decision making
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Management Skill of Decision Making

I am sometimes asked what the single most important skill is to be a good manager. 

In my opinion it is to know how to do decision making. 

This is not about making a decisions for yourself on simple everyday tasks, but how to lead a group of people through a decision-making process on a difficult subject. To reach a decision that has enough support, is realistic and within our capabilities so that it can be implemented.  

This is what management and leadership at its core is about, how to bring people with diverse interests and personalities together, without destructive conflicts, around decisions that can be implemented. 

In order to do this, you need to understand what decision making and decision taking is.

Decision making involves several very complex issues and several layers of complexity.   

Culture differences in the process of decision making

First of all, there are cultural differences in how decisions are made, and you need to understand what the typical climate is in this regard where you operate. Are people used to be involved in decision making, are people open and are they allowed to express their opinion, what about critique – will it lead to repercussions if someone is critical to the management etc. Some cultures are very consensus seeking, others are top-down and very authoritative and allowing no debate. Some cultures are short term and focused only on effectiveness, while others are more “balance-seeking” trying to harmonize multiple aspects.  

Decision making approach also differs from individual to individual 

This is described in many different ways throughout history. 

The Greek physician Aelius Galenus described four archetypes or personalities: 

The Sanguine, 

Choleric, 

Melancholic and 

Phlegmatic. 

The Sanguine personality type is described as being highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, and social. 

The Choleric individuals tend to be extroverted, independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious. 

The Melancholic individuals tend to be analytical and detail-oriented; they are deep thinkers and feelers.

The Phlegmatic is described as individuals that tend to be relaxed, peaceful, quiet, and easy-going. 

Dr. Ichak Adizes (my own mentor) has described four managerial styles as being 

  • the Performer (short term goal oriented, driven, doer), 
  • the Administrator (systematic, rule driven, detail oriented), 
  • the Entrepreneur (conceptual, long term focused, creative) and 
  • the Integrator (strong social skills, the team player, emphatic). 

Imagine having all these different personality styles in one group. And you will have ! 

Their problem-solving approach will be completely different from one another. 

  • One will say “let’s just do it, enough talk”, 
  • another that “we need new rules”, 
  • the third “we are not even discussing the right problem” and 
  • the fourth will say “we need to listen to each other and start cooperating”. 

In order just to manage the potential conflict of personality styles, you need to be a very good manager, and you need theoretical understanding and a method to do this. 

To add complexity to this there is also always 

Conflicts of interests within a group of people 

The reason we e.g., form different political parties is not first of all because we want to promote different ideologies and solutions to our challenges, but rather because the different parties represent specific interests for specific groups. Totalitarian political and religious movements want to eliminate conflict of interest and to organize a society where only one way is the right way. 

You can suppress conflict of interest by force and for a while, but we cannot take away the fact that we all have different interests that we eventually will defend. The poor vs. the rich, the employer vs. the employee, ecological interests vs. industrial interest, just to give a few examples of conflicting interests.  

If you are managing a group of people that needs to find a decision on let’s say a certain technical problem, you may have in this group people that represent different interests. The CFO that knows that we cannot spend any money on this now, the manufacturing manager that needs a quick solution to solve a quality problem, the R&D Manager that thinks that this is the time to introduce a completely new technology rather than improving on the old machinery etc. 

How to harness the potential conflicts that can make a decision-making process run completely out of control.      

The next knowledge you need to acquire is how to make sure that you can take a group through a step-by-step process and to make sure that you have everyone at the same step at the same time. How do you synchronize and keep control of this process and all these conflicting interests and personalities?

Need to learn a decision-making process

There are many different approaches, but you should first make sure that all facts are gathered, then analyzed, then trying to find the best or optimal solution, then test this solution against reality, resources, cost-benefit, criteria’s that you may have started with to identify how a good solution will look like, then before you finalize make sure you have the group behind the decision. If there are still questions, doubts, or even disagreements, you will have to handle these before you move to the final conclusion. 

When you have the groups acceptance – or at least you are sure no one significant will undermine the decision, you should take the decision. A decision can be made by a group but should always be taken by only one person – the person with the highest authority necessary to make sure this decision is now going to be implemented. 

Maybe not so strange that a lot of decisions are never made? Or that decision making sometimes ends in terrible conflicts? Or that decisions are made but never carried out and implemented? Or maybe you have experienced that you discuss something at your work again and again and everyone believe that this is actually a problem that it was decided long ago to solve.   

Kjetil-Sandermoen

Author – Kjetil Sandermoen is a global strategic management consultant, founder of the University of Fredericton and Sandermoen School of Business. A Norwegian by birth and staying in Switzerland for over a decade, he authored many management books and is a regular columnist in several international magazines