Decision-Making and Decision-Downloading
Cross-examine the presenters of proposals. Think of how an attorney questions a witness: How sure are you of this? Where did the evidence come from? What would happen if we don’t pursue this? What is the upside and downside of the proposal?
This allows you and others to test the soundness of a proposal by judging the quality of evidence, reasoning and projections. Also, by verbally justifying their proposal, it helps the presenters bolster their defense.
Watch out for hindsight bias when making sense of an event. Hindsight bias, or the Monday-morning-quarterback effect, is believing that we had better knowledge of the outcome of an uncertain situation before it occurred than we really did. For example, assume that an economist projects that mortgage rates will remain level or decrease in the near-term. Several years later when rates increase, the economist falls prey to hindsight bias when she expresses, “The recent rise in mortgage rates was no surprise; we were expecting it.” To minimize the susceptibility to this, keep notes of howand why you made your decisions.
Hindsight bias limits the learning that we could derive from making a decision. As a result, it minimizes our opportunity to sharpen our skills for future decision-making.
Carefully plan your message when you’re communicating a decision to a group that has not been involved in the decision-making process. In particular, make sure your message includes: 1) how the decision was made, 2) why it was made, 3) what alternatives were considered, 4) how it fits into the organization’s mission and vision, 5) how it affects the company and 6) how it affects employees.
Our recent study shows that employees who were provided this information were more than twice as likely to support those decisions as employees who received little of that information. If you’d like to read further about this research done by Metacomm, view the “news” item on the Metacomm home page on “Decision Downloading.”
Screen out alternatives for your audience or decision-making team. For example, it’s more effective to consider 3 or 4 alternatives rather than 15. In fact, studies revealed that when shoppers had a choice of 24 different jams, only 3% bought, but when 6 jams were offered, 30% purchased.
Having many choices is exciting from an observer’s point of view, but can be overwhelming and paralyzing from a decision-maker’s point of view. If and when we do act, we often make inferior choices or are not satisfied with our choice. Part of the way we add value is to screen out choices so that others don’t need to invest the time to understand and choose the alternatives.
Watch for maximizing tendencies when you are making a decision. Maximizers seek and accept only “the best”; they need to be assured that every action they take and every decision they make is the best that can be made. Try instead to find the “good enough” alternative.
Research reveals that the cost of maximizing is high: it makes us more susceptible to regret, as well as increases our stress and anxiety. Additionally, the maximizer’s quest for perfection does not necessarily lead to a better quality of decision.
Seek agreement on the criteria by which your group judges possible solutions before making a final decision. For example, if your group is deciding on the location for an off-site meeting, you may decide that the criteria by which to judge a meeting location are: convenience, availability of media services and size of meeting rooms. After your group has brainstormed possible solutions, apply the criteria to each of your alternatives to arrive at your final solution.
This approach makes the selection process more systematic and objective. Additionally, by discussing the criteria and applying it to all the possibilities, you better understand the preferences of the group members and why they may disagree with a particular solution. This is not apparent when the group relies on a simple vote to arrive at a decision.
Don’t assume that your decisions are self-evident. Often decision-makers spend many hours arriving at a decision after carefully weighing alternatives. They often fail to remember that their audience hasn’t gone through this process of contemplation and analysis of options. Consequently, they focus on communicating the facts and decisions, not the process and rationale.
Communicators who think their decisions are self-evident are often perturbed by questions about those decisions. Sharing your rationale and the process you’ve gone through provides insight to coworkers and employees about how the decision was made. It also helps them experience–in an abbreviated manner–the deliberation and reflection that went into the decision.
Prior to making a decision in a group meeting, allow anyone in the group to act as an advocate “for” or “against” a particular alternative. Give each advocate 1 minute to “sell” his or her recommendation.
This approach allows people to expeditiously express their preferences while providing members a chance to seriously think through alternatives and their preferred position.
Avoid evaluating ideas during a brainstorming session. The focus of brainstorming is to generate ideas. Only after all ideas have been generated is it appropriate to 1) defend them and 2) discuss the pros and cons of each.
Preliminary evaluation inhibits creativity and hinders people from offering other ideas.
Check the “velocity” of your decision-making. The speed for decision-making needs to match the pace of change in the business environment. Are you exceeding the speed limit or going too slowly?
Effective decision-makers tend to make decisions at the appropriate speed. If they make decisions too slowly, they may miss opportunities; if they make decisions too quickly, they may make mistakes by not considering all the angles.