The Left Brain Talks About Making Decisions
Hello Left Brain, how are things going today?
You may call me LB for expediency and things are proceeding nicely, thank you.
That’s great LB; we’re having a look at the decision making process and the steps that go into a good decision. Can you describe your method?
Why, of course, description is my specialty! I’ve taken the liberty of arranging the steps in order and formatting a bulleted list for clarity.
- Identify the problem
- Gather Information
- Develop Options
- Evaluate Alternatives
- Select an Alternative
- Take Action to Implement
Wow, LB, that’s very thorough! Let’s start with the order of the steps – does it matter which order you do them?
Why yes! It’s important to proceed through them in a logical order. It makes no sense to analyze information if you aren’t even aware you have a problem, now does it?
OK, but what about later in the process – could you maybe develop options concurrently with evaluating and analyzing? I’ve heard of other decision methods that are more free form.
Well, yes, I guess you could, but I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.
Let’s talk about the steps themselves. The first one seems obvious – identify a problem. Is that always the case?
Surprisingly, no. Problems, or opportunities, are everywhere. They’re just points where a decision must be made. They can be as simple as what to have for lunch to as complex as what direction to take a company. Those are still the easier ones to recognize.
What do you mean?
The worst case is when there’s a problem but no one sees it. For example, a company is struggling with customer retention but doesn’t realize their first line employees aren’t delivering the right message because the company management is focusing on deliverable products. There’s a problem but it can’t be solved until it’s seen.
Oh, that’s a good point. How about gathering information – what do we need to know about that?
It’s crucial to gather the right information. Each data point should be checked for relevance to the problem and if it will be helpful. Also, as much as I love data, the gathering has to stop at some point. There’s a critical mass of information that’s needed to make a decision and any more than that is not useful.
Moving on to the next steps, analyzing and developing options. Where does the first stop and the next start?
Well, these two do flow together at times. As you analyze what the data means and what courses of action may be available, you’ll naturally start to develop decision options. As much as I love having things buttoned up, I’ve got to caution decision makers against cutting the options step short.
Why is that?
It looks suspiciously like brainstorming, an activity I only tolerate, but spending more time than appears necessary coming up with ideas seems to lead to better results. And, I’m all about the results!
That’s good advice – once you have these options, what’s next?
You must evaluate them based on a range of criteria that are appropriate to the situation. Some things to consider might be feasibility, acceptability and desirability and how well an option matches the objectives you have.
That sounds like it leads naturally to…
Selecting an option. Exactly! By now you should have considered any possible adverse consequences and the risks that may arise. With all that in mind, you’re ready to choose.
Once a decision is made – what’s next?
Action, but that seems to be where many decisions fall apart. To implement a course of action requires allocating resources, time or money or effort, to its implementation and making sure others affected by the choice support it as well. It pains me to see a perfectly lovely process derailed at the end by lack of action.
I can see how that would bother you. Well, LB, we’re at the end of our time. What thought would you want to leave folks with?
That any decision is better than none at all. It’s better to have tried to address a problem, even if imperfectly, than to allow it to go unaddressed until it becomes a crisis. The corollary to this is that any decision that’s not working can, and should, be revisited and revised if necessary.
Thanks LB, for taking the time to talk to me today. It’s been enlightening.
Do you talk to your brain? Let me know in the comments or a note – I promise a reply!
photo credit: Daniel Zanini H.