreeing opinions about alternatives. He then attempts to find out why people are in disagreement. It is through this process that all pertinent facts can be uncovered and brought to bear on the decision.

There are two guidelines that an effective decision maker should use to facilitate the decision:

  1. Act if, on balance, the benefits greatly outweigh cost and risk.
  2. Act or don’t act.  However, do not “hedge” or compromise. Any decision is better than no decision at all.

Prior to converting a decision into action, the effective person develops answers to these questions:

  • Who has to know of the decision?
  • What action has to be taken?
  • Who is to take it?
  • What does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it?

Finally, it is important to acquire feedback after the action action has been taken.  Unless the person builds his own feedback around direct exposure to reality and unless he disciplines himself to go out and look — he will be condemned to a sterile dogmatism which results in personal ineffectiveness.