The Fundamental Steps of Decision Making

Decision making is an essential skill to develop no matter what field or work you are in and what life direction you have chosen. Most of us have adopted a decision making method that seems to work for us most of the time and so we don’t give it much thought but if the method is unstructured and/or not regularly adhered to it can often lead to poor decisions or sometimes even the inability to make decisions. This can be costly to your future in both professional and personal advancement and it is for this reason that it is an important element to discuss.

When approaching each significant decision that you need to make, in general your decision making process should include these five fundamental steps:

Understanding the Problem or Objective

Develop Alternatives

Evaluation of the Alternatives

Making a Firm Decision

Taking Action

Depending on the nature of the decision you are making, you may need to vary this methodology slightly although the underlying approach remains the same. For example, in the case of very large decisions, you may want to break that action step into smaller phases and include an assessment step between each phase to ensure you are on the right track and make adjustments accordingly.

Let’s have a more detailed look at each of these steps.

1. Understand the Problem or Objective

In this first step, the most important element is to fully understand what you are trying to achieve. What is the objective and why is it important? Define this objective and write it down. It is important ensure you are targeting the right issue as a well thought-out decision for solving the wrong issue will not be of much use in the long run.

If possible, find out as much as you can about the background or history of the problem you are approaching. Who or what is involved and if there are others involved what are their opinions and knowledge on the subject?

2. Develop Alternatives

Alternatives are most effectively generated by having one or more brainstorming sessions. If a group is involved in coming up with ideas, I like to approach each brainstorming session by first coming up with my own alternatives, and having the others do likewise, before sharing the alternatives as a group. This ensures that the alternatives being generated are not prematurely swayed into a particular line of thought. In most cases, generating all possible alternatives is not achievable but this should be the goal so that a full spectrum of potential alternatives is captured.

3. Evaluate the Alternatives

Once you are confident that all alternatives or at least enough alternatives have been considered, the alternatives need to be compared and evaluated against your decision criteria. Depending of the problem, your decision criteria may include looking at things such as predicted outcomes, possible risks involved and the estimated costs, either monetary or other, that will be incurred if that particular alternative is chosen. If the situation allows it, this comparison is effectively done by creating a decision matrix for evaluating how alternative fit with your decision criteria. This can also be done mentally if there is not sufficient time to make notes, although it is difficult to do a proper analysis without writing things down. Either way, the important thing is to consider all the implications that will result from each alternative.

4. Make a Firm Decision

I believe this step in the decision making process is the most important step and, from what I have observed, this is also often the most difficult step for most people. They are very wary about making a firm decision in case that decision turns out to be wrong. The only important thing is that you have considered the alternatives and made an informed decision to the best of your abilities on the information that is known. Period.

The ability to take this step is what usually separates leaders and high achievers from the rest of the world. Have confidence in yourself and stick to the definite conclusion that you have reached. It is usually tempting for people to delay this step from a deep-rooted sense of self-questioning or self-doubt. Don’t waste valuable time. Make the decision fairly quickly, without delay and let it be final.

Once you have made your decision, don’t second guess yourself, even for a moment. Second guessing will cast doubt on your decision making and has the knock-on effect of creating uncertainty and reluctance in future decision making. It is important to be firm with your selection. Trust yourself and don’t look back.

5. Take Action

Take the actions necessary to implement your decision as soon as possible after it has been made. If others are involved in the implementation of the decision or need to be informed about the outcome, communicate the verdict to them and then begin taking action straight away. Don’t wait to hear other people’s reactions or await their acceptance of your decision. Start acting on your decision immediately. Getting the ball rolling early is what gives momentum to the implementation of your decision and helps ensure it is not forgotten or misunderstood.

Let’s Summarize

We all make mistakes but by following a well-defined process, these mistakes can be greatly reduced and the quality of our decisions improved upon. If you find you are generally making poor decisions or you do not trust yourself to make any significant decisions at all, it is probably time to begin using this systematic approach. Following these steps of fully understanding the objective, developing a good range of alternatives, properly evaluating the alternatives, making a firm decision and taking immediate action will lead to more consistency and certainty in your decisions and overall arriving at better conclusions.