We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us. Your choices, whether small or large, add up to define where you work and live, who you surround yourself with and the lifestyle you lead. Arguably, your decision-making process is the single-biggest factor in determining your career success. Get this right, and you are more likely to achieve the career path you desire, says Scott Campbell, president of Core Factors, a Toronto-based decision consulting firm.
Yet, decision-making has never been more difficult or complex thanks to the rapid pace of business and the overwhelming volume of information available at our fingertips. In fact, almost half of the decisions in organizations fail, according to a study by Paul C. Nutt published in The Academy of Management Executive. Even more surprising, these were decisions made by senior leaders whom we might expect to have much more experience and skill in making decisions.
So what are we to do? “The key is to have an effective decision-making process that blends rigorous analysis, creative thinking and intuitive insight, and which leads to the smartest possible decision in any situation,” offers Campbell.
He outlines five common decision-making mistakes and gives suggestions for avoiding these pitfalls.
1. Letting biases drive your decisions – cognitive biases are inherent errors in perception which impact thinking and decision-making. An example is Confirmation Bias, where you pay attention to information that confirms your views and ignore data points that don’t. These biases can unwittingly result in poor judgment by impacting your level of risk aversion, your evaluation of alternatives, and your attribution of success or failure. To get around these biases, ensure that you have a defined evidence-based process for making decisions, and broaden your viewpoint to include additional perspectives, especially those that are counter to your own views and assumptions.
2. Not framing your decision correctly – what is the issue you are evaluating and what is the decision you need to make? While this step may seem straightforward, it is critical to get right since it creates the filter for all the information you gather to make your decision. For example, is your decision whether or not to accept a specific job opportunity abroad, or is the ultimate decision related to the goals you have for you and your family, and what is the best environment to achieve those goals?
3. Being too narrow in your objectives – your objectives are the decision criteria which tell you whether or not you are making the smartest decision possible. They enable you to define your alternatives, determine the information you need to evaluate, and assess the quality of your decision. Being too narrow or tactical in your objectives will limit your creative options, perhaps some of which may not even be immediately apparent. You also need to consider both the short and long-term outcomes. Perhaps you are considering moving to a job that will require a longer commute? You will need to balance the short-term outcome of a new work environment with longer-term outcomes, such as the time and expense of a longer commute, which in turn can impact work/life balance.
4. Not involving the right people in your decision – Campbell suggests that there are four primary categories of people you will want to include in your decision. First are those who have a different perspective. Research shows that groups that are more diverse achieve better results than homogenous ones. The second category of people is those who possess content expertise about the issue, such as a friend who is in the line of work you wish to pursue. A third group is those who will be impacted by the decision, such as family members. Decisions that are imposed are less likely to be supported than those that are made jointly. Finally, think about talking to people who are skilled at the decision-making process itself, such as career coaches or recruiters.
5. Focusing on the outcomes, not the decision-making process itself – there are two powerful biases that could erroneously impact the evaluation of your decision. The Outcome Bias relates to a tendency to judge your decision by its eventual outcome instead of the quality of your decision-making process. The Hindsight Bias will lead you to think, in retrospect, that the right decision should have been more apparent. Questioning your assumptions and reviewing the data you had at the time of your decision will help you to limit the impact of these potentially damaging biases.
“The single-most important – and most difficult – thing for people to recognize is that you can’t control the final outcome of your decision,” says Campbell. “If you focus instead on creating a solid process for making decisions that is consistently followed across all major decisions, you are more likely to make choices you are happy with and achieve outcomes that get you closer to your career goals.”