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What makes good or bad decisions?

Written by on 26 January 2011

Most people like to think they are good decision makers. A great deal of time and column space has been occupied by discussions centred on what it means to make good decisions. The question remains as to whether this can be quantified in such precise terms as to give a route map or formulaic response that ensures quality decision-making.

Understanding decision-making

The ability to make decisions (the personal qualities that make individuals good decision makers) is very different from the actual process of decision-making. Many organisations attempt to improve the quality of decision-making by adopting a methodology that will aid the decision-making.

History helps!

Often a good or bad decision can only be evaluated with the benefit of hindsight. Take the situation where a platoon commander orders his troops to attack a position from the right flank. If the right flank is poorly defended and the position is taken with ease, then the decision to go right flanking will be validated and seen as a good decision. If however the right flank is heavily defended and the platoon takes significant casualties, the decision will be seen as poor. However, the outcome in both situations has little to do with quality decision-making.

The enemy has a vote

Remember that whoever your enemy (competition) is, they have a vote. That is to say that they will have a number of choices presented to them through your actions. As the enemy goes through their own decision-making processes, you will need to match their decision making cycle in order to retain the initiative. Many good plans are disarmed through poor implementation. This can refer to the tactical decisions that are taken during the emerging context.

Context changes everything

What might appear as a good decision at the beginning (based on experience, training, intelligence and command intuition) might become a poor decision depending on how the wider context develops. Even when the enemy (competitors) actions are negated, sometimes wider influences beyond the tactical problem can negate the decision that is being made. Understanding the wider strategic context has enormous influence on quality decision-making at every level.

Is decision making all about luck?

It would be wrong to think that quality decision-making is all about luck. The outcome of a decision may have many variables that require a certain amount of luck, yet you can significantly enhance your likelihood of success by adopting an analytical approach that structures decision-making. Having leaders who are prepared to make and act on decisions will significantly enhance the outcomes of those decisions.

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