Decision Making Problem

Decide or don't decide!

Decision Making Problem

Decide or don't decide!

One of the first decision making problems you face (often without realising it) is to decide whether you have a decision to make, or a problem to solve.

Is it a decision or is it a problem? Time can be wasted and people frustrated if you resort to setting up a problem solving team when all that was really needed was for a decision to be made.

Alternatively, living with a decision that was made, when it wasn’t clear why something had gone wrong, can be just as costly. In that case you had a problem to solve first, before you could make a decision. Decision making problems often arise because you aren’t clear which of these you really have: a problem to solve or a decision to make!

Decision Making Problem: is it a Decision or is it a Problem?

Sometimes what’s required is just for a decision to be made, rather than extended analysis of a problem to solve. But how do you decide which is most appropriate, whether you need to make a decision or solve a problem?

Although problem solving and decision making processes may share many common features, they tend to have at least one significant difference. Definitions of problem solving tend to suggest that problems have their roots in the past. On the other hand, it could be argued that decisions are more about what’s going to happen, in the future.

A problem is usually about something that has gone wrong (such as faults, gaps or difficulties). Whatever the cause, it can usually be traced to something in the near or distant past. Whereas decisions are about looking ahead. They are commitments to a course of action which is uncertain. Of course, decision making is a part of any problem solving process. We need to decide what action(s) to take after having analysed a problem, and generated a range of options. But here’s the essence of the first decision making problem: how do you know whether you have a decision to make or a problem to solve?

Perhaps the simplest approach is to determine whether there is something wrong. Or is there something you’re dissatisfied with, or which you know needs to change. If there is, and you know why something is wrong and the remedies are clear and obvious, then you have a decision to make – you look forward and act. Such decisions are most likely to relate to relatively simple issues or those which are not too far reaching, depending on the type or level of the decision. Or they may be clear to you because you’re relying on your intuition, perhaps through your experience, closeness to the situation, or just your gut feeling.

It’s only when you’re faced with more complex, serious or large scale situations that you use problem solving processes. Where it’s not clear what’s gone wrong and/or what the solution might be, that’s when you have a problem to solve.  Of course, before deciding you may wish to consider an even more fundamental question: do you really need to make a decision at all?

Why Do We Get So Many Decisions Wrong?

Assuming we haven’t confused decisions and problems, even applying a rational decision making process doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. According to Ohio State University management professor, Paul C. Nutt, we only get about 50% of our decisions in the workplace right! Half the time they are wrong, so there is evidence that we seem to have numerous decision making problems.

Nutt’s research illustrates that bad decisions were usually bad because two things were missing:

  1. Adequate participation of stakeholders in the decision making process.
  2. Sufficient time spent generating a range of possible solutions.

Too often those who should have been involved weren’t, and solutions were proposed and acted upon too quickly. Often with disastrous effects!

A third reason that has emerged from his research appears to be that:

too often, managers make bad tactical selections ….. because they believe that following recommended decision-making practices would take too much time and demand excessive cash outlays.

So it could be argued that, the more complex or serious the issue to be resolved, the more important it is that we listen to Nutt’s findings. The three main causes of decision making problems can be resolved by ensuring we:

  1. Involve the key people who should be involved.
  2. Generate enough alternatives upon which to base our choice of decision.
  3. Follow recognised and proven decision making processes

If you are interested in finding out more about Professor Nutt’s approach to decision making follow this link to his book: Handbook of Decision Making. You might pay particular attention to Chapter 1: page 4, where he discusses Drucker’s and Weick’s calls to decide whether there is a decision to make.

Once you’ve finished with Nutt’s insights on decision making, take at look at our other articles and our great-value resources to inform your understanding and practice. Different types of decision making require different approaches, something we particularly address in our e-guide: Making Better Decisions.

Making Better Decisions

Making Better DecisionsJudgement, intuition, experience and knowledge all come together when making decisions. Regardless of whether you believe in intuition and decision making, you’ll find more on these and other practical techniques in our related e-guides (below) or in Making Better Decisions. Use the tools in this guide to help your decision making:

  • Tool 1: Do you need to make a decision?
  • Tool 2: The POCA decision making model
  • Tool 3: Decision levels
  • Tool 4: 7 step decision making process
  • Tool 5: Team decision making
  • Tool 6: Evaluating alternatives

Looking for decision making resources?

Try our great value e-guides

These are fantastic little e-books, very thorough, easy to follow

We’ve used [the guides] as support tools for learners on our talent management programmes which has saved me a lot of time and a lot of money. I’d definitely recommend them.

Kieleigh - United Kingdom

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