Training & Education: Overcome decision-making fears

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The essential feature of the job of a manager is the decision-making role. In lower positions, decision-making is less frequent and/or of less importance.

It is therefore most disappointing that, in assessing in-basket exercises carried out by managers, I come across massive reluctance to make decisions. I am not alone in expressing this concern.

It is a commonplace whinge, not only by those involved in training managers, but as Bertrand Russell states: “Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth.”

Joshua Reynolds: “There is no expedient to which men will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.”
Intuition versus logic

I have met, and read of, many managers who believe in using “gut feel” or “intuition” as their most important aids to decision-making.

Many will decide only on the basis of their intuitions.
Unfortunately, experimental studies show this method is often dangerously wrong. In managerial literature the conflict of views between the intuition and “rational”
approaches to decision-making continues unresolved.

However, psychological research has provided some valuable insights, the most important of which is the brain processes or “incubates” information even when we are not consciously focusing on it.

Intuition is often the “feeling” we experience when our “unconscious” thoughts are applied to the problem at hand. We feel uneasy about an option, but cannot express in rational terms why we do not like it.

When, as will occasionally happen, our intuition turns out to be “right” we remember this instance while perhaps forgetting the many occasion when it has been wrong.

The way out of this dilemma is to always gather as much relevant information as possible in the “pre-decision” phase.

Then let the brain incubate.
But also apply a rational process to eliminate those intuitions which would clearly lead to negative outcomes.

Any elementary model

Do not scoff at the simple method of separating a page into two with a vertical line with “for” heading one column and “against” heading the other.

Then make lists of advantages under for and disadvantages under against (going to Nyanga for the holiday, or staying at home, for example).

It is pleasantly surprising how often one finds that doing this yields a “satisfying” decision whereby the best option suddenly becomes obvious. A much more sophisticated version of this method was developed by Professor Lewin and his colleagues as long ago as the 1950s.

Unlike many “old” models it is extremely popular in current managerial literature. Lewin proposed that any problem of the for/against format can be represented as a monetarily static point in a “force field” of positive and negative factors. (Read on, it gets easier!)

In both business and personal life decision situations often involve multiple variables “pushing” for, or against a state of temporary equilibrium.

Temporary state of equilibrium

A list is drawn up of forces for, and another of forces against, the point of equilibrium. The dividing line moves forward (right) or backwards (left) as a result of the for and against forces.

Now some estimates are required. Estimate the strength of each force and the probability that each force can be influenced.

By multiplying each force by its probability you produce an index which shows how you should attempt to make progress by increasing those on the left and reducing those on the right.

This is a systematic way of highlighting what must be done in order to make progress.

The model guides us in gathering and evaluating information and in the actions we should take.

This works well both for individual and group decision-making. It helps us to consider all variables and to focus our efforts much more efficiently than we would if neglecting the listing and estimation requirements.

It is easy to use and even enjoyable to think about!
Please follow-up by using a practical example (which space does not allow here) after looking up “force-field model” under Google and you will fully understand this method and the important principles which it illustrates.

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