Productivity of the Decision-Making Process

The decision-making processes of individuals and organizations are of considerable interest. We all want to make decisions as quickly as possible, and many people think that great leaders “just do it” – that is, they make decisions almost instantly when faced with issues, crises, and opportunities. Then others believe that decisions are best made through broad and deep consultation and discussion, argument, and conirming measures. These two views represent the extreme poles of how leaders make decisions to do the right things for the business organization and themselves.

Leadership decisions, like all decisions, are made in different ways. For many years people have categorized decisions with reference to the thinking they entail, broadly speaking, as right-brain or left-brain thinking. Modern neuroscience has developed quite a different picture anatomically, but in practice, the essential model still holds: people make decisions in two distinct ways, better described as logical and intuitive. Logical ways utilize an analytical thinking process based on reasonor fact-based analysis; intuitive ways utilize learnings from actions and experience that are stored in emotional centres in the brain. This is an enormously simpliied description of the differences but will be useful for this discussion.


A wide body of thought suggests that the key to good and right decision making is exceptional planning. In other words, we can logically analyse a situation and then take all that information – almost always heavily weighted to past events – and determine the best decisions. And since those decisions have been systematically planned, the implementation will be eficient and effective.

Herbert Simon devoted a lifetime to the study of rational decision making. He also pioneered concepts of computer-aided artiicial intelligence. In his book Administrative Behavior,2 he describes his belief that as individuals or organizations acquire more information and knowledge, it is possible for them to make better decisions. This is the essence of rational or analytical decision making.

Decision tree models – which are still popular – are all about comparing and organizing options and the outcomes of various decisions. They allow us to decide among several plans. They generate a visual representation of the various probabilities as well as the risk / reward outcomes of each option. The decision tree method leads systematically to a preferred plan of action as well as to a decision to move in that direction.

There are many other such models. All of them use a variety of premises to sort and sift options and reach conclusions that lead to preferred action plans.

Some of these alternative models are easily found in the literature. These methods entail logical processes and apply analysis as the overriding feature when considering what the right decision is at a given point in time. The idea here is that the best route to a decision is through facts and analysis; the best results will then be reached.

2 Herbert Simon, Administrative Behavior (New York: Free Press, 1976). In their book, The New Rational Manager, Kepner and Tregoe3 propose logical methods to deal with problem solving and decision analysis based on logic, procedure and disciplined methods. This book is a valuable summary of the rational approach to deciding how and what to do when confronted with dificult decisions and problems.

The appeal of the logical approach to decision making is that it is inherently thoughtful, orderly, and complete. Most people would characterize scientists and engineers as logical decision makers. The scientiic method involves making a hypothesis, then conducting experiments to test that hypothesis, then adjusting it based on the experiment's results, and so on until a satisfactory conclusion is reached. All of this requires a series of logical, analytical steps. An engineer is also thought of as primarily a logical decision maker, but the engineering process allows for more intuition, and engineering design can indeed have emotional elements. The best role model leaders in many of the best institutions and organizations around the world inluence people to utilize and reine their tools for logical decision making, and thereby achieve excellent results – that is, right and virtuous decisions.

Yet logical approaches to decision making take quite a bit of time and require additional resources. Diligent leaders and managers will often do too much analysis. And, even after signiicant effort, it is sometimes found later that the decisions were not particularly good ones. That is because when changes are being made, there are always unanswered questions and murky variables. The potential consequences cannot be suficiently clear. Do we know enough about the impact of the change on customers or on the environment? Many ambiguities arise when an organization is setting a new direction, and even more of them arise when that direction is being implemented. This is where highly skilled role model leadership is a necessity. Role model leaders who are experienced, courageous, and trustworthy will say: “We have all the analysis we need. Now is the time to stop the analysis and

make our decision.”

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