Making decisions can be a challenge, especially at work, where you want your decisions to reflect positively on your capabilities as a leader. But often we make decisions too quickly and without thinking them through, says Tony Welsh, a vice-president with Forrest & Co., an organizational coaching firm.
Often there's more than one person making a decision and everyone comes at it from their own point of view, he says, some with a hidden agenda. So it's vital to "doggedly" follow a decision-making process in order to strip that down and come to the best decision to solve your problem.
"We're in a rush," he said in an interview, and we tend to think "let's just get it done."
The other problem, he says, is that we have too much data: "We tend to get hung up in all the information that's available and get lost in it. It makes simple decisions much more complex," he said.
The decision-making process outlined by Mr. Welsh can be applied equally to simple, quick decisions or complex issues that require more research. It's a map of how to approach an issue or problem in a methodical way so you can make a clear and informed choice that meets the goals you've set out.
When we make decisions, we often approach issues in the same way rather than taking a different tack and finding a smarter way to get something done, he said. This process helps you "look at a problem from all angles," Mr. Welsh said in a seminar at the Human Resources Professionals Association conference.
Here's his way to approach a decision:
1. Purpose: Ask yourself why you are making this decision and distill it into one or two clear sentences. "What goal is this choice about?" he asks. "You have to make sure the purpose is clear and specific."
For example, you're buying a new car because the old one is too small and you need a vehicle that will seat five adults and handle camping gear.
2. Criteria: List your key criteria. There are "must" criteria and "want" criteria, and as you go through this process you may have to come back to revise your criteria.
The "must" criteria are paramount; if a decision doesn't satisfy these criteria, then it's automatically eliminated. "Really push back on why must [this decision] do that." In our example, the car must seat five people.
The "want" criteria are flexible. If a decision doesn't satisfy a want, then you make a judgment call as to how valuable the want is. That's when your experience will come into play to help you decide how necessary certain criteria are, in the end, and rate them accordingly. For example, you may want a red car, but you'll be okay if it's blue.
3. Generate Options: You need at least three options for any decision. You have to have alternatives if the first option doesn't work out.
Don't rush into a decision, Mr. Welsh says. And don't limit your options either. Open your mind to let in as many approaches as possible. "Throw them all in before you throw them out."
This is where you might come up with a "breakthrough" option that you might not have considered before, so you have to allow options to come to light before you decide whether they're right or not. For example, don't knock out a kind of car until you've done your research.
4. Gather Information: This where the decision-making process often gets bogged down, he says. In order to prevent that, you need to place realistic limits on your options. By coming up with the first three steps – the goal, the criteria and the options – you're already being more specific about what information you'll need to gather to come to a reasoned decision, he said.
"It helps you drive thinking in a particular direction," he says. You have to have enough information but you need to make sure you're not overwhelmed by information either.
For example, you might decide to look only at those car dealerships near you as you make a decision.
5. Evaluate: This is the stage where you start to cross off certain options. As part of this evaluation, you'll look back to your "must" and "want" lists to see which option satisfies the most criteria. If your musts are nixing all of your options, "you may have the wrong musts," he says. "This is when you weigh the value of the wants."
6. Risk Analysis: This is a step that's often overlooked as decisions are made. This is where you need to develop a number of "what if" scenarios that may affect your decision in the future. For example, if the nearby dealership closes, will a particular car still be a good choice?
7. Make a Decision: Use the QQTR acronym: Quantity, Quality, Time and Resources.
For our example, the quantity is one car; good is a car that fits the criteria; time depends on how quickly you need it; and resources cover how you are planning to finance the purchase.
While this is a step-by-step process, you may jump around a bit, going back to your criteria or your options as you move along. It's meant to be flexible in order for you to come up with a decision that makes sense, and accomplishes what you set out to do.