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Overcoming the Barriers to Decision Making

Today’s administrative professionals are often asked to step up and assume greater responsibilities, including some tasks that may be outside of their comfort zone. People and work demand your attention, crises arise, decisions need to be made quickly. Are you ready?

The following strategies from AMA’s seminar Partnering with Your Boss: Strategic Skills for Administrative Professionals, will help you discover new ways to extend your support for your boss and increase your value to the organization.

The boss is in a meeting; the boss is on the road; the boss’ time is too valuable. You tell yourself: “I can make this decision!”

So, what are some of the reasons you may hesitate to make the decision?
• Fear I may not be right
• Fear of what others may think or say
• Fear that I might have to follow through

What do you do about this decision-making paralysis? You do the best you can by acting in an informed, positive, and courageous way.

Here are some tools you can use to make better, more efficient decisions.

Tool #1—The Coin Toss
Useful for: Go/no-go decisions, weighing two options, and eliminating options when multiple choices are possible.
A coin toss can be helpful when you’re just not sure what you want and you’re having trouble making up your mind. Here’s how it works:
1. Assign one choice to each side of the coin (heads, we eat pizza; tails, we eat tacos).
2. Toss the coin.
3. Then decide.

In essence, when you toss the coin, it decides for you. If you don’t like the coin’s decision, then you clearly prefer the other choice!
Choose a problem and give it a try!

Tool #2—Ben Franklin’s Balance Sheet
Useful for: Go/no-go decisions.
The pro-and-con model is the traditional approach to quick decisions. List your pros. List your cons. Weigh the two sides and see which one wins. Ben Franklin took this a step further. Once he’d listed all his pros and cons, he weighed them against each other. If a pro was equal in importance or value to a con, he crossed both out. If two cons equaled one pro, he crossed out all three. The side with items remaining after all the crossing out was completed was the winning side.

Tool #3—The Report Card Method
Useful for: Establishing decision-making criteria and weighing multiple options to solve the same problem.
The Report Card Method is helpful when you have a variety of similar solutions that you want to compare against one another using a quantitative evaluation method. For example, you may be considering the purchase of a new copier for the office. You are considering a number of criteria and four different models. List the criteria then grade each one on a scale of 1-10—10 being the highest fulfillment of the given criteria. The highest total determines your choice.

For example, say you are considering the purchase of a new copier for the office. You are considering a number of criteria and four different models. List the criteria (i.e., prints in color, number of pages per minute, cost per copy, cost of maintenance agreement, print quality, etc.). Then grade each item for each of the four models on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest fulfillment of the given criteria. The highest total determines your choice.

Partner-in-Absentia Decision-Making Template
A very common decision-making opportunity is presented when your boss is away or inaccessible. Given your interdependent relationship, if either one of you is unavailable how should decisions get made? This anticipatory planning need lends itself to our Template Approach. So, let’s consider the Partner-in-Absentia question.

  • Begin by considering all the issues that might come up for your boss while you are away or inaccessible:
    – With what types of things should your boss be concerned?
    – Who should your boss turn to for assistance or consultation?
    – What items, issues, projects, etc., should your boss not make decisions about?

Consider the impact of short- versus long-term absences and how your boss should adjust
his/her decision-making approach.

  • Plan what you need to know in order to make decisions when the boss is away. How will you gather this decision-making information from your boss?
    – Areas of decision-making autonomy?
    – Areas of consultative decision making? (List who should be consulted).
    – Consider the impact of short- versus long-term absences and how you should adjust your decision making.

Because you are a true professional, when the boss is away things still run smoothly. You know his/her schedule, contacts, where his/her reports and car keys should be. You keep track of plane tickets, theater tickets, and birthdays. The world keeps turning because you are organized. But what happens when you are away?

Take a moment and think of all the things your boss might need to locate if and when you leave on that two-week trip to Hawaii (without your cell phone, of course). What will s/he need access to and where is it?

Make a list entitled “My Boss May Need to Find.” Under each item list its location. Consider building these items into your Partner-in-Absentia Template and making a copy of the compilation for your boss. If you have multiple bosses, you might want to create a customized version for each.

Moving Forward

  • Review the list of reasons people don’t make decisions. Is there a pattern to your lack of decision making? What single reason or fear can you work to overcome?

  • Look over the three decision-making models. What is one appropriate method you can apply to a decision you are currently considering?

  • Choose a deadline by which time you will create and deliver a formal Partner-in-Absentia template to your boss(es).

  • Consider the list of items your boss would need to find if you were away. Which two items will your boss most likely need to locate? Make a point to inform your boss of their location as soon as possible.

© American Management Association. All rights reserved.

Progress is made in business when decisions are made with confidence. Learn how to make decisions alone and with a team with this AMA webinar.

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.