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Seven Decision Making Models: What’s Your Style?

By Larry Chester, President, CFO Simplified

The most frequent activity in any business is decision making. Most of those decisions we don’t even consider decisions because the answers come so naturally. We don’t truly “decide,” we just “do.”

But when it comes to decisions in your business, what process, what decision making model do you usually follow? Some approaches to decision making involve others on your team. Some involve your just “deciding.”

Regardless, you need to get the facts and consider the alternatives. When you do that, you have a basis and a path that you’ve followed to get to your end point. And it’s not that simple.

You might have one predominant style, but the truth is that you probably make decisions in a number of different ways, depending on what the decision is and who you want to involve in getting the answer.

Here are seven ways of getting there:

  • Rabbinic Discourse — A discussion between equals. The intent is for each participant to raise issues that might weaken others’ arguments, thereby strengthening theirs.  It is a competitive discussion. I have seen business owners continue to ask their staff more questions at each round. This method seems to be about gaining more data to make a more informed decision. To be honest, the goal doesn’t seem to be finding the best answer but putting off making a decision.  Because in the end, there is no clear winner. The result is just more questions.
  • Socratic Discussion — The participants ask and answer questions as a means of finding out greater truths which lead to a better decision. Usually the discussion is back and forth, between teacher and students, or manager and employees. This is a wonderful way of involving every member of your team. Create an end point to the discussion, though. Either a time or date, so that everyone gets a chance to ask questions and be part of the process.
  • Devil’s Advocate — Some companies pick someone to serve as Devil’s Advocate in a discussion. The person taking this role challenges the conclusions of the group. Their role is to poke holes in any decision, raising issues that others might not have thought about. While everyone else is working towards a single conclusion, this person is looking at challenges, risks, dangers.  This results in solid alternatives to any decision. But it’s important that a different person plays that role in each decision cycle. If you truly know the risks, then you are better prepared if something goes wrong.
  • Autocratic — The boss decides. He/she calls the group together and informs them of the path forward. There is a greater risk of others not buying in to the decision. This means there may need to be more work done on the back end, convincing others that the decision was the best one. There is less buy-in, and therefore greater difficulty getting a group commitment.
  • Consultative — The committee provides input, but the boss decides. The leader uses the expertise of his/her team to gather information allowing him or her to make an educated decision. Everyone has a part in giving input, so there are positive feelings of participation.
  • Democratic — The committee discusses the topic, and then takes a vote to determine what they view as the best alternative. This allows narrowing of many alternatives. One person, one vote. This can afford the greatest buy-in, but the most popular decision isn’t always the best one. Sometimes it’s important that someone with a strategic view be heavily involved. Remember the 1961 movie, “Majority of One.”
  • Consensus — Results in high quality input and commitment of the group. The entire group understands the issues and shares opinions openly to get to universal agreement.

Each of these styles is applicable in different situations. How much time do you have? How many people are involved? Is buy-in needed from the group? The point is to understand the differences between these approaches.

You might not consciously decide on one of these approaches over another. Consider that it’s worthwhile to think about these different approaches and pick the model with the best fit for your current situation.


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