5 Things That Really Bug Me About Decision Making (from someone who’s not a decision maker)

Have you ever walked out of a staff meeting feeling confused, overwhelmed or mildly perturbed?

Maybe you were trying to pitch this great idea to a team of colleagues and no one seemed to get it. Or perhaps everyone praised your ingenuity, but you left the meeting lacking clarity as to who was doing what to help make that dream a reality. Maybe at this meeting you were informed that your boss’s boss made a drastic change to the department you run, and she did so without asking for your input.

Feeling frustrated just reading that? Whatever the reason, you are not alone. Those of us known as the non-decision making staff in a company feel the burdens and joys of compliance daily. We are the ones carrying out the judgments that are made on behalf of ourselves and others, and sometimes the process can get muddled along the way.

From working in a church, to co-owning a construction company with my husband, to being employed by top consultants specializing in decision-making itself, I’ve learned that gaining buy-in from the higher-ups doesn’t come without its headaches! Here, in no particular order, are some of my pet peeves when it comes to making decisions…when I’m not the one making them.

Decision Bug #1:  Too many cooks in the kitchen.

If you’ve left a meeting at least 30 minutes to an hour past the intended end time, you most likely have too many cooks in the kitchen – or in this case, too many people with an opinion and no clear leader. Who’s got the D around here? Nominate one person to have the ultimate decision-making power and hold him accountable to saying yay or nay, thus moving the process along or stopping it dead in its tracks.

Once you’ve nominated the top dog, it is very important that he or she stick to their guns when the process gets underway. Working for a company with a high I culture, I have found that the leader will have numerous employees trying to influence the decision-maker by throwing in their own two cents after the decision has been made. This causes the leader to back-track his steps, doubt the process and thus change direction like waves tossing a bottle around in the ocean. Fortunately, this scenario could be prevented if not for this next problem…

Decision Bug #2:   The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

Communication is highly underrated. Once you’ve nominated a person to say “The buck stops with me,” then pick someone else to clearly communicate the process and who-does-what to the rest of the staff that the decision affects. Just today I was lucky enough to attend another department’s staff meeting. Within that half hour I learned that decisions made during my marketing meeting were not communicated appropriately to this particular department, even though it affected them directly. This is a prime example of employees having no idea what the formal process is or where the buck stops. This delays projects and can cause confusion, indifference or rage (depending on the person). 🙂

Decision Bug #3:  You expect me to do WHAT?

Newsflash – we’re not Superman. Sometimes our superiors have no idea what our day-to-day life looks like. Communication may play a huge part in getting the left hand & right hand to work together (so to speak) but managing expectations among staff members is key. Take Chris, for example. She works in a bakery and the owner expects to see a stocked shelf of muffins each time he walks into the store. This seems like a natural request, but according to Chris, the problem lies in expectations:

“It is annoying to have my boss expecting to have a cafe full of baked goods when there is only one baker per day and some days there are not enough basic ingredients. A three layer carrot cake CANNOT be prepped, baked, and frosted in an hour. I am only one person and I work at least 9 hours a day. There is only so much product I can produce. ”

Sound familiar? Perhaps if Chris scheduled a meeting with her manager, she could communicate her frustrations and bring some potential fixes to the table. These options could be a) the owner hires another baker b) the owner changes his expectations or c) the owner grabs the cream cheese and helps frost.

My friend Jack designs for a large organization, and he offers some insight into managing expectations with his co-workers:

“The engineer that I work with directly just piles work on my desk.  I don’t mind the piling up of work – it’s all got to be done. And I’ll do it all, but I would like to keep it prioritized. Something I like to I ask is, ‘Do you want it right? Or do you want it right now?’”

Working with each other to establish precedence within your to-do list is great advice. I would challenge the decision-makers that if at all possible, be more hands on and involved in your employees’ daily routine. This, along with constructive feedback, communication and an open door policy for your team should go a long way with not only boosting employee morale, but boosting sales as well.

Decision Bug #4:  Let’s play a game of guess the right answer!

Let’s be real…even the most self-aware supervisors can have a hard time giving up control. My friend Tim, who plays multiple roles within a small business explains, “I have plenty of personal experiences with the whole ‘OK, we want you to be the point person but you need to run all decisions through me’ sort of thing.” So Tim’s boss hands over the D (aka the power), but he won’t let Tim do what is needed without granting approval first. This creates a stop-start mentality and results in Tim feeling as if his boss doesn’t trust him (which may or may not be true). Personal appeal:  Decision-makers, when you appoint us as the leader, give us all your feedback and parameters prior to starting. Then delegate completely, grant us the independence we deserve and trust us to lead our company in the same positive direction you would. That is, if you liked us. Which leads us to…

Decision Bug #5:  Stop playing favorites.

It’s no secret that sometimes people are more liked for their likeability factor than their results. “Decisions get made by those who are in the cool club, versus those who have the role or expertise,” says Michelle, who works for a medium-sized agency. I understand how she can feel helpless in managing her department when she isn’t asked for input in decisions affecting her department! The complete opposite end of the spectrum is exemplified by Jane, who works for a similar company. When asked if favoritism played a role in the decisions made at her job, she had this to say:

“I will say, my boss very definitely has favorites, which is not a good thing in general, but since I’m one of her favorites, it works for me. She can be pretty intimidating, so I can’t imagine the fear a non-favorite would have in going to her with an idea.” 

This is a shame. We should all be valued for our expertise in our areas and listened to, even if it’s not our final decision.

So there you have it. While unloading all my decision drama on you (I feel better, thanks!) we have actually come to identify Five Decision-Making Do’s:  leadership, communication, expectations, equality, trust.

What is your pet peeve when it comes to decision-making? Did I miss anything? Let’s hear it!


Decision Making Fault #3 – Death By Approval, Part 1

I received a call recently from a client who was looking for advice. He was asked to make a recommendation on a key decision his business unit was facing. My client did the background work, checked in with his boss and a few others along the way, and put together a clear and compelling case for the recommended solution.

 He then scheduled a meeting with his boss to review the recommendation. And that’s where the trouble began. During the meeting, his boss said although he liked the proposal, he needed to run it by a few people for their buy-in before going to the Vice President for approval. He mentioned the Directors of Marketing, IT, Engineering, Finance and Operations.


What started out as a solution on-the-move was quickly becoming one being sentenced to death-by-approval. Along the way, several things were likely to happen to the recommendation – none of them good. Read more…

Faults and Fixes – How To Avoid The Most Destructive Mistakes in Business Decision Making

In 22 years of life as a decision making consultant, coach and teacher, I’ve seen it all…or at least most of it. From great decisions that resulted in millions of dollars gained, to flawed decisions that brought down products, divisions, and even entire businesses. I’ve seen some good decisions go bad because of bad luck, but many more go bad due to perfectly controllable factors that were ignored.

The experience of teaching thousands of business people has enabled me to identify certain decision making “faults” that crop up frequently. Faults that result in flawed thinking, poor judgments and bad decisions.

Although bad decisions can often be traced back to the way the decisions were made, the fault sometimes lies not in the decision making process, but in the minds of the decision makers. Read more…

Penn State University: Decision Making Biases of Its Leaders

Making good decisions may be the most important responsibility of a leader. Yet even the brightest, most successful leaders and leadership teams sometimes make stunningly bad choices. Research has shown that the way in which the brain works can set us up for making flawed judgments. Each of us, in an attempt to make sense of a complex world, employ what are known as “heuristics.” These are the “rules of thumb,” based on prior experience, that guide us in judging a given situation. (Example: Person A is smiling – she must like me. Person B is frowning – she must not like me.)

We also use heuristics in making work related decisions. The problem lies in the fact that heuristics, while well-intentioned and right much of the time, may cause bias.

Most readers are aware of the scandal happening at Penn State University. Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach, has been indicted by a grand jury of improper sexual behavior involving under-aged boys. Two top university officials — Tim Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business — have been charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations. Joe Paterno, head coach, allegedly knew of at least one offense, but merely reported it to his superiors (Curley and Schultz), not to the police.

After reading the 23-page grand jury indictment report, here are some observations that relate to decision making and the concepts we’ve taught and coached for 20+ years. Read more…

Moneyball: Challenging the Paradigm of Baseball Decision-Making

Have you seen this movie or read this book? The central theme of Moneyball is the challenge to conventional baseball decision-making led by Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane in 2001-2002. The decision statement that baseball general managers, coaches and scouts face every year is “Choose the best ball players for our team.”  This is classic Decision Analysis. Let’s examine this a bit more in-depth, based on the wisdom of Decision Focus tools.

Decision Leaders and Decision Focus users know that step 2 of decision analysis is to ‘establish criteria’. Prior to 2001, the criteria for player selection was based on statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in and batting averages. Beane believed these criteria (typically used to evaluate players) were flawed and ineffective. The movie and book argue that the Oakland A’s management team took advantage of better criteria for player performance to create a team that could compete successfully against major league teams with much richer budgets.

Here’s a quote from the book: “If you challenge conventional wisdom, you’ll find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.” Read more…

Have you caught the Decision Fatigue virus?

You did the research, analyzed the options, and put together a complete and compelling recommendation for your boss, the Vice President. But during the meeting, you just couldn’t get the buy-in you were looking for. In fact, you didn’t get much of anything – he asked you to “clean up the recommendation a little” and schedule a follow up meeting with him in two weeks. 

You leave the meeting wondering what went wrong.
      • Sound analysis? Check.
      • Clean and logical recommendation? Check.
      • Major risks and potential problems dealt with? Check.
      • Good handout? Check.

Then it hits you.

You were the seventh of eight “one-on-ones” the Vice President had scheduled for the day. He seemed only partially tuned in to what you were saying – not fully engaged like normal. Frankly, it looked like he wanted to avoid making any decision on what you were discussing today.

What the boss most likely was experiencing is called Decision Fatigue, a very real and very debilitating cognitive bias. Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It manifests itself in one of two ways: as decision fatigue grows, individuals will tend to make progressively poorer quality decisions, or may avoid making any decisions – despite the opportunities or costs. Read more…

Never Had An Original Idea? You’re Right On Track!

Over the past 19 years, we’ve helped thousands of professionals improve their creativity skills through our Creative Focus® tools and training. In the classroom, participants often bring a skepticism about creativity that manifests itself like this: “I’m not a naturally creative person. Original ideas come from the ‘creative’ types.”  This belief stems from an often misguided perception that creativity is about original ideas – the “eureka” moments that we read about in books and websites.

In our observation, this kind of creative solution finding is rare. More frequently, creative solutions are found by people who “borrow” ideas from other places and apply them to the challenge at hand. This is the central concept of a new book called The Idea Hunter: How to Find The Best Ideas and Make Them HappenRead more…

To be a better decision maker, get rid of this.

To become a better decision maker instantly, get rid of your ego. Ego and its evil twin, egotism, are constantly conspiring to interrupt good decision making logic. Ego driven decision making manifests itself in many ways, but the #1 negative effect of ego in decision making is being attached to decision outcomes. It’s our ego that fuels our intense desire to create specific outcomes. And, just like clockwork, this type of attitude leads to disappointment when the desired outcome fails to manifest.

If it’s all about us, then it isn’t about our customers, shareholders, organization or team.

Dr. Paul Nutt of Ohio State University conducted more than two decades of research, with hundreds of organizations, on why business decisions go awry. He discovered three key reasons why 50 percent of decisions fail:

  1. More than one-third of all failed business decisions are driven by ego.
  2. Nearly two-thirds of executives never explore alternatives once they make up their minds.
  3. Eighty-one percent of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or edict, not by the relevance of their ideas.

We are good at detecting ego driven decision making behaviors in others, but often have a giant blind spot in assessing our own vulnerabilities. Does your ego get in the way of good decision thinking? Ask yourself the questions below. If the answer to any of these is yes, ask yourself why? This will lead you to the ego driven decision traps that must be addressed. Read more…

Got a tough problem? Try this technique.

Do you find it’s sometimes easier to find solutions for other people’s problems than your own? It turns out the reason is based on science. I recently came across an article from Daniel Pink, one of my favorite authors and researcher of all things brainy. In his post entitled 3 Tricks for Solving Problems Faster And Better, Pink discusses three tactics that revolve around the concept of construal level theory. According to construal level theory, objects, events or situations can be perceived as either close or distant. The further away we are from a situation, the more we able to view it from an abstract point of view. This psychological distance is what allows us to focus on the problem itself, without getting wrapped up in the “messiness” of the situation. This explains why many times it’s easier to find really good solutions for other people’s problems, but get stymied in trying to solve our own.

So how can we employ this concept for better problem solving and decision making, especially as the stakes rise in the problems we face? Here are three suggestions. Read more…

The Dangers of Advocacy Based Decisions

Business teams can get sideways quickly on decisions – sometimes so fast the decision process suffers major damage in the space of one meeting.

I was recently involved with a business team that experienced the perils of an advocacy approach to decisions. In the advocacy approach, participants focus on one option only – this instantly puts the decision making body in an “accept or reject” mode, rather than weighing multiple options on a level playing field. Read more…

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