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Business Journal
A Talent for Making Decisions
Business Journal

A Talent for Making Decisions

by Kathie Sorensen and Steve Crabtree

No single process is more critical to an organization's success or failure than decision making. Today, the business world is far more prone to rapid change than it was 20 years ago. Successful companies have learned that they can't afford to let a cumbersome decision-making process be a bottleneck to action. At the same time, making decisions without adequate information or considering the alternatives can be disastrous.

The need to improve decision-making processes has led companies to organize management structures around teams -- lateral decision-making has become a common alternative to the top-down process found in traditional business hierarchies. It's an attempt to bring decisions closer to the action, so that decision-makers have easier access to information and input from individuals affected by the decision.

It's also an acknowledgement that the best decision-making processes are messy, and necessarily include an element of conflict. If your decision-making process is too easy, it may mean you're not getting the best results. If it's too hard, on the other hand, you may end up with no results at all. In either case, you may need to find new team members who improve the balance and compensate for the blind spots of others involved in the decision.

Developmental approaches have focused on the process of decision-making, attempting to teach people a constant set of steps that lead to better conclusions. Today, we'll take a different tack and look more closely at the human variable that influences every aspect of the process: talent.

As we have in the other columns of this series, let's consider how the presence of different strengths or themes might interact with the process at hand:

Here are a few strengths, and some questions to ask yourself about how these strengths affect your decision-making process.
Includer Whose opinion is important to you?
Woo How wide is the circle of friends and associates from whom you solicit advice?
Strategic How many alternative courses of action do you see?
Significance Is the issue larger than the current point of view takes into account? In what ways might it be larger?
Futuristic How far-reaching will the decision be? How long will the repercussions last?
Ideation Who will help you brainstorm ideas that are relevant to the decision?
Achiever Is it time to make the decision and move on to the next agenda item?
Self-Assurance Do you instinctively feel you already know the right choice to make?
  • Input -- A decision-maker strong in Input will be inclined to gather as much information as possible prior to the actual decision. Input makes a real contribution to the decision-making process because it increases the flow and diversity of information available to the decision-makers.
    If Input is a strength of yours, use it to your advantage by offering to unearth the information your team needs to make its decision. If it doesn't describe you, ask yourself what other strengths you have to bring sufficient information into the decision-making process.
  • Deliberative -- A Deliberative person will need to carefully evaluate all the options before making a final decision. Identifying and reducing possible risks will be a cornerstone of this person's decision-making strategy. This may add a much-needed note of caution in a business environment where decisions are often made on the fly.
    Managers may want to highlight the contribution Deliberative individuals make to the decision-making process by asking them to help to consider the potential risks associated with each option. If Deliberative is not among your personal strengths, ask yourself if there is another talent in your repertoire that helps you to ensure a consideration of risks. How do you ensure you have considered the potential downside of the decision?
  • Activator -- Those strong in Activator, in contrast to Deliberative, are impatient for action. They may tend to make "gut" decisions -- hasty judgments made to allow the resulting action to begin.
    If Activator is your strength, you make a real contribution to your team by moving them to action. The time it takes to make decisions is reduced by your influence, which encourages action and eliminates "analysis paralysis," which can sometimes keep a group from acting at all. If Activator is not among your strengths, you may benefit from identifying another strength that helps you make decisions expediently.

While each of these talents makes a huge contribution to the decision-making process, the balance of the themes may be the most important factor to consider.

What happens, for example, in a group where Input dominates and there is little Activator? The quest for more information from additional sources may overshadow the need to act, and the group may be buried in information that may or may not be relevant to the decision. If the reverse is true, the actual decision may be premature and not well thought-out. Decisions made rapidly but poorly may be as costly to the organization as decisions made slowly or not at all.

Obviously, each of these scenarios is an oversimplification; no decisions are made based on the influence of only a single theme, since each individual acts out of a complex combination of personality factors. But they do illustrate the need for balance in the decision-making process.

Here's an exercise: These questions will help you think about decision-making styles -- yours, and your team members -- and the interplay between them.

Questions for you:

  • What's the first thing you do when faced with a decision? How do you proceed from there? What strengths do these tendencies reflect?

Questions for your team:
Answer these questions as a group to investigate the team's decision-making prowess.

  • First, have each member of the team identify two or three strengths that most influence his or her decision-making style, by answering the question you answered about yourself above: What's the first thing he or she thinks to do when faced with a decision? How does he or she proceed from there?
  • Next, log the talents of your team members. Use the list to answer the following questions:
    1. What strengths are in abundance? Which of those are relevant to decision-making? What strengths could be there, but are not?
    2. What influence does the group's composition have on the speed of the decisions? What affect do your collective strengths have on the accuracy or thoroughness of the information used to make decisions? Are you systematically biased by the presence or the absence of some critical themes?
    3. How can your team make better decisions? What strengths will you need to "borrow" or acquire from others to support your team? Are these talents readily available within your organization or larger group?

There are no guarantees in decision-making, but the astute manager and team will carefully consider how and why they make the decisions they do. Awareness is a key step in determining your team's strengths and needs when they need to make decisions.

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