There really is no clear-cut answer, which is why skillful decision making is more art than science. Different situations call for different approaches ranging from autocratic to consensual. It can be as detrimental to be autocratic all the time as it is to be too inclusive.
As a result, it’s no surprise that the best decision makers are flexible, actively choosing a decision-making style rather than simply shooting from the hip. They know when to be autocratic, when to be seek consensus, and when to do something in between. But how do you know which approach is right for a given situation? You can start learning by getting to know your personal decision-making preferences.
Understanding Your Decision-making Style
Ask yourself: when faced with a decision, do I tend to go it alone, or do I usually seek consensus? Or, do I do something in between-always seeking the input of the same people but making the final decision myself.
One way to determine your decision-making style is (you guessed it) with a research-based assessment instrument.
One such tool, the Decision Style Profile*, evaluates the appropriateness with which respondents include others in the decision-making process. After reading 10 cases and deciding how autocratic or inclusive they would be in each instance, users can determine which of five basic decision-making styles most closely describes their personal tendencies.
The five decision-making styles presented in the Decision Style Profile are:
- Director-The most autocratic style, the Director assumes he knows everything he needs to know to make a decision and makes it alone.
- Fact Finder-Also an autocratic style, the Fact Finder doesn’t share the problem or seek advice from others; instead, she collects the information she thinks she needs to make a decision and makes it alone.
- Investigator-A more inclusive style, the Investigator will choose select stakeholders and ask their advice, taking their opinions into account when making a decision, but still making it alone.
- Collaborator-Still more inclusive, the Collaborator shares the problem with all stakeholders, seeking their inputs but reserving the right to make the final decision.
- Teamer-The most inclusive style, the Teamer seeks complete consensus when making a decision.
Only after you become aware of your decision-making style are you fully equipped to assess when a situation requires deviation from your normal tendencies. You can do this with the three Cs: determining the clarity of the problem, your comprehension of the information needed to make any decision, and the commitment you’ll need from others in order to successfully execute the decision.
In each situation, ask yourself:
- Am I completely clear about the problem? (Clarity)
- Do I have all the information I need to make the decision, or do I know where to find it? (Comprehension)
- How much help from others will be necessary to implement the decision? (Commitment)
The Critical Factor: Time
Sometimes, time doesn’t allow this ideal approach. In fact, time is always the most critical factor in any decision-making process.
Taking any extra time on the front end of what seems like an emergency can be painful. But talk to anyone who’s wasted valuable time, money, and brain power working on the wrong problem, and they will attest to the value of a more thoughtful approach. It is surprising how often it seems that there is not enough time up front to get appropriate input, but there is always time to go back and readdress the decision when it becomes clear it cannot be implemented.
It is in those situations when you have no time to seek input from others that you’ll see the benefit of having a decision-making process in place that is transparent to everyone involved.
Transparency = Trust
Realizing how visible their decisions can be, it comes as no surprise that successful managers are more transparent in their decision-making logic and rationale.
The trust you build by allowing others to see how you make decisions will earn you the confidence, understanding, and buy-in you need when a lack of time forces you to make decisions with little or no involvement from others. Transparency helps to foster understanding even when there isn’t agreement, which is invaluable when it comes to actually implementing the decision successfully.
While making good decisions is definitely an art, having proven guidelines to follow can improve the quality of every decision you make. Understanding your own decision-making tendencies and taking the time you have to be clear about each situation will help you determine when to go it alone and when to include others. And keeping the entire process visible will earn you confidence and trust in your capabilities while modeling good decision-making skills to all.
About the Author
Dr. Chris Musselwhite, M.A., M.S.I.E., Ed.D., is the author of Dangerous Opportunity: Making Change Work and the CEO and founder of Discovery Learning, Inc., a leadership development products and consulting company (www.discoverylearning.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The Decision Style Profile is a product of Discovery Learning, Inc. It is an enlightening management assessment tool that leads to the development of improved decision-making skills. It evaluates the appropriateness with which respondents include others in the decision-making process and the extent to which respondents consider five critical Decision Factors in their decision processes. It takes 10-15 minutes to complete. For more information, visit www.discoverylearning.com.