8 Tips to Improve Decision-Making Skills

8 Tips to Improve Decision-Making Skills

The average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day, according to Psychology Today. Snooze for nine more minutes or call in sick for a mental health day; pitch your new idea in a weekly update meeting or keep it to yourself; make an offer to job candidate A or B; challenge a supplier on the quality of their products, or let it slide. And so on. With 35,000 decisions a day, there is always room to improve decision-making skills.

What is effective decision-making?

Decision-making is a process. Sometimes the process takes months and sometimes it happens in an instant. It can involve gathering information, weighing options, and ultimately making a choice. Effective decision-making ties back to meeting your business objectives. Decision-making is a part of the job.

Some decisions are like smaller choices with a quick thought process. Others are big, critical decisions, and with long-term effects. Your ability to make sound, timely decisions will impact your ability to lead, manage and be productive.

“You cannot make progress without making decisions.” - Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker.

Consider the decision to wear or not to wear your safety glasses or PPE. It feels like a small choice but ended up having long-term consequences. In our blog post “The Importance of Safety Training: It Saves Lives” we detail a story of a construction worker who had been given a lanyard and safety glasses to wear as needed. This worker had been warned multiple times to wear their PPE. They ended up ignoring the warnings, getting fire-proofing spray in their eyes after drilling into the ceiling. Luckily this worker’s incident was quickly resolved by the eyewash in the on-site first-aid kit and with the help of coworkers. However, this person soon lost their job due to their bad decision.

Think about the complex decision-making process when launching a new product or service. How do you make the right decisions along the way especially when there may be a large team making concurrent and contingent decisions? What is the thought process in choosing or excluding key features, assigning roles, quality testing, launch plan, etc.? Can the right project management software help you make the best possible decisions?

Employee decision-making is a critical component of the success of the company. Decisions affect not only the individual, but group members, managers, and the company. Last night I received a call from a distraught friend. The first thing she said was, “I wish my boss would make up their mind.” This obviously is affecting my friend’s work-life balance.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” - Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States

Indecision may inhibit progress, productivity, and employees’ well-being. Employees can spend a lot of time wavering, hesitating, and avoiding decisions. Effective decision-making is a soft skill that can be developed and improved through training.

These tips can help employees become stronger decision-makers.


Tip #1: Set a time limit

To make good decisions, it is best to prioritize and set a time limit. Establish a deadline. Have a goal mindset when setting priorities. If a time limit is not set, it is easy to keep procrastinating and miss a key milestone. While it is important to find the best possible solution, remember not to strive for perfection. Sometimes it’s ok to be “good enough.”

Where do you even start when you are overwhelmed with projects or tasks? What should your first step be? Understanding how to prioritize tasks will help you make the right choice. For example, which should you do first? Preparing a budget report for your manager or write a performance review? Both have the same due date or time limit but the budget report needs to be approved by your manager, so do that first. Then, while you work on the performance review, your manager can review the budget and now you are accomplishing two tasks at the same time.

Tip #2: Gather Information

To make an informed decision, gathering background information is a crucial step. This step helps answer or confirm any questions you may have. It also reduces uncertainty and gives you the confidence to make good decisions.

Research should reflect trustworthy, reliable sources. Always consider the validity of the information and look at the source for any biases. Do they have anything to gain? Is the source credible? Are they a trusted news source? Is this a first-hand account from someone you trust? Is this data recent?

Look for varying viewpoints. It pays to understand different perspectives from your coworkers and internal subject matter experts. Be an active listener. This not only means paying close attention but asking questions.

Tip #3: Decipher facts vs. opinions

When making good decisions, it is best to consider facts and opinions. As both are valid, make sure you explore both. For example, if someone has 20 years of experience, they’ve seen it all. Their past experiences speak volumes. You can learn from their mistakes. Their opinion may not be a fact, but it may prove invaluable when trying to reach effective sound decisions.

When I was a print buyer, we hired a small startup printing company. They were more affordable and nimbler compared to bigger more established vendors. We were their key client so we thought we would receive outstanding customer service. Unfortunately, they did not have the right processes in a good place for the support needed. Our bad decision based upon facts only cost the company money. Yes, the vendor was cheaper and nimbler. But we should have talked with others in the industry and asked for their opinions on various vendors.

“Seeing the truth is a significant advantage for decision making under pressure.” - Francis P. Karam, state and federal trial lawyer who won cases with settlements as high as $120 million

Tip #4: Weigh pros and cons

Psychological research shows the human brain has difficulty weighing the pros and cons. We aren’t built to be rational and often have internal biases. Seeing the big picture is imperative. It is important to analyze the pros and cons to understand the outcome of what your decision could mean.

This is especially true in making a strategic decision. The pros reflect the possible benefits of the decision and the cons – the negative impact and risks. Systematically weighing the pros and cons can help you avoid cognitive biases. Think about the hiring process. People tend to choose candidates who remind us of ourselves (affinity bias) or who think like we do (confirmation bias).

Playing board games, like chess, you must think two moves ahead. As in the business world, you can do the same. Your decisions can affect other team members, processes, goals, and company profits and losses.

Tip #5: Focus on the desired outcome

Some decisions relate to solving a problem. A supplier cannot get your materials to you on your desired timeline. What do you do? Find a new supplier? Change your timeline? You get to your trade show and a box is missing. What do you do? The sooner you focus on the best outcome and not about the problem the sooner the decision will be behind you.

Some decisions result in response to changes, threats, or challenges. The Covid 19 pandemic is a notable example. Some restaurant owners were not able to pivot and respond to the challenges at hand and they went out of business. Others focused on a creative positive outcome. They designed online ordering systems, carry out processes, and outdoor seating areas. They embraced social media to promote online ordering and shared pictures of their food and carryout stations. One sit-down restaurant near me was able to install a drive-up window.

Tip #6: Trust your inner voice

When making decisions, especially smaller or quick decisions, trusting your gut can be best. If you start overthinking, let your subconscious go to work. Take a break, doodle, or go for a walk... your inner voice is a quick and powerful force! Do not let fear of making the wrong decision stand in your way of moving forward.

A coworker shared a story from a previous job. Her internal client created a new offering for a new audience. They had completed buyers research and agreed on the messaging. The last step was to create a brochure. Her internal client was a VP and for some unknown reason, would not approve the brochure. The process went on for months. The VP’s inner voice must have been tongue-tied.

Empower your employees to be comfortable making decisions and know when to escalate. The best way to do this is to set boundaries. Employees should know when they can use their own problem-solving skills and what situations need higher approval. Empowering employees builds confidence. They feel more invested in their work and can own their part in the success of the company.

Truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. - Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, author, and public speaker.

Tip #7: Be flexible

Sometimes a decision means compromising. To make timely decisions, it is important to know when to be flexible and compromise. Do not preoccupy yourself with your own preferences but work together to reach a win/win decision. Sometimes you have to just go with it and keep moving!

Companies involved in mergers and acquisitions experience compromise every day. Over the last few years, HSI has acquired many companies. We are blending our approach to marketing, sharing best practices, and changing processes. Every day decisions are being made with a new perspective. It’s an exercise in flexibility.

Tip #8: Attend decision-making training

Why is decision-making training so important? Poor decisions can cost companies billions of dollars. Remember General Motors Co.’s decision to continue to manufacture large vehicles? They made this decision even though the market was trending towards smaller cars. This bad decision led to GM’s bankruptcy in 2009. The government assisted with the bailout. You do not want your company’s name to be included in the worst business decisions of all time.

First responders must make split decisions every day. HSI offers CPR, AED, and First Aid and Active Shooter Training. One of my former colleagues fell to the floor at work. Fortunately, another employee had recently taken first aid training and saved their life. Would you have known how to act without proper training? In these situations, training is a crucial step. There is no time to gather information, weigh the pros and cons, etc. This is a split-second decision!

Crisis management training in advance gives you a plan for when and if you encounter the situation. It also helps with progress, productivity, and the mental well-being of your employees. Employees can spend a large amount of time wavering, hesitating, and avoiding decisions. A combination of training, mentoring, and empowerment can help employees at any level.

My brother is in a leadership position at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. I mentioned to him that I was writing a blog on how to improve decision-making skills. He laughed and said that is our number one problem, no one will make a decision! He also said they do not use an external training company. This can be a missed opportunity as off-the-shelf training can offer fresh perspectives and be immediately deployed.

HSI’s employee training library goes beyond safety and compliance courses. Your team members have on-demand access to content to improve decision-making skills and many other soft skills. Many of our clients open their HSI training library for employee self-directed learning. This allows them to learn and grow in their careers. Our decision-making series is part of our Business Skills library and includes:

Decision-Making Basics

If you want to curate a full curriculum on decision making, our Business Skills library includes many related courses like:

You can quickly find these topics and assign them to your employees. This is an effective way to build your employees’ confidence to make better decisions. If you would like to view these courses, sign up for a free trial of our HSI LMS. The trial includes the full Business Skills library.

HSI also offers training on CPR, AED, and First Aid and Active Shooter Training to empower your employees to make the best decisions in the urgent moment of need.

Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever. - Keri Russell, actress and Golden Globe Award winner for drama series Felicity

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