3 Things to Consider Before Making an Important Decision at Work

Great leadership requires making wise decisions.  According to this well-researched Decision-making Model, there are 5 types of decisions and making a choice through the wrong process can get leaders in trouble.

There is not a single strategy that works the best every time, but here’s a simple guide to help you decide how to decide.

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As a leader, there are times you need to make a quick choice on your own.  Other times, you should involve the members of your team in an important decision.  How do you know when to fly solo and when to include everyone? 

Think of decision-making on a continuum, with autocratic decisions at one end and democratic decisions at the other.  On the autocratic side, you make decisions on your own and simply inform others about it (keeping all the power to yourself).  On the democratic side, you and your team collaborate together to reach a consensus decision (giving everyone a voice). Then there’s some gray area in between.

There are 5 different levels to making decisions:

  • Autocratic level 1: You make a decision completely on your own, using whatever facts you already have.
  • Autocratic level 2: You need to get some information from others first, and then you can decide on your own.  You are only asking for numbers or reports here – not advice.  You may not even share why you need the information.
  • Consultative level 3: You share the problem with a few key individuals (people you trust) to get their advice, and then make the decision on your own.  The whole group is not informed about the problem or brought together for discussion.
  • Consultative level 4: You share the problem with the whole team to get their ideas and suggestions, and then make the decision on your own.  You do hear everyone’s perspective, but you are ultimately responsible for the making the final decision.
  • Democratic level 5: You share the problem with the entire group in discussion and reach consensus agreement on the decision together.  Majority rules, so your opinion is not given any greater weight than the others.  Your role is mostly as a facilitator and you help the team reach a decision that everyone can agree on.

The underlying assumption of this model is that no one style of decision making fits every situation.  A leader can frustrate followers with endless meetings that involve everyone in every detail of the business.  On the other hand, not including employees in major decisions can result in unexpected resistance. 

So how do you decide how to decide?

3 things to consider before making an important decision:

  1. Time. Involving everyone takes more time.  If you only have a few minutes to make a decision, you’re going to have to do the best you can on your own.  Getting the whole group together to hash it out may not be an option.  If you do have the time to include others, use the decision as an opportunity for building team cohesiveness.
  1. Acceptance. Democratic decisions are more likely to be accepted.  When people don’t feel included, they can may resent the outcome and put up roadblocks or stall the process down the road.  If it’s critical that you have support later, you should involve key players now.
  1. Information. Do you have all the information you need?  Are you sure you’re seeing the big picture from all angles?  If not, you’re going to have to include others to get the facts first.

There is research evidence that leaders who consider these factors in their decision-making are more effective.  This model offers clear guidance for making the right decision in the right way every time.  The more you use it, the more you’ll get a feel for the best approach to use in each new circumstance you face. 

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Source:  Decision Methods for Group and Individual Problems. From “Leadership and Decision-Making,” by Victor H. Vroom and Philip W. Yetton. © 1973.

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