Become Better Decision Makers – Business Decision Making Models


Continuous Improvement, Process Improvement

Decision, Decisions, Decisions

We make countless decisions every day.  Am I having coffee or tea today?  What should I work on first? Should I wear something other than sweatpants?  And, the most perplexing decision of all…what should we have for dinner?

You’d think after making decision after decision, day after day, that we’d all be good decision makers by now. Practice makes perfect, right?

However, decision making continues to be one of the most challenging aspects of our personal and professional lives. A recent McKinsey online survey of decision making in business found that only 57 percent of the respondents agreed that their organizations consistently make high-quality decisions.  Think about that…almost half of these respondents don’t think their organizations make good decisions. 

So, why is something we do so often such a challenge?

Part of the problem could be the overwhelming number of ways to make a decision.  A quick Google search on business decision making models nets volumes of research to support a wide range of models, not limited to, but including:

  • Rational Decision Making:  The most basic method, it generally includes (1) defining the problem; (2) determining the criteria to judge the solution to the problem; (3) thinking of possible solutions; and (4) evaluating the solutions against the criteria. Although basic, this method can take a long time to work through each step, and there can be significant gaps in what you consider as a solution and what will actually work.
  • Incremental Decision Making:  Think of this in the context of answering the question “how do you eat an elephant?”  Incremental decision making would suggest “one bite at a time.” This method is a bit more complex and even more time consuming than the rational method.
  • Intuitive Decision Making:  Good for those that work on “gut instinct,” however I’m pretty sure there aren’t many business leaders that would accept the one-page business case titled “it just feels right.”
  • Consensus Building Decision Making: This type of decision making is becoming more and more prevalent, especially with the proliferation of tech-based communication and collaboration tools available and matrix working environment in many companies.  The purpose is to ensure the opinions and ideas of all stakeholders are considered in the decision making process and that each person has a voice, creating consensus and, ideally, “win-win” solutions.  This model requires not only a significant time commitment and full participation from everyone, but also an environment that fosters all voices and is open to evaluating all ideas.

There’s no right or wrong, and the method used will depend on your circumstances.  Regardless of which you use, the true decision killers are analysis paralysis and fear. Too many options, too many stakeholders involved in the decision-making process, too many downstream impacts to consider and, candidly, a lack of courage by decision makers to establish their point of view and make the decision.

Considering all of this, how do we become better decision makers?  There are a few things I’d suggest: 

  1. Invest the necessary time up front researching decision making models.  Don’t overthink it, be courageous and decide on one that works best based on the type of decision you’re trying to make.
  2. Let the model do the work.  Clearly communicate how the model will work and let the decision makers go!  Empower your team members, expect your project leaders to be decisive, and be supportive of their decisions. 
  3. Most important of all…don’t be afraid to make some bad decisions.  It’s the best way to learn how to be an even better decision maker!

Now then, back to what to have for dinner….


  • Sean Goheen

    A principal at IA, Sean’s career has been driven by an ability to clearly understand an organization’s diverse needs and deliver solutions specific to its unique situation. Sean’s detailed approach with clients, coupled with his big-picture thinking, provides a best-of-both-worlds consultancy approach for clients.


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1 thought on “Decision, Decisions, Decisions”

  1. Good Stuff Sean, good insight and topic. I believe people are surprised at how good their instincts are at making good decisions until they are validated by a co-worker/team member during a project. Most people enjoy structure in everyday life helping them make the small decisions you describe so the bigger decisions need similar structures/models in place to make those decisions confident and consistently sound ones. Having a special needs daughter reminds me constantly of giving structure and routine.
    Dave Blum
    Alight Large Market Health Solutions

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