How to Make a Sensible Decision in the Toughest Situations?

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How to Make a Sensible Decision in the Toughest Situations?
Chloe Xu, Premium Member
It is easy to be paralyzed for managers when they are forced to make decisions in tough situations, especially in those where they have understood all the facts and done all the analysis, but still cannot figure out what to do. Badaracco (2016) encourages managers to use following practical questions to tackle very tough decisions:
  1. WHAT ARE THE NET, NET CONSEQUENCES of all my options? Open your mind and put aside the initial assumption about what should be done, assemble a panel of trusted advisers and experts, and consider together with them every course of available actions and their consequences in the real-world, thoroughly and analytically. Meanwhile, it could be very useful to have a second pair of eyes to question your thinking and preventing you from rushing to conclusions or falling into the trap of group-thinking.
  2. WHAT ARE MY CORE OBLIGATIONS? Step out of the comfort zone, put yourself in the shoes of all stakeholder groups, especially the most disadvantaged ones, and identify your biases and blind spots. The best way of doing that is speaking directly to the people who will be affected by your decision, or ask someone to role-play the stakeholders or outsiders as persuasively as possible.
  3. WHAT WILL WORK IN THE WORLD AS IT IS? After considering the consequences and duties, now you need to think about practicalities Ė which of your possible solutions to the problem is most likely to work? To answer this question, managers can do a stakeholder analysis and evaluation to understand the power or force of each party, and then choose out the most resilient solution based on the analysis.
  4. WHO ARE WE? This question requires managers to step back and think about the decision they made from lens of its relationships with and values for the team, the organization, and a broader community. Just imagine you are writing a paragraph in your organizationís history, which solution you might choose could best reflect what your organization stands for?
  5. CAN I LIVE WITH MY DECISION? Good managers commit to, act on, and live with the consequences of their choice. So the decision you made must reflect what you really care about as a manager and a human being. Writing down your decision and the reasons for it allows you to think more clearly over it.
Making tough decisions is the responsibility that managers cannot escape from. When you have to make a sensible decision in a tough situation, your job isnít finding solutions; itís creating them with your judgment.

⇒ Do you have any further particular idea on having better judgment in tough situations?

Source: Badaracco, J. (2016). How to Tackle Your Toughest Decisions. Harvard Business Review, 94 (September), pp.103 - 107.

Managers Taking Decisions Alone
Doaa Saayed, Member
Very good ideas. The problem is that sometimes managers don't share ideas for the reason that they are the managers and think they can do it all alone. Then after having taken their decision they believed is best, there are regrets and others are blamed who didn't participate at all...

Making a Tough Decision or Making a Decision in a Tough Situation
Damon Farfan, Member
I think you make good points to be used for developing a decision making filter to facilitate making a tough or difficult decision. I particularly appreciate putting yourself in the shoes or being able to empathize with each of your stakeholders impacted by the decision
However, your title and opening sentence discuss paralysis of managers making a decision in a tough situation. I am interpreting this as it is a high stress environment that you are forced to make the decision in. The most significant consequence of decision making paralysis is when there is an immediate need for a decision to be made.
In that circumstance, I do not believe trying to incorporate others in the decision making process will be the most effective solution.
Again I 100% agree that your questions are a good filter to be used to make a tough decision, just do not feel they apply to making a decision in tough (high stress) situation.

Editor: Great contribution. I think you are right to say this framework is not aimed at tough situations as you define them (under a lot of time pressure). Note however that situations can also be difficult or tough due to other reasons, in particular their complexity. I think this particular framework is aimed at such situations.

Level of Authority / Chance of Being Overruled
Ben Mawson-Mole, Member
This is a good check-list, with a good explanation.
I'd like to follow up on from @Doaa Saayed's comment.
Another consideration is always the chance of "being over-ruled". What levels of authority do you have for the decision you're about to make? And what are the chances of someone overruling you. Not the best wording for a section, but could another be "Who do you need to "schmooze" (Editor: ~talk friendly in an informal way) in order to avoid your decision being rejected?"
I've worked as Business Analist, Snr BA and in some cases as Project Manager, and no matter the amount of consideration and long term sights you apply to some difficult decisions, there's always the possibility of someone senior who could have the ability to overrule the decision you'll make. This undermines not only the confidence but also the credibility of the initial decision maker.

Making a Tough Decision > Advice your Immediate Boss
Shuma Negeri, Member
Points presented are very interesting. I would like to add one point: the manager shall not forget to advice his/her immediate boss about the decision as far as it is tough. When I say this, I don't mean that the manager shall not make the decision alone, rather I mean that the manager shall share his/her decision to have equal understanding with the boss and to get support on the implementation of the decision.

Tenants of Tough Decision Making
Decision making is a critical function of every leader, especially tough ones.
Sometimes decisions are accepted (irrespective of their actual content) as a result of the following:
  • Culture of the organization
  • Power vested in the decision maker
  • Nature of legislation governing members of the organization
and more importantly:
  • Competency of the decision maker
  • Unquestionable integrity of the decision maker
These are tenants upon which a tough decision can easily sail through or face considerable resistance.
It is also important to gain the support of those with executive powers at all levels of the organization and also to cox (Editor: ~motivate) them when you'll introduce a crucial decision so that all members can easily embrace the decision. This strategy sometimes works very well especially in big organizations.
And finally and more importantly, decisions need not to be rushed and involvement is always important before implementation.

Decision Making in Tough Situations
Josephat Olwal Ngesah, Member
I like the topic. Maybe we should give examples of tough situations or categorize them since there can be a myriad of tough situations.
Take for example, emergencies like disasters, letting a dependable member of staff go, choosing between your job and family, a product recall, etc.
I think once we categorize the situations we can prepare for them. A manager must understand his or her working environment and simulate several problems and decisions.
Sometimes the cause and effect, root cause analysis, can be useful approaches to making a decision.

What is a Tough Decision?
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
@Josephat Olwal Ngesah: Agree, one good way to categorize "decision making environments" is the Cynefin Framework. You might even go one step further and argue that the word "tough" is not very useful to describe a type of decision. If you think about it, "tough" is just a perception of someone, a personal feeling.
Perhaps what you need to consider is to what extent and in what way a decision is tough in order to first analyze the situation/environment of the decision and then choose an appropriate approach...

'Tough' Decision Defined
Damon Farfan, Member
@Jaap de Jonge: Very good point. One of the biggest challenges in decision making is objectively evaluating very subjective issues or topics. Lack of clearly defined terms of the situation or problem will result in no one being on the same page, which breeds inconsistency and will result in bad decision making.

Deciding in Writing
Andrew Blaine, Member
The topic, and initial list of points of assistance, are both of great value. May I suggest one other point which could, if correctly implemented, assist. I have found, through experience, that making difficult decisions requires deep thought and understanding of the contentious matter. Doing this as a group often detracts from the depth of analysis and the end result. To avoid this I often choose to reduce my thinking process to writing which has the following effects:
1. Because we generally think faster than we can write, writing forces us to slow down and think both more slowly and deeply;
2. It provides us with a written record of our thoughts, to which we can subsequently refer and limits the potential to "reinvent the wheel" or "follow red herrings"; and
3. It ensures that each and every facet of the matter has been covered in the process.
In my opinion, the writing process should be carried out individually and the result discussed collectively for best results.


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