5 ways to make better decisions – Is this as good as it gets?

By Patrick Lucocq

In the 1998 movie ‘As Good as It Gets’, Jack Nicholson is barking at his neighbour played by Greg Kinnear about his lack of understanding of what Jack is feeling for his love interest. In response to Greg’s attempts at consoling him he loses patience and shouts, ‘I’m drowning here, and you are describing the water!’

This is a very common problem when working with the soft skill intangibles of human feelings especially in businesses. We can see, listen and describe what is going on, and we can say ‘You need to change this’.

But why do we need to work with feelings and how do we bring about a behavioural change?

A common example of feelings in the workplace is in decision making. We may call this by other terms such as gut instinct or being heart felt. But when the limits of our rational thinking are reached, and we do reach them, we step into the feeling territory. This often happens for two reasons;

  1. It’s a common decision we make regularly and has little impact but keeps the businesses functioning. For example ordering a water dispenser from the most competitive supplier. We don’t need to think about this much, so give it little conscious thought. Our brains are often described as ‘lazy teenagers’, the minimum effort for the minimum output and when we have day to day decisions to make we let our thinking shortcuts, called heuristics, kick in. This may not be the best decision, but it has little impact.
  2. It’s a single decision we make rarely and has huge impact. For example hiring a new sales director or even selling your business. We think about this a lot, study form, compile and analyse data, but at the back of our mind something is ‘eating’ at us about this big decision. These feelings can be ones of excitement, dread, frustration, stress, pressure and they all tell us something about our decision making. Feelings can be strong and they can lead us to bolt too quickly or miss an opportunity.

An article in McKinsey Quarterly back in 2010 makes worthwhile reading;

‘…….McKinsey Quarterly survey of over 2000 executives only 28% said that the quality of their strategic decisions in their company was good. 60% said that bad decisions were as frequent as good ones and the remaining 12% thought that good decisions were altogether in frequent.’ (McKinsey Quarterly 2010).

How much would it be worth to your business to improve decision making by 5%?

These are one of the many questions I help my clients answer at In The Moment. It’s the soft skills, the often difficult to measure intangibles that impact on a business and putting your finger on these sometimes is a very good decision indeed.

Think of the last 3 big decisions you made, how many of them had feelings attached?

Decision making is complex and inconsistent, however follow these simple 5 tips and you can improve your decision making immediately.

  1. When you make a decision error, make a list of what you assumed before making your decision. To make this easier, imagine taking a step back from yourself and look at the decision from further away, then step back in and your feeling about this decision will become more evident. It’s a common misconception that being purely objective is the most accurate way to make decisions. Balancing what we think and what we feel makes for good decision making if we are aware of our assumptions. How we feel is of crucial importance when we are dealing with people face to face.
  2. Use Gary Klein’s Pre Mortem technique- Look into the future like a crystal ball as if ‘The project has failed, let’s spend two minutes writing down all the reasons a project failed.’ This acts as a check list to a solution. This should not lead to inaction, but to potential roadblocks along the way and some solutions.
  3. Checklists hold you back from being ‘over confident’, a very common decision bias especially at the planning stage of a project.
  4. Make your meeting groups as diverse as possible. If it’s the same familiar faces every time, there is the risk of group think bias. This bias can lead to some very poor decisions indeed such as the Bay of Pigs disaster. Sometimes business leaders, when everyone is nodding in agreement, get worried.
  5. Make the small decisions quickly and the big decisions slowly. But you have to be sure which are the big decisions. Just by asking the question ‘What are the potential impacts of this decision?’ can help. It’s more than frustrating when politicians are castigated for not making a quick decision. They are called ditherers and accused of making u turns as if these are signs of weakness or incompetence. The truth is nothing is linear and to expect decision making to be a straight and predictive line is nothing short of ludicrous. If in doubt, reflect upon what you are thinking and feeling, a little time may save you a fortune.

A Final Thought

To think about what we think about is called meta-cognition by those working in Occupational Psychology. The need to reflect upon, evaluate and develop how decisions are made is part of a continuing journey of both personal and professional development. Each perspective is unique in how decisions are made to what is current and developing decision making skills coaching needs to be context relevant to both client organisation and the people taking part. Businesses that never strive to completely own the ‘soul’ of an employee can benefit from the impact of greater independence in decision making

Please visit the In The Moment website at www.in-the-moment.co.uk