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Three ways to take your decision making to the next level

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 11:31

The ability to make decisions that are both quick and insightful is one of the biggest challenges of occupying a senior leadership position. Both executives and managers looking to reach a senior role have to think on their feet, while still making decisions that are grounded in their experience and that they can justify to colleagues and company directors.

In many ways, this change is being driven by fundamental shifts in the business landscape. Digital technology requires companies to be agile in a way they haven't needed to be in the past. Senior decision-makers have the influence here to either meet this demand or slow an organisation down with indecision.

So how can you make better decisions? Here are three different ways.

1) Recognise your own limitations

This step is both the most important and the hardest to get right. Everyone has unconscious biases and make decisions based on their own preferences rather than an objective assessment of the facts.

Decision-makers are biased when pursuing new technologies.

In fact, researchers from the University of Missouri found that decision-makers are biased when investing in new technologies. The researchers found that leaders with non-technical backgrounds are so used to using technology that works, they will assume that a new, untested technology will work just as well. This is part of the reason new IT projects are so prone to cost and timeline overruns.

While the research was limited to investments in new technology, it underscores the breadth of cognitive biases that can shape the decision-making process. While it is impossible to completely ignore these personal preferences when making a choice, at least being aware of them is a useful starting point to overcoming bias.

2) Raise your own decision-making skills

Many senior executives will have evolved into their role from middle manager positions without ever taking the time to step back and work on their own professional development. Given the shift in roles between middle and senior management, and the breadth of new responsibilities that come with this change, it's often useful to put aside time to build skills on your own.

Pursuing an MBA is just one option here, giving you the time to step back and work on your management capabilities and learn best-practice techniques. These skills can then be applied to everyday decisions and strategic conversations that are occurring within your organisation.

 Hitting the books is one way to become a better decision-maker.

3) Narrow your options

This one comes down to the moment when you are presented with a range of different options and finally have to choose the one that is right for your organisation. Executives will certainly be familiar with these choices, and they present a chance to put that experience into action to solve a problem.

However, there is one simple strategy here that can further improve decision-making - reduce the number of options. Rather than trying to decide between 10 different solutions, narrow your options to just two or three.

While people were naturally drawn to the wider range, it also made it harder for them to reach a decision.

The logic here stems from research conducted in 2000 by academics at Columbia University and Stanford University. In a now famous experiment, the researchers asked participants to choose a flavour of jam, either from six variations or 24-30.

While people were naturally drawn to the wider range, it also made it harder for them to reach a decision. Those with a smaller range of choices on the other hand, were more likely to make a choice and also reported greater satisfaction with their choice.

Although executives will be making more important decisions than simply which jam to choose, the logic behind shrinking the number of available options certainly has weight.

As the pace of business increases, the need to make decisions quickly and effectively is increasing as well. Investing the time to understand how you personally make decisions, and then supplementing this with the right training and experience, can ensure you are helping to drive the organisation forward.