What does ‘good’ decision-making look like?

The book Deciding explains that the unique purpose of every organisation can only be advanced by making and implementing decisions.

Whether each decision actually supports and advances (rather than detracts from) that purpose is dependent on the quality of that decision.

Deciding also explains that irrespective of the success of a decision, every decision is made using the same method referred to as the ‘universal method’. 

It follows, therefore, that three considerations will determine the success of decision making in organisations – 

  1. The -awareness of its Deciders of the universal method in their own decision-making,
  2. Understanding of the elements and related techniques of the method, and
  3. The skill of its Deciders with respect to each of those elements.

This is also true of personal decisions. 

In organisations, the expectations and norms of the organisation will invariably influence the success and quality of decisions.

Organisations of any type can, therefore, expect to benefit from becoming aware in an objective way of the likely success of present practice with respect to what its Deciders know about decision-making and what, currently, they do.

Such an assessment will not guarantee the effectiveness of any particular decision but can be a useful indicator of both the general state of decision-making while  providing a focus for efforts to improve.

Each decision, of course, is unique and therefore can only be evaluated on either the actual outcomes (which, depending on the skill of the Decider, might or might not be beneficial) or by forensically evaluating each element of the universal method as applied in making that decisionAnalysis of individual decisions can be used either proactively, to validate (or enhance) decisions before implementation, or retrospectively to determine the reason for any decisions that resulted in unintended or undesired outcomes.

Part A below is the general diagnostic tool using Y/N questions. (It is not intended as, and should not be used as, a scoring system but merely to highlight any aspects of decision-making (i.e. aspects with a ‘No’ answer) that will require further analysis and remedial action in order to improve decision-making.) 

Part B explains how individual decisions can be reviewed.

Both these tools can be downloaded here.

Part A:  Diagnostic tool to test the general approach to decision-making within an organisation

1Are all Deciders aware of the universal method they are using when making all their decisions?
2Does everyone in the organisation who is required to make decisions have an identical and accurate understanding of the organisation’s ultimate purpose?
3Is there a shared understanding of the internal, external, and wider context in which the organisation is operating at any particular time?
4Is there a common understanding amongst Deciders of:
4.1The concept of seeking ‘sufficient certainty’ in relation to decision outcomes?
4.2The role and importance of conversations in successful decision-making?
4.3The nature and significance the assumptions that underpin most decisions?
4.4The existence and function of primary and secondary components* of decisions?
4.5The potential for change to occur after the decision is made, i.e., during implementation and beyond?
4.6Common ways in which changes that could affect the success of a decision can occur?
4.7General methods for detecting change?
5Are all decision-makers (from the board** down) specifically trained in decision-making?
6Is decision-making performance specifically discussed, monitored and reinforced?
*   Primary components are those intended to exploit an opportunity to pursue the organisation’s purpose, and secondary components are those intended to make it more likely that the actual outcomes of the primary component will be those intended.
**Or for organisations that don’t have a board of directors, the supervising entity.
For each “NO” answer, use the book Deciding to develop a remedial action plan including identification of those who will need to be involved.

Part B: Diagnostic tool for review of individual decisions

  1. Identify the exact decision (primary and secondary elements).
  2. Identify all involved in making the decision and the role each played.
  3. Complete the template in Appendix D of Deciding based on what the relevant Decider(s) did, knew or assumed.
  4. Analyse each element against the guidance in Deciding
  5. Report on the above, identifying both specific shortcomings and opportunities for systematic improvement.