"A good decision is based on knowledge, not on numbers."
B: Hi, I’m Barbara Saxberg.
D: And I’m Dan Oldfield.
B: And this is the Occasional Podcast from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
D: Decisions, decisions, decisions! Life is filled with them. Some small and straightforward, others not so much.
B: Leaders in any organization are called on throughout the day to make decisions that affect them personally, affect the people around them and affect the organization.
D: And in today’s episode, we look at decision-making. And what it takes to do it well.
B: These days, many organizations put a lot of weight on evidence, on fact-gathering, number-crunching, on analytics – all in the name of making better decisions. It’s known as evidence-based decision-making and it’s been around for a while in the health sector. But its reach has spread well beyond hospitals and medicine.
The idea is simple. Gather up all the facts, do your research, do your homework and you will have what you need to select the best course of action – whether it’s choosing a new software or deciding on a, on a strategic direction for your organization.
D: There are of course, the simple, straight forward, day to day decisions – the ones most people understand and can generally execute with little debate or discussion. But when something is new or constitutes a change, most leaders do their best to minimize the risk both for themselves and for the organization. And to do that, well… facts are your friends.
B: But are facts alone enough to make the best decision? What about the people? The human factor? Any decision that changes something for a person or group of people in an organization would do well to factor in the people involved or affected. In other words, how might a course of action fare next to the values or beliefs or real needs of the people involved?
D: Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, “David and Goliath”, tells the story of how the British government, during World War II, built a number of large facilities to house all the people it believed would be psychologically damaged as a result of the Blitz, the endless bombings that pounded London. It seemed to make sense. They’d done studies, produced reports, estimated deaths, injured and traumatized.
Here were the facts: the bombs dropped daily, buildings were shattered, people hid out in the underground, and people – loved ones – died. Destruction surrounded Londoners with no end in sight. It was reasonable then, based on what was known about the human psyche, that people would need psychological help. The British government thought it was being proactive, building institutions to take care of them.
But the people of London, rather than lose their minds, proved unexpectedly resilient. They kept their chins up and their upper lips stiff. They banded together in solidarity against their enemy, even experiencing feelings of invincibility for each day they survived another blast.
And the psychiatric institutions? Well, nobody showed up. Not one was used for its original purpose. Eventually, they were turned over for military use.
B: So the facts by themselves led to a course of action. But by not adequately considering the human factor, the decision to build psychiatric institutions was flawed.
Here’s another example, this one’s a personal story. I love Christmas. I love Christmas traditions. Growing up, there was always an opportunity, usually several, to sing carols throughout December. But as time passed, the carols gradually fell by the wayside.
This past Christmas, I decided to bring them back. It was, I confess, a unilateral decision. The family, all 20 of them, would be gathering in our living room on Christmas Eve. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we sang carols before sitting down to turkey dinner. I talked to Dan about this…..
D: Yes, I was also admittedly a bit lukewarm…
B: Well, you weren’t exactly brimming with enthusiasm, but you didn’t object. You even offered to learn to play a couple on the guitar.
B: Yep, well…
So I informed our guests – parents, kids, grandkids – about the plan and somehow missed the mumbled responses followed by sideways glances at Dan to see if I actually meant it. I painstakingly put together booklets so that everybody would have the words. Christmas Eve arrived. Gather round, I said. And we began to sing… Well, only a handful of us did as it turned out. Most of the kids and all the grandkids didn’t know the carols. So the singing was pretty half-hearted and it became clear they were just kind of humouring me. So after a few attempts, I gave up and announced dinner. So what went wrong?
D: Well, to start with, you didn’t do your homework, didn’t actually ask the people how they felt about it and didn’t bother to find out if anybody actually knew the carols. Lots of assumptions, Barb, lots of assumptions.
B: Yeah, next year, I’m thinking I’ll give everyone flutes, little recorders maybe, with little music charts and we can play music instead of sing.
D: It couldn’t go much worse than the carols.
In addition to considering the facts. and the needs or desires of the people, there’s a third element in making good decisions… drawing on the resources around you, either in the form of expertise or experience. (Something else Barb neglected in the Christmas Carol fiasco).
Making big decisions leaving out any of these three considerations may have you heading down a path that doesn’t take you where you need to go.
B: Finally, decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. The facts, the people and the resources all exist in a particular environment. And that environment also influences outcomes. I mean let’s face it, nobody was into singing carols when the smell of roast turkey was wafting through the house and the kids were wound up with visions of Santa and knowing that there were gifts waiting to be opened. Ok, moving on….
In an organizational context, there are always other factors such as economic pressures, social values or even political agendas at play.
D: So to summarize, good decision making involves three primary considerations: first, doing your homework, gathering the facts and analysing them; second, considering the needs, values and beliefs of the people involved or who will be affected, and third, drawing on expert advice and respecting the experience of those around you.
Explore these three factors while taking into account the environment in which the decision will take effect and you have a recipe for better decision-making.
B: If you’d like to know more, get in touch using the contact information on our website. We’re always interesting in hearing from you.
D: And feel free to use the comment section of this page. We’d like to hear your stories, your experiences – successful or not – in making decisions.
B: This has been the Occasional Podcast from Syzygy Learning & Facilitation.
Theme licenced from beatsuite.com