The Science and Art of Making Good Decisions

It’s spring – and for a certain sub-set of the population that can only mean one thing – college decision time! Yes, for those of us unlucky/lucky enough to have a kid of a certain age, the future for our children rests on this decision. Seriously, of course it doesn’t … really … but it definitely feels like it. pros and cons

I met with the daughter of a dear friend who has great options – she’d been accepted at her top three universities and had various plans for roommates, dorms even a food plan all lined out for each (yes, she is that kind of uber-organized kid). As we walked through the various pros/cons, I was reminded about how the weight of decisions plays out in our everyday business situations.

Sometimes the tough decisions we have to make are easier than deciding between the best of the good options!

The best decisions are the perfect blend of the science and art of decision making. On the “science” side – I like starting with a tool like MBTI or Myers Briggs to help you understand how you make decisions. If you totally rely on facts to make a decision, you can get stuck in the “science” by having to know all the answers (many of which are unknown for good and justifiable reasons) or never stopping the in-flow of new information. If you totally rely on gut instinct to make a decision, the “art” of making decisions can get you in trouble when you plow forward despite what evidence shows.

When it comes to being the leader in charge of making key business decisions, that balance comes into play as you strive to build consensus and get alignment among key stakeholders. You can’t totally rely on a top-down push from a leader, declaring a decision, nor can you afford to let everyone have a voice and feedback into the process.

I like to use the acronym DICE as a model for accountability on my projects – e.g., who Decides, who’s Informed, who’s Consulted and who’s Educated. Mapping stakeholders into the appropriate categories can help everyone understand their role (and how much they get a say in the outcome). Regardless of whether you have a top-down push of a decision or a consensus-building process, you’re best served when you define your stakeholders and their roles very clearly from the outset.

A few years ago, I gave my client a checklist that was useful as he was approaching a decision about moving forward with a global strategy. In essence, the questions included:

  • Do you have enough evidence to support that this is the right decision?
  • Have you gathered enough of the facts, or are you waiting on anything that will materially change what you know you should do?
  • Do you have support from your boss, her boss, and through the matrixed heirarchy of the organization – especially if your decision is unpopular or cuts into others’ agendas?
  • What would an outside expert advise you to do?
  • Have you consulted with the right Stakeholders who have a voice and input to your decision?
  • What does your gut say?

My dear friends’ daughter made a fantastic decision once she ultimately embraced the idea she’d be happy at ANY of her top three college choices. And – my client made the tough choice to move forward with a business strategy that shook up the organization – but he was able to bring key stakeholders along the way with him.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sbPResults.