Making decisions is hard. Being right is nice, and being wrong is painful in many ways. However, if you want to advance in the workplace, decision-making is one of the most crucial skills you need to develop.
Decision-making skills make you a valuable employee, as you require less management. Good decision-making allows your employer to trust you and give you more work. You can accomplish higher-value tasks. Decision-making is one of the most valuable leadership skills.
Decision-making is a skill you can develop. Some tools and frameworks allow you to develop good judgment and make the right calls at the right time. This article will explore decision-making skills, tools, common roadblocks, and how you can be a good decision-maker in the workplace.
How can I be a good decision-maker at work?
Don’t Avoid Decisions
When confronted with a hard choice, we often decide that it's better to wait and let the situation progress before committing to an action. This course of action often leads to situations getting worse. We miss opportunities because we want to be safe rather than take risks and capitalize on opportunities.
You cannot run from decision-making. Avoiding a decision is still a decision. If an opportunity arises, not choosing to do something about it now is still a decision.
Moreover, not being aware of a choice means that someone else or a circumstance will choose for you. Therefore, you are essentially surrendering a decision you have control over right now to forces that are not under your control.
Good performance at work comes from:
- Anticipating and seeing choices.
- Making decisions actively, not reactively.
- Taking the time and putting in the effort to make decisions well.
Progressing in the workplace involves more than just making good decisions. It involves making sound decisions AND communicating them to the people involved. Visibility of the work you are doing is crucial. People who will be affected by the decision need to be aware of it.
To communicate decisions effectively, you can use the “RACI” model.
- These are the people involved in the execution process and are responsible for doing the work.
- These people are in charge and answerable to other people in the company.
- These people weigh in with input and opinions but are not involved in doing the work or on the hook for it.
- These people are not involved in the project, but you want to keep them informed and in the loop for transparency.
Additionally, when you convey the decision to stakeholders, explain the rationale behind the decision and anticipate any questions that they might ask.
Any good manager prefers a self-directed employee. If you are willing to make decisions and develop the skills necessary to make good decisions, you can become self-directed in the workplace. You become magical; your boss’ work comes to you and magically transforms into value.
Managers don’t want you to ask them things if they can trust you to do it. It takes the work of supervising off of them, and they can focus on creating value in other places.
Decision-Making Tools to Use at Work
One of the most helpful decision-making tools comes from a book called Decisive. It talks about the WRAP process, which is detailed below:
Widen Your Options
When trying to decide, we often get stuck in a limited number of options. We tend to narrow the frames for our decisions.
(Do X or not) vs. (Do X, Y, Z, A, B, C): You may consider going out for barbeque or ordering some Chinese food. However, there are several options you are missing out on, such as going out for Thai, Italian, Middle Eastern, etc.
What are the options on the table that you are not considering? Knowing what you are trading off when making major life decisions is good. Is there something that you will want to change after making the decision?
Who else has made this decision already? How did it go for them? Can you learn something from their success or failure?
Better yet, what have 1000 people decided? How did that decision pan out for them? Have they largely been successful or unsuccessful? Is there a survivorship bias at play?
Look for bright spots; what part of this decision is working? Who are the people for whom this is working?
Remember, how people frame decisions for us dramatically influences how we think.
Reality-Test your Assumptions
Most decisions have some information based on assumptions. We want to minimize these assumptions to predict the outcome of our decision. We must not rely on gut bias. Therefore, getting data is essential.
List out the assumptions behind your decisions. Can you find data to support any of them? What are the averages or norms? Can you test your assumptions in the real world and get concrete results? How many assumptions need to be verified to get a good sense of the outcome of this decision?
Emotions bias choices. Biases are inherent to human beings, and we need to account for them when making decisions. If you want a particular outcome, your mind will do selective reasoning to make that the most appealing outcome.
Moreover, emotions change over time, but the consequence of a decision in a given situation with the same circumstances will not change. If you feel strongly about a decision, then give it time. If your instinct is correct, then you will likely get more information. Do not make decisions based solely on emotional drivers, as they can have unpredictable and inconsistent outcomes.
Another helpful exercise is to ask yourself the following question: what would you tell your friend if they were in your situation? How would you advise them to take action? This scenario distances you from being the center of the decision. You become an observer, which allows you to gain more awareness of what is going on around you.
Emotions create tunnel vision and force us to think in binary terms, so attaining distance is crucial to making unbiased decisions.
Prepare to be Wrong
Even with the most accurate information, our decisions may lead to unfavorable outcomes. If you can’t prepare for these scenarios, the next best option is to prepare for them.
Try to answer the following questions: What is reversible? What is the worst that can happen? What will you do in that case?
You have probably heard of a post-mortem. If something goes wrong, then we try to figure out what caused it and what we can do better next time. However, a premortem is even more effective. It involves asking if something goes wrong, what might have caused that? It is a way to anticipate problems and prepare for them before they even arise.
Preparade is another underutilized concept. It involves wondering about the right course of action if things go better than planned. How will you capitalize on this success? What will you need to scale up and seize the opportunity?
The WRAP framework helps make complex decisions and map out a roadmap for alternative paths and opportunities. However, there are other steps you can take to develop the skill to make good decisions.
Practice Good Judgement
You can make predictions without stakes and analyze the consequences afterward. For example, the pandemic is a good study for the case of decision-making. It presented every country with a certain amount of information, and they all reacted differently. You can predict the consequences of a particular decision and check in later to see whether you were right or wrong and the reason behind that.
This strategy is also called paper trading and is one of the most common strategies used to learn to trade in the stock market if you don't have any money.
In the workplace, you can predict the outcomes of what your company is planning and see if you are right or wrong.
When you decide to take on a particular task or project, you choose not to take on another task. A choice to spend time on A means not spending time on B. Use this principle to make calculated decisions about how you spend your time.
Goals and Values
The workplace has a set of goals and values at each level. We can roughly divide them into the following categories:
- Corporate values and goals
- Group or team goals
- Your values and goals
Now and then, you can even ask yourself the question, why does your job exist? How does your work relate to the goals of the company or the goals of your specific team?
Ask for Input
When you work for someone, they have a say in your priorities. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are on the same page about the work that is best suited for you. You can ask them the following questions to align with your goals:
- “I think A is more important than B because of X, do you agree?”
- “After I complete B, I will work on C next. How does that sound to you?”
By asking these questions, you are inviting them to have a say in your priorities while at the same time maintaining your independence by not asking them to define your priorities for you.
Popularized by US President Eisenhower, it divides tasks along two axes: urgent vs. non-urgent and important vs. unimportant.
Ideally, you want to be moving in the following order of quadrants: Do -> Schedule -> Delegate -> Delete.
Delegation is a potent tool in our toolkits that often gets overlooked. It is an efficient use of everyone’s time to delegate work that no longer requires your skills. Your busy work can quickly become someone else’s growth opportunity.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief, you can also delegate to your peers. It allows you and your peer to do work aligned with your skills and interests while efficiently using time.
Skills for Decision-Making
If you want to maximize your decision-making capabilities at work, specific core skills will give you an edge.
Align Your Priorities
As mentioned above, aligning yourself with your organization’s priorities is crucial to making good decisions. You can put your best foot forward when you know which direction to move in.
After aligning yourself appropriately, you need to prioritize. Top employees do the most valued work in the organization. If you consistently create value, you will be rewarded. Moreover, having clear priorities can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. You know what to focus on at any given moment. Dealing with uncertainty becomes much more manageable.
It is also essential to control your work. Just because someone has asked you to do something does not mean that it is what you should be doing. Choose and be conscious about how you use your time. Developing prioritization skills involves being able to choose where your time goes.
Planning involves determining the different dimensions of a decision before you take it. Here is an efficient way to plan:
- Define your goals.
- Work backward to determine what it will take to achieve those goals.
- Figure out the resources needed to execute the plan.
- Gather and sustain the motivation to execute the plan.
- Manage feelings of overwhelm when you run into roadblocks.
Once you know what is needed to execute a plan, you can gather and arrange resources. Organization involves gathering what you need to implement a plan.
Most workplaces are collaborative environments. Therefore, here are the essential skills required to collaborate effectively:
- Matching people to tasks.
- Clarity on task assignment.
- Transparency on who is depending on each other.
In the workplace, you will often run into a crossroads and will need to decide how best to implement a plan. You will have limited resources, limited time, limited scope, or a combination of the three. In this case, you can maximize two of those aspects while compromising on the third.
Estimation is a crucial skill when making decisions in the workplace. It allows you to predict timelines, resources, and schedules with imperfect information.
However, humans are bad at making estimates. We tend to be optimistic and err towards the lower end of a range.
Experts in an area tend to make better estimates, but not by much. What works even better is to look at a consensus of many expert estimates. It allows you to get a better sense of the average sentiment from a range of people knowledgeable in a particular area.
However, the best way to get an estimate is to analyze the performance of similar situations in the past. Draw from those experiences as they contain known variables. It is best to rely on past knowns rather than future unknowns.
Common Roadblocks in Decision-Making
Another crucial skill involved in decision-making is identifying good decisions from bad decisions. However, we tend to run into trouble with encountering the following problems:
When you try to apply the WRAP model, you may get stuck at the “Widen your options” step. You may create too many choices and wont know how to proceed from thereon.
It is essential not to widen options for the sake of widening them. Widen your options when you are stuck with two choices. In this case, consider if there is a third option you are leaving out. Don't blow it up to try to find ALL the possibilities.
Infinite choices aren’t better than a few choices. Don't get trapped down to just two options (A and not-A). In general, 6 to 8 options are the upper limit of one’s ability to process and analyze choices.
Satisficing vs. Maximizing
When in doubt, opt for saying “good enough”. When faced with many poor choices, you may be sure what to do, so just pick the best one from the lot. It may not be the best option, but it's good enough.
More choices mean more mental effort. Consider this tradeoff of mental effort when making decisions.