What’s more important: The decision, or how you make it?

You have a managerial position to fill, and several promising employees who qualify for promotion. You’re interested in acquiring a start-up, but aren’t sure which is the best investment. An unexpected sales bump has left you with some windfall capital, and you need to decide whether to pass it on in employee bonuses, or invest in new office equipment. One of your suppliers has gone out of business, and you need to find a replacement.

Each of these decisions requires an answer. However, many leaders run into difficulties, not so much with the decisions themselves, but in the process by which these decisions are made. We recently covered this issue in a TRANSFORM article, “Deciding How to Decide,” by Levi Nieminen. PhD, our Director of Research and one of our senior consultants. In our article, Levi presents an adapted framework for decision-making which outlines four key processes:

  • Authoritative: One person decides with little to no outside input.
  • Consultative: Responsibility for the decision still rests with one person, but that person seeks input from other sources as part of the process.
  • Group: All members debate the pros and cons of the decision, and reach a conclusion by agreement or some form of vote.
  • Delegation: One individual transfers the decision to another, who is then able to choose which decision-making process they will follow.

Choosing the process to fit the situation.

One common response to a framework such as this is to ask “which process is the best?” Each of these methods has its own benefits, but the answer to that question depends on the circumstance. We can easily see how an overly-authoritative approach could disempower a workforce and lead to micromanaging behavior. At the same time, many of us perceive committees as a place where good ideas go to die. The consultative method can lead to indecision, particularly in time-sensitive situations, and we all know of places where delegating could be inappropriate.

Instead, in any given situation, which factor is most important for creating a beneficial result? It could be that the decision itself isn’t nearly as important as the way in which you make it. For instance, for many low-priority, time-sensitive decisions, an authoritative style can help you reach a conclusion efficiently. In another situation, delegation can both relieve pressure from a senior employee while empowering a junior one. And for decisions for which the correct outcome truly is critical or requires a group buy-in, opting for the slower but more thoughtful group or consultative processes is optimal approach.

Putting the framework into practice.

Of course, implementing these practices comes with far more complications. For a deeper dive into the decision-making processes, read Levi’s article “Deciding How to Decide.” Also, don’t miss the recent thought piece from Karl-Heinz Oehler, “What Do Emotions Have to Do With Decision-Making?

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