Everything You Need to Know About Decision Makers

Understanding decision makers is essential whether you are one yourself or need to influence them. Learn what makes an effective decision maker, common biases, key business decision making roles, and tools to master both individual and group choices.

Page Contents

What Does “Decisional” Mean?

The term “decisional” refers to something relating to or concerned with making decisions. A decisional role, for example, is a job function that involves making important choices that impact an organization.

More specifically, “decisional” describes someone who has the power and authority to make binding decisions within a company, group, or situation. It highlights their capacity to be a decision maker versus just an advisor or consultant.

Some key things to know about the meaning of decisional:

  • It refers to the actual ability to decide, not just analyze options. Decisional individuals can pull the trigger on a choice.
  • It connotes having formal decision rights, not just voicing opinions. Decisional leaders have sanctioned authority to make selections.
  • It is an adjective describing a person, role, or capability. For example, “She is a decisional leader for our division.”
  • It contrasts with advisory, which provides input to decisions makers but lacks final say.
  • It suggests responsibility for the ramifications and outcomes of decisions made.

In summary, “decisional” clearly emphasizes the formalized, binding power to make important decisions within any context. It’s about being the ultimate decision maker who bears responsibility for the choices made.

Key Characteristics of a Decision Maker

While any individual can make choices and selections, key characteristics set official decision makers apart in organizations:

  • Authority: Decision makers have legitimate power and influence to make consequential calls. Their decisions stick and allocate resources.
  • Accountability: With authority comes accountability. Decision makers are responsible for the results and impacts of their choices.
  • Leadership: Strong leaders capable of making hard decisions even in the face of complexity or opposition.
  • Vision: Ability to set strategic vision and think about the big picture implications of choices made.
  • Experience: Extensive experience in an industry, company, or function needed to master complex decision tradeoffs involved.
  • Courage: A willingness to take risks and make bold but calculated decisions is important. Can’t be afraid of failures that may result.
  • Judgment: Expert judgment required to process information and confidently assess options without complete data.
  • Communication: Able to clearly communicate rationale for decisions and secure buy-in across the organization.

Great decision makers combine innate traits like courage and vision with learned skills like strong communication and judgment. But legitimate authority and accountability ultimately set them apart.

Types of Decision Makers in Business

While sometimes organization specific, common types of decision makers within a company include:

  • Strategic: Top-level executives like CEO and President who decide major initiatives, acquisitions, strategic plans.
  • Tactical: Department heads and VPs who make decisions driving their divisions and functions.
  • Operational: Frontline and middle managers who decide on localized resource allocation, hiring, processes.

Based on the scope and scale of impact, strategic decision makers wield the most power. But even managers make dozens of smaller yet critical operating decisions daily.

Other types of key decision makers may include:

  • Financial: CFOs and controllers directing spending, budgets, investments.
  • Technology: CIOs and IT managers deciding systems, infrastructure, cybersecurity.
  • Marketing: CMOs and marketing VPs deciding branding, messaging, campaigns.
  • Sales: Sales VPs and directors deciding team structure, territories, compensation.
  • HR: CHROs and HR heads managing workforce planning and policies.
  • Legal: General counsels guiding risk management and legal strategy.
  • R&D: R&D heads charting product development pipelines and portfolios.
  • Procurement: Purchasing managers choosing suppliers and negotiating contracts.

While titles vary, larger companies generally have decision makers covering each key function.

Decisional Roles in an Organization

While certain job titles denote decision makers, in reality most roles involve some decisional authority:

  • Executive decisional duties involve company-wide initiatives and strategies with long time horizons. For example, pursuing new market entry.
  • Managerial decisional authority includes tactical moves within a department, like restructuring a team.
  • Operational decisional responsibilities include localized choices like resolving customer issues.
  • Team Lead decisional roles can involve everything from staffing to project plans.
  • Even individual contributors make critical work decisions daily impacting process and output.

The scope and consequences of the choices made increases with organizational level. But almost every employee role involves some elements of weighing options and making decisions.

Common examples of decisional roles and responsibilities include:

  • Executives deciding bonus budgets and new office locations.
  • Marketing managers deciding campaign themes and budget allocation.
  • Engineering directors deciding team size, technology choices, roadmaps.
  • Project managers deciding timelines, vendors, change requests.
  • Sales reps deciding sales techniques, account prioritization, opportunity pursuit.
  • Customer support reps deciding how to resolve client issues and surface feedback.

While strategic leaders make big calls, every employee down the ladder is a decision maker in their domain. Strong organizations empower sound choices at all levels.

In summary, decisional roles span leadership levels but increase in scope and impact at more senior levels. The degree of authority and accountability separates true decision makers. But every employee role involves some decision rights around plans, resources, and work.

C-Level Executives as Strategic Decision Makers

At the pinnacle of major corporations are C-level executives making organization-wide strategic decisions with multi-year horizons and massive financial implications. Common strategic C-suite decision makers include:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): The CEO holds the broadest and most influential decision making authority at a company. Responsible for the overall vision, strategy, and operations. CEO decisions range from budgeting to HR policies to acquisition opportunities.
  • President: Separate from or reporting to the CEO, presidents decide high-level strategic plans, international expansion, major partnerships. May oversee divisions.
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): The CFO decides fundraising approaches, capital allocation, expenditures, acquisitions and divestitures, risk management. Controls the finances and cash flow.
  • Chief Operations Officer (COO): The COO makes strategic decisions on operational efficiency, scaling production, supply chain, manufacturing, distribution. Focused inward.
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO): CTOs decide platform evolution, IT infrastructure modernization, cybersecurity strategies, emerging tech adoption. Tech visionaries.
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): CMOs decide brand positioning, market targeting, messaging frameworks, awareness campaigns, and growth initiatives. Outward facing.

While diverse, C-level decisions share traits like massive budget implications, long time horizons, and competitive positioning. But unreliable data requires expert judgment calls.

Department Heads as Tactical Decision Makers

Whereas C-suite officers take a multi-year strategic outlook, department heads and VPs make more tactical decisions focused on the next fiscal year:

  • Sales Leaders: Sales VPs decide regional structures, quota setting, compensation plans, sales process optimization, hiring.
  • Marketing Leaders: CMOs or marketing VPs decide messaging frameworks, campaign spending across segments, lead generation focus, agency relationships.
  • HR Leaders: HR heads decide talent acquisition approach, L&D priorities, performance management cycles, employee engagement initiatives.
  • IT Leaders: CIOs or IT VPs decide annual project portfolios, system upgrades, help desk resourcing, security enhancements.
  • Engineering Leaders: R&D heads decide product roadmaps, release cycles, team structures, solution ideation processes.
  • Finance Leaders: Controllers decide budgeting processes, reporting cycles, auditing schedule, tax strategy.
  • Operations Leaders: COOs or ops VPs decide supply chain improvements, capacity growth, production KPIs, facility expansions.

While directing individual groups, department leader decisions must sync with broader corporate strategy set by the C-suite strategic decision makers.

Frontline Managers as Operational Decision Makers

At the frontlines of organizations, store, plant, and branch managers make localized operating decisions:

  • Sales Managers: Decide salesperson territories, quotas, compensation, onboarding, performance management, training.
  • Marketing Managers: Decide campaign customization for segments, lead follow-up process, event logistics, analytics.
  • HR Managers: Decide job requisitions, interview process, employee relations issues, performance improvement plans.
  • IT Managers: Decide help desk staffing, system access controls, device procurement, project task management.
  • Engineering Managers: Decide team member assignments, code review process, release testing scope, technical specifications.
  • Finance Managers: Decide credit policies, collections strategy, transaction processing workflow, expense monitoring.
  • Operations Managers: Decide production schedules, inventory levels, quality checks, maintenance projects, safety initiatives.

Frontline managers translate broader strategy into ground-level decisions driving day-to-day execution. Their choices directly impact individual employee productivity.

IT Decision Makers and Technology Choices

Given the strategic importance of technology, key IT decision makers include:

  • Chief Information Officer (CIO): The CIO decides overall IT vision and strategy, infrastructure modernization needs, solution roadmaps, and budget.
  • IT Directors: IT directors decide on specific enterprise software adoptions like new HRIS or CRM systems. Manage implementation.
  • IT Managers: IT managers decide help desk staffing and end user support models. Purchase devices and equipment.
  • Engineering Directors: Decide architecture standards, cloud strategy, development operations processes and tools. Set technical vision.
  • Engineering Managers: Decide specific coding languages, testing frameworks, code repository management, deployment automation tools.
  • Data and Analytics Leaders: Decide business intelligence platforms, big data pipelines and architectures, data visualization tools.
  • IT Security Officers: Decide cybersecurity controls, access policies, IAM frameworks, security training. Vet vendors.

Major IT decisions include cloud migrations, infrastructure spending, development roadmaps, and security controls. But leaders across levels contribute.

Marketing Decision Makers and Brand Strategy

Key marketing decision makers include:

  • Chief Marketing Officers (CMO): Decide brand positioning and identity, messaging hierarchy, growth opportunities, research needs.
  • Marketing VPs: Decide PR strategy, analyst relations, account-based marketing approach, research priorities.
  • Marketing Directors: Decide campaign themes, ad spending allocation, lead segmentation frameworks, content calendars.
  • Content Directors: Decide content strategy, website overhaul, SEO priorities, publication partnerships.
  • Email Marketing Managers: Decide subscriber lifecycle nurturing cadence, automation workflows, list segmentation.
  • Campaign Managers: Decide audience targeting, creative concepts, collateral production, campaign landing pages.
  • Social Media Managers: Decide community management protocols, influencer partnerships, social content strategy.

Strategic marketing decisions like rebranding cascade down into tactical choices on segmentation and automation. But all focus on growth.

Financial Decision Makers and Budgeting Authority

Finance decision makers include:

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): The CFO decides fundraising approaches, dividend issuance, capital allocation across business units, expenditure control policies.
  • VPs of Finance: Decide financial accounting policies, internal controls, investor relations messaging, cost reduction initiatives.
  • Corporate Controllers: Decide financial reporting standards, budgeting processes, auditing schedule and scope, tax strategy.
  • Treasurers: Decide debt issuance, cash management, foreign exchange hedging strategy, insurance programs, pension administration.
  • Divisional Controllers: Decide financial targets, reporting requirements, internal controls and policies for business units.
  • Plant Controllers: Decide inventory valuation methods, capital acquisition strategy, product costing procedures for facilities.
  • FP&A Directors: Decide forecasting processes, financial modeling methodologies, data analysis priorities.

Finance decision makers control budgets, spending, reporting, risks, investments and liquidity. But leaders align both corporate and divisional financial decisions.

In summary, while C-suite executives set company-wide strategy, decision makers at every layer translate broader goals into ground-level executable plans through choices big and small within their domain. Decision rights cascade down from the top as strategy moves to tactics then operation. But collaboration across functions and levels is key for aligned objectives.

Levels of Decision Making Authority in a Company

Most large companies have a hierarchy of decision making authority that cascades from senior executives downwards:

  • Strategic: The CEO and President hold the broadest authority to set company-wide vision, initiatives, policies, and make major investments.
  • Tactical: The heads of divisions and functions like Sales, Marketing, Operations have authority over their departments including budgets, hiring, processes.
  • Operational: Frontline managers have authority over their location or team including staffing, schedules, expenditures, supplier choices.
  • Individual: Individual team members have authority over their specific work output, approach, time allocation.

Higher levels of authority generally encompass more financial value and broader implications. For example, a CEO may decide a new $50M initiative that reshapes the whole company, while a marketing manager may decide a $50K budget allocation between campaigns.

While authority trickles down, strategic leaders maintain influence over decisions made at lower levels through budgeting oversight and policy setting. But delegation is key for agility.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Decision Making

The degree to which decision authority is concentrated at the top executives or distributed across the organization defines the centralization model:

  • Centralized: Nearly all major decisions controlled tightly by the CEO and C-suite. Lower levels have limited authority. Enables control but can bog down speed and responsiveness.
  • Decentralized: Authority is delegated across multiple divisions, functions, and even down to frontline managers. Faster decisions and innovation but risk of poor alignment.

Many organizations blend aspects of centralized and decentralized decision making. For example:

  • Tightly centralized strategic decisions around budgeting and investment allocations.
  • Tactical authority delegated to business unit heads over their domains.
  • Highly decentralized operating authority to store managers.

Striking the right centralization balance depends on the company, industry, culture and growth stage. Situational factors also matter.

B2B Buying Committees and Decision Authority

For major B2B purchases, authority is often distributed across a buying committee with different levels of influence:

  • Final Decision Maker: Has ultimate authority to select the vendor or make the purchase. Often a Director or VP-level executive.
  • Decision Recommender: Typically a mid-level manager who runs the selection process and makes a recommendation. High influencer.
  • Decision Influencer: Various stakeholders who weigh in but lack formal authority. Still shape buying decision.
  • Decision Blocker: Individuals who can derail or delay the decision, even without authority. For example, compliance.
  • End User: Those impacted by the purchase often provide input but rarely have decision power in enterprise sales.

B2B sellers need to identify the key roles and nurture relationships across the entire committee, not just the decision maker.

Getting to the Decision Maker in Sales

Reaching the empowered decision maker is critical in sales but not always easy. Tactics include:

  • Ask existing customer contacts who the decision maker is for a certain product or category.
  • Call the general company number and ask to speak to the person who decides on solutions like yours.
  • Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to identify titles of executives in the function you sell to.
  • Purchase contact data from vendors like ZoomInfo to uncover decision maker names and contact info.
  • Send an intro email to a generic division email alias asking who the right contact is.
  • Attend industry events or tradeshows to network with decision making leaders.
  • Request an intro meeting with subordinates and ask who controls budget.
  • Once onsite meeting lower-level users, ask to be introduced to their boss.
  • Send helpful content to accounts and see who engages—might suggest authority.

Persistence pays off when aiming to reach elusive decision makers. Leverage data, networking, and asking smart questions.

In summary, decision authority cascades down from strategic leaders mainly to the managers within each department. But key decisions usually involve centralized oversight or collaboration between levels to ensure alignment. Understanding the authority chain and buying committee players is crucial when marketing or selling.

Pros and Cons of Individual Decision Making

Important pros of having individuals make decisions include:

  • Speed: Individuals can assess options and make choices much faster without the need for consensus building across a group. Critical for agility.
  • Accountability: Responsibility and outcomes can be attributed and managed more directly when one person decides versus a diffuse group.
  • Decisiveness: Individuals are more likely to make clear choices rather than get bogged down seeking everyone’s input and agreement.
  • Confidentiality: Individual decision makers can keep emerging strategic initiatives and deals confidential more easily.
  • Consistency: Allows an individual leader to implement their vision versus a hodgepodge group approach.

Potential cons of sole individual decision making are:

  • Bias and blind spots: Individuals bring their own biases which groups can counterbalance.
  • Lack of diversity: A diversity of perspective and debate leads to better decisions.
  • Too much power: Concentrated power in one individual can lead to politics, mistrust, and abuse.
  • Key person dependency: Organizations can’t afford to depend on just one person’s judgement.
  • No buy-in: Group decision buy-in is powerful. Individual decisions face backlash if imposed.

Pros and Cons of Group Decision Making

Involving groups in decisions brings advantages like:

  • Diverse perspectives: With diversity comes needed critique of assumptions and blind spots.
  • Expanded expertise: Groups have knowledge and experience individuals lack. Enables multidimensional evaluation.
  • Shared accountability: Group decisions diffuse risk and secure buy-in to drive execution.
  • Creativity: Groups spawn idea generation and novel solutions through collaboration.
  • Coverage: Multiple members provide continuity if any individual leaves the organization.

But group decision making also carries potential drawbacks:

  • Time consuming: Reaching alignment takes extensive meetings, communication and consultation across departments and leaders.
  • Compromise decisions: Group decisions can water down to the lowest common denominator through concession.
  • Diffusion of responsibility: With everyone responsible, accountability can become ambiguous and soft.
  • Groupthink: Strong personalities can dominate, causing teams to just agree without critique. Silos persist.
  • Politics: Individual agendas, influence tactics, and conflicts can override fact-based evaluation and debate.

When Groups Outperform Individual Decision Makers

Key situations where group decision-making shines over individual authority include:

  • Complex decisions: Multiple perspectives better assess intricacies and interdependencies.
  • Significant uncertainty: Groups hedge risk across knowledge areas and mental models.
  • Cross-functional decisions: Issues spanning departments require collaborative choices.
  • Major strategic shifts: Big bets that reshape the company need confidence and solidarity.
  • Lack of expertise: One leader rarely deeply understands all domains impacted.
  • Culture change: New norms and values stick better with involvement and co-creation.
  • Resource contention: Allocating limited people, money, or inventory across competing needs.
  • High risk decisions: Spreading accountability for bold moves with downside outcomes.

Techniques for Facilitating Group Decisions

Tactics for enabling effective group decision-making include:

  • Establishing decision rights upfront to avoid confusion. Who recommends and who decides?
  • Leveraging decision-making frameworks like weighting criteria to add rigor.
  • Developing hypotheses and alternatives to choose from rather than starting from scratch.
  • Using facilitators or processes like design thinking to enable productive debate.
  • Scheduling regular reviews before final call rather than one-off meetings.
  • Sub-dividing complex decisions into parts various members can dig into and bring back findings.
  • Mitigating politics through anonymous inputs or assessment of pros/cons without identities attached.
  • Seeking consensus but the decision maker retains authority for final call if needed.
  • Communicating openly to ensure transparency and understanding across the broader organization.

In summary, individual and group decision-making both carry merits and downsides. While groups enable diversity of thought and shared accountability, solitary authority allows speed, decisiveness and confidentiality when needed. The context ultimately determines when to apply each approach.

Being Decisive and Resolute

Great decision makers showcase decisiveness and resoluteness when making tough calls, rather than endlessly delaying or wavering. Key traits include:

  • Comfort with ambiguity: Able to make choices amid uncertainty when data is incomplete or the future unclear.
  • Courage: Willingness to make bold moves with inherent risk, even if they prove wrong in hindsight. Not afraid to fail.
  • Self-confidence: Trust their judgement while inviting critique of assumptions and logic. Don’t second guess themselves.
  • Thick skin: Able to handle criticism and backlash when their decisions are controversial or unpopular with some factions.
  • Conviction: A reasoned belief in the chosen course, not a rigid attachment. But a bias to stick with choices made.
  • Action-orientation: Move rapidly to execute once a plan is chosen rather than debating merits endlessly.
  • Accountability: Take ownership of outcomes and don’t blame external forces. Hold themselves responsible for results.

Great decision makers have the courage and conviction to make hard calls and the leadership to implement them effectively.

Weighing Pros, Cons and Tradeoffs

Skilled decision makers carefully weigh the pros, cons and tradeoffs entailed by each option before deciding. They:

  • Consider second order effects: Look beyond the immediate impacts to understand indirect consequences over time.
  • Objectively examine downsides: Don’t just rationalize away the disadvantages of their preferred option. Red team it.
  • Think long-term: Make choices optimal for long-run success, not just short-term rewards. Avoid temptation to hit quarterly targets at the expense of sustainable results.
  • Question assumptions: Thoroughly scrutinize the projected benefits and underlying premises to pressure test them.
  • Analyze alternate scenarios: Model best-case and worst-case outcomes to frame the range versus getting anchored on the base case.
  • Weigh unintended consequences: Every policy has loopholes. Anticipate how people may react or game the system.
  • Balance probabilities: Estimate the likelihood of achieving the hoped for benefits and avoiding feared risks.
  • Assess decision reversibility: Factor ease and cost of walking back the decision if wrong. Reversible decisions have a lower bar.

Thinking Critically and Analytically

Strong decision makers exhibit critical thinking and logic when assessing choices:

  • Ask probing questions: Dig beneath the surface data and claims to understand root causes and examine biases.
  • Think independently: Do their own analysis rather than blindly following recommendations from supposed experts.
  • Consider alternate perspectives: Critically evaluate options through different lenses like finance, engineering, sales.
  • Pressure test arguments: Debate and play devil’s advocate even if it challenges comfortable assumptions.
  • Identify faulty logic: Spot inconsistencies, self-contradictions, and flawed premises in a decision proposal.
  • Demand evidence: Require solid proof and tangible data to back opinions rather than speculations.
  • Think probabilistically: Estimate likelihood and impact ranges rather than deterministically.
  • Mitigate biases: Recognize intellectual pitfalls like sunk cost fallacy that distort decisions.

Logical rigor separates great decision makers from those who just follow intuition. But analysis supports rather than substitutes judgement.

Managing Risk vs. Reward

Skilled decision makers calibrates risk-taking to find the right balance between playing it safe or being too reckless. They:

  • Define appetite for risk: Each company has different thresholds for risk depending on industry, profitability, and growth targets.
  • Diversify risks: Take multiple smaller risks across projects rather than betting everything on one big gamble.
  • Limit downside: Structure initiatives to cap losses if things go wrong, while retaining upside if successful.
  • Gather data to quantify risks: Estimate potential frequency and impact of threats through metrics, not just speculation.
  • Consider alternatives: Look creatively for options with more manageable risks but still moving the business ahead.
  • Mitigate risks: For unavoidable risks, implement controls and early warning systems to reduce likelihood of materializing.
  • Learn from failures: Study mistakes via post-mortems without punishing responsible risk-taking.
  • Reward long-term success: Offer incentives linked to multi-year performance rather than immediate gains which can encourage undue risk taking.

Considering Multiple Viewpoints

Strong decision makers solicit input from varied sources and think through different lenses:

  • Solicit critique: Ask colleagues in other departments to critically assess a proposal rather than promoting it.
  • Survey impacted groups: Speak to or survey frontline employees and customers who feel the effects of decisions.
  • Check your blind spots: Consider how those with different backgrounds and personality types might view the issue.
  • Leverage staff experts: Consult legal, finance, data security specialists on risks you lack expertise to assess fully.
  • Simulate competitor response: If launching a new product or entering a market, anticipate how incumbents might react and alter approach accordingly.
  • Talk to former executives: Consult ex-leaders who faced similar choices and can share lessons without current political biases.
  • Commission dissenting research: When tackling a complex issue with ambiguous data, hire independent researchers with opposing hypotheses.
  • Avoid echo chambers: Prevent fluid exchange of ideas between internal factions or silos.

Demonstrating Leadership and Initiative

Beyond analysis, great decision makers lead people through change:

  • Take a stand: Willing to decide and commit rather than endlessly debating all perspectives.
  • Persuade: Bring along broader organization through clear communication of rationale and upside.
  • Delegate execution: Empower individuals and teams to run with the implementation versus micro-managing details.
  • Allocate resources: Ensure staffing, budgets and infrastructure exist to drive new initiatives and aren’t starved.
  • Motivate: Inspire people around a compelling vision and incremental successes, despite hurdles.
  • Address resistance: Anticipate pockets of resistance, listen to concerns and address them judiciously.
  • Adapt: Monitor results and make adjustments to plans as practical feedback warrants. But avoid knee-jerk reversals.
  • Take responsibility: Stand behind choices made rather than finger pointing when problems inevitably occur.

Beyond analytical skills, great decision makers motivate people and foster leadership at all levels to enact their vision.

In summary, outstanding decision makers combine great judgement, critical thinking, risk management, inclusiveness, and leadership with the courage to make imperfect but necessary choices. They focus on asking the right questions, not having all the data. Because in reality, decisions must be made amid uncertainty.

Defining the Decision Making Process

Organizations optimize decision-making by establishing structured processes that provide consistency and rigor. Key steps include:

  • Framing the issue: Clarify the actual decision required and objectives it aims to achieve.
  • Determining who decides: Specify the individual or group with authority to make the final call.
  • Identifying stakeholders: Determine all parties impacted by the decision who should provide input.
  • Gathering intel: Compile all relevant qualitative and quantitative data required to inform the evaluation.
  • Developing alternatives: Brainstorm different options to consider along with status quo.
  • Analyzing trade-offs: Weigh pros and cons of alternatives against criteria. Score options.
  • Making the decision: The empowered individual or group deliberates and makes a choice.
  • Communicating the rationale: Explain the reasons for the decision to build understanding.
  • Executing the outcome: Mobilize resources and organization to implement the path chosen.
  • Tracking results: Monitor progress, metrics and issues arising from the decision.
  • Refining as needed: Based on evidence, refine aspects of the decision and approach as practical.

Documenting a disciplined process makes decision-making more inclusive, rigorous, transparent, and productive.

Gathering Complete and Accurate Information

Skilled decision makers invest time upfront gathering all available data inputs needed to make an informed choice:

  • Conduct research: Compile internal data, external benchmarks, industry reports, user studies.
  • Do interviews: Speak to staff across functions to gather perspectives on what works well or pain points.
  • Send out surveys: Solicit anonymous feedback from employees or customers via online surveys to surface honest views.
  • Consult experts: Seek guidance from specialists like lawyers and technologists to understand constraints and feasibility.
  • Visit field locations: Go see operational facilities and end customers to gain firsthand understanding of their reality.
  • Model scenarios: Develop models projecting sales, costs, profitability under various choice scenarios.
  • Prototype options: Build limited pilots to test products and operational processes in real situations.
  • Forecast uncertainties: Estimate potential variability in key assumptions that affect the outcomes.

Soliciting Diverse Input and Challenging Assumptions

Rather than keeping decisions confined in a closed room, successful decision makers actively solicit competing perspectives:

  • Involve experts with diverse lenses: Finance, legal, risk management, operations, engineering leaders with different concerns.
  • Include contrary outside views: Invite critical Wall Street analysts or academic experts to stress test proposals.
  • Assign a devil’s advocate: Appoint someone to poke holes in the prevailing arguments and wisdom.
  • Spar competing teams: Develop different teams with opposite recommendations to debate strengths and weaknesses.
  • Brainstorm without identities attached: List pros and cons of options anonymously to prevent dominant personalities from filtering ideas.
  • Role play competitors: Enact how market rivals might respond to various moves you are considering.
  • Poll frontline staff: Seek anonymous input from those most impacted but without voice in proceedings.
  • Enable confidential feedback: Let people share concerns privately without fear of repercussions for dissenting.

Analyzing Data to Inform Decisions

While judgement determines choices, data drives fact-based evaluation of alternatives:

  • Gather historical data: Analyze time series records of past performance, problems, and results of prior decisions.
  • Benchmark competitors: Collect data on peer company operations, products, and value propositions to compare.
  • Conduct controlled tests: Prototype changes and test effectiveness on subsets of users.
  • Build predictive models: Develop models forecasting business or operational impact based on correlations.
  • Run simulations: Create models encoding logic and variability you can simulate to stress test choices.
  • Analyze usage metrics: Gather data on how end users interact with products and services.
  • Survey customer sentiment: Use techniques like Net Promoter Score to quantify user satisfaction.
  • Calculate financial impact: Estimate cost, revenue, risk effects across options in financial statements.
  • Quantify risks: Estimate failure likelihood, scenarios, and potential severity of various threats.

Communicating Decisions Transparently

Once decided, effective leaders close the loop by explaining the choice to all impacted:

  • Share decision reached and why: Explain the selected option and rationale openly to build understanding.
  • Detail benefits expected: Quantify projected gains like cost savings, revenue upside, risk reduction.
  • Acknowledge downsides: Be upfront about known compromises or negative impacts the choice entails.
  • Describe process followed: Summary the steps taken, options considered, data sources leveraged to promote fairness.
  • Thank participants for input: Recognize contributors and highlight how their perspective shaped the debate.
  • Accept critiques graciously: Listen openly rather than defend if some disagree. Commit to re-evaluating based on evidence.
  • Communicate next steps: Layout the implementation plan, milestones, and how success will be tracked.
  • Take feedback: Solicit anonymous input on how the decision process could be improved next time.

Revisiting and Revising Decisions When Needed

While sticking to choices is ideal, the best decision makers remain flexible:

  • Define conditions triggering re-evaluation: Specify metrics or events that would warrant revisiting the decision if they occurred.
  • Establish regular review cadence: Set quarterly or annual milestones to formally re-assess major decisions without emotions attached.
  • Monitor for unintended consequences: Watch for unexpected outcomes arising indirectly from the decision.
  • Incorporate new information: Be ready to change course if material facts surface invalidating key assumptions.
  • Consider changes in the landscape: Adapt decisions if the competitive or regulatory dynamics shift significantly.
  • Allow occasional managed failure: Let some decisions play out unsuccessfully if the learnings warrant, without overreacting.
  • Setsunset provisions: Embed clauses causing programs or investments to automatically expire unless explicitly renewed.
  • Manage sunk cost bias: Objectively re-evaluate decisions based on go-forward potential rather than past expenditures.

In summary, excellent decision makers combine inclusive visibility, objective analysis, transparent communication, and pragmatic flexibility to hone judgement and choices over time for lasting success.

Using Decision Matrices to Weigh Criteria

Decision matrices provide a structured way to score options against weighted criteria:

  • List alternatives: Capture all options under consideration in rows.
  • Define criteria: Determine the factors most important in the decision as columns. For example, cost, risk, timeline.
  • Weight criteria: Assign percentages adding to 100% reflecting relative importance. Cost may get 40%, risk 30%, etc.
  • Score options: Rate each alternative on a 1-5 scale for how well it meets each criterion.
  • Multiply: For each option, multiply the rating by criteria weight and sum scores. Highest total wins.
  • Sensitize: Test with different criteria weightings to see if relative rankings hold.

Decision matrices introduce rigor by formalizing the tradeoffs based on priorities like risk versus cost.

Conducting Root Cause Analysis on Problems

Root cause analysis gets beyond symptoms to understand problems:

  • Define the problem: Clarify the gap between expectation and reality you are solving for.
  • Document the timeline: Catalog key events leading up to discovering the issue.
  • Gather data: Compile relevant metrics, customer complaints, staff observations.
  • Visualize processes: Map out the underlying work streams related to the problem through flowcharting.
  • Identify points of failure: Spot steps where processes appear to be breaking down or underperforming expectations.
  • Ask why: For each failure point, ask why it is happening. Then ask why again about those causes. Repeat to find root causes.
  • Address root causes: Develop fixes targeting the ultimate root causes rather than just symptoms.

Making decisions without deep diagnosis of problems risks superficial solutions.

Forecasting Demand to Support Decisions

Models predicting future demand guide proper planning and investments:

  • Gather historical data: Compile past internal sales and relevant external data like market growth.
  • Identify drivers: Determine factors strongly correlated to demand like prices, advertising, seasons.
  • Develop models: Build spreadsheet models to plot demand mathematically based on historical patterns and drivers.
  • Add uncertainty ranges: Compute confidence interval bands around forecasts to capture uncertainties.
  • Simulate scenarios: Estimate effects of potential events like new market entrants on forecasts.
  • Regularly re-forecast: Rerun forecasts monthly or quarterly as new data comes in rather than relying on stale projections.
  • Compare to actuals: Review forecast errors to continuously improve methods and account for unmodeled factors.

While imperfect, demand forecasting reduces risk for capacity, inventory, and staffing decisions.

Modeling Financial Impact of Choices

Financial models quantify the bottom line effects of decisions:

  • Map out cash flows: Project monthly or annual cash inflows and outflows over a multi-year period resulting from the decision.
  • Estimate incremental impacts: Quantify how costs, revenues, and capital needs differ from status quo.
  • Calculate net present value (NPV): Discount future cash flows to today’s dollars to enable apples-to-apples comparison.
  • Use sensitivity analysis: Vary key assumptions like cost reductions to understand potential swing factors.
  • Model alternate scenarios: Contrast worst and best case scenarios to bracket the possibilities.
  • Add risk factors: Attach probabilities to downside scenarios based on past volatility.
  • Compare options: Output decision summary charts with metrics like payback period, IRR, break-even points.

While models simplify reality, they enable fact-based financial comparisons of choices.

Leveraging Data Analytics and Business Intelligence

Analytics extract insights from data to enhance decisions:

  • Tap internal data: Gather and combine siloed customer, operational, and financial data sets using business intelligence tools.
  • Weigh external data: Overlay relevant third party data like demographics, market performance, social media conversations, weather.
  • Analyze patterns: Discover trends, correlations, associations, and outliers using statistical and machine learning algorithms.
  • Summarize via dashboards: Visualize key metrics, trends, benchmark comparisons in a digestible snapshot updated dynamically.
  • Forecast outcomes: Use predictive models to estimate future performance based on historical patterns and correlations.
  • Simulate decisions: Run simulations of how changes to pricing, messaging, etc. could play out based on past sensitivity.
  • Enable self-service analysis: Let business users manipulate data and analyze scenarios relevant for their decisions using analytics tools.

Data democratization shifts decisions from gut feel to evidence-based intuition.

In summary, applying the right frameworks, diagnostics, models, and analysis elevates decisions beyond just intuitive judgement. Techniques bring structure while analytics provides facts to complement experience. But tools remain means not ends.

Confirmation Bias and Seeing What You Want to See

Confirmation bias causes decision makers to overweight information confirming pre-existing views:

  • Seek supporting data: Focus search efforts on finding facts backing your hypothesis versus objectively gathering all data.
  • Challenge contrary information: Hold supportive info to lower skeptical standards than dissenting perspectives.
  • Interpret ambiguity as confirming: View ambiguous or incomplete data as supporting current thinking.
  • Ignore disconfirming facts: Rationalize away contradictions as flukes or isolate them rather than updating views.
  • Surround with supporters: Limit input to likeminded people likely to agree versus diversifying your sources.

To mitigate confirmation bias:

  • Consider alternatives: Take time to develop competing hypotheses you then test impartially.
  • Assign a devil’s advocate: Appoint a person to argue against your assumption.
  • Debate assumptions: Convene sessions focused on stress testing core premises.
  • Justify with evidence: Disallow opinions or feelings. Require statistically valid proof.

The Availability Heuristic and Recent Events

The availability heuristic leads decision makers to overweight recent, salient events:

  • Recall vivid events: Let dramatic recent occurrences drive your perception of likelihood and responses taken.
  • Neglect historical data: Give too little weight to full data sets versus a few memorable anecdotes.
  • ** Assume a trend**: Perceive a cluster of events as the start of a new normal rather than normal volatility.
  • Personalize: Believe events happened to you more often if you can easily recall instances.

To account for availability bias:

  • Record frequency: Maintain data logs tracking how often events actually occur over time.
  • Gather statistics: Study historical performance records to determine typical distributions.
  • Simulate expected variance: Model future ranges factoring in fluctuations.
  • Consider contrary cases: Purposefully bring to mind cases contradicting your impression.

The Anchoring Effect and First Impressions

Anchoring fixes decisions around initial information:

  • Overweight first data: Put too much influence on figures seen early which set your anchor point.
  • Fail to adjust: Once an anchor is set, inadequately account for future contradicting data.
  • Impact of arbitrary anchors: Even unrelated random numbers bias estimates higher or lower.
  • Rely on convenient anchors: Use readily available benchmarks versus a calculated estimate.

To avoid anchoring:

  • Delay estimating: Withhold making any estimate for a period to clear anchors.
  • Average multiple views: Seek input from different people before making your own assessment.
  • Use hard data: Require verifiable data driving estimates rather than guesses.
  • Consider extremes: Identify extremes like best and worst case to frame the full range.

Overconfidence Bias and Estimation Errors

The tendency towards overconfidence undermines decisions:

  • Illusion of knowledge: Belief you know more than you do about unfamiliar topics.
  • Excess faith in judgement: Belief your conclusions are ironclad versus provisional.
  • Undue faith in accuracy: Expect your estimates to be far more precise than warranted.
  • Bold forecasts: Make specific, narrow predictions despite huge uncertainty.
  • Misjudge expertise: Believe only your skills can successfully execute plans or that you require no outside experts.

Best practices for countering overconfidence:

  • Consider unknowns: Identify uncertainties and data gaps before estimating unknowns.
  • Use prediction ranges: Forecast in bands to reflect levels of confidence.
  • Review past accuracy: Compare actual results to estimates to gauge credibility of judgement.
  • Stress test assumptions: Have third parties probe your premises.
  • Wargame implementation: Identify weak links in capacity to uncover potential pitfalls.

Loss Aversion Bias and Risk Tolerance

Loss aversion bias leads decision makers to avoid losses over equal gains:

  • Fear losses: When weighing uncertain choices, the possibility of losses looms larger than potential upside.
  • Accept sure things: Prefer certain but smaller gains to probabilistic higher but riskier gains.
  • Favor low risk: Choose less optimal conservative options to avoid potential downsides.
  • Loss fixation: Let realized losses overly influence future decisions to recoup rather than move forward.

To overcome loss aversion:

  • Broaden time horizon: Weigh returns and risks over multi-year periods versus immediate impact.
  • Set risk tolerance: Define an acceptable risk-return balance aligned to strategy and objectives.
  • Simulate outcomes: Model distributions of results over many trials to assess odds.
  • Limit exposure: Structure initiatives to cap losses while retaining upside.

In summary, common decision traps stem from biases like selective memory, first impressions, confidence, and loss aversion. But steps like debating assumptions, requiring proof, and analyzing data mitigate risks if applied with discipline.

Taking a Methodical and Data-Driven Approach

Boost decision skills by applying more structure and analytics:

  • Document processes: Outline the specific steps followed to make various types of decisions across units.
  • Leverage frameworks: Use decision matrices to formally score options based on weighted criteria.
  • Develop models: Build forecasting models to estimate impacts of choices on sales, costs, risks rather than guessing.
  • Tap analytics: Apply statistical and machine learning to uncover patterns and relationships to inform decisions.
  • Run simulations: Model and stress test assumptions and scenarios to bracket potential outcomes.
  • A/B test options: Try limited rollouts of alternatives to judge effectiveness.
  • Require proof: Insist staff support opinions with verifiable data and facts versus speculations.
  • Audit outcomes: Evaluate results delivered by past decisions to guide improvements.

Facts and data transform decisions from bets to informed judgements.

Considering All Options and Perspectives

Minimize blind spots by broadening inputs:

  • Solicit diverse views: Seek counterperspectives from other functions, levels, personality types.
  • Debate assumptions: Don’t just celebrate supportive data. Scrutinize core premises.
  • Assign a devil’s advocate: Appoint someone to critique proposals.
  • Poll impacted groups: Anonymous surveys provide unfiltered insights from those affected.
  • Talk to former staff: Alumni provide an external lens missing internal politics.
  • Use independent experts: Third party assessments counter insular thinking.
  • Role play competitors: Envision how rivals might respond to contemplated moves.
  • Brainstorm alternatives: Don’t just tweak the status quo. Ponder bolder innovations.

Seeking wisdom from unexpected sources sparks creativity and avoids myopia.

Being Flexible and Adapting Past Decisions When Needed

Skilled decision makers remain open minded:

  • Define reversal triggers: Specify thresholds upfront that warrant rethinking choices.
  • Set scheduled reviews: Re-evaluate periodically without biases that influenced initial call.
  • Watch for red flags: Update analysis when data suggests original assumptions were flawed.
  • Sense external shifts: Modify approaches when market, competitive, or regulatory dynamics change.
  • Embrace trial and error: Allow disciplined failure on some innovative bets to enable learning over rigid adherence to plans.
  • Limit sunk cost fixation: Pivot future actions based on go-forward potential regardless of past expenditures.
  • Institutionalize dissent: Create safe forums for staff to surface contrarian perspectives and alternative options.
  • Admit mistakes: Personally acknowledge when choices made prove flawed. Autopsies provide lessons.

Refining decisions demonstrates wisdom while stubbornness risks ruin.

Learning from Past Decision Successes and Failures

Leverage wins and mistakes to grow:

  • Catalog decisions: Record all significant choices in a knowledge base detailing rationale, approval process, results.
  • Debrief projects: Hold “lessons learned” meetings to uncover why initiatives met or missed goals.
  • Analyze wins: Study successes just as rigorously as failures. Understand drivers.
  • Admit errors transparently: Avoid punishing reasonable risks that backfire. Publicize learnings.
  • Require failure plans: Make contingency planning standard for high risk decisions.
  • Balance track records: Weigh someone’s full history rather than just recent or dramatic events when judging judgement.
  • Rotate assignments: Periodically shift leaders into new roles to broaden experience making different types of decisions.
  • Simulate past scenarios: Have rising talent re-evaluate complex past decisions as training.

There are no infinite winning streaks. Past performance informs but does not guarantee future success.

Getting Comfortable Making Difficult Choices

Top decision makers can handle hard calls:

  • Have a vision: Make choices by connecting tactics back to overarching goals and strategy.
  • Think long term: Don’t get distracted optimizing short term metrics over sustainable success.
  • Accept ambiguity: Feel confident moving forward amid uncertainty by focusing energy on things in your control.
  • Take calculated risks: Understand some bold bets with asymmetric risk-reward payoff are necessary to stay ahead.
  • Overcome analysis paralysis: Synthesize data and opinions to make timely calls even with incomplete consensus.
  • Have conviction: Once decided, stick to choices made unless compelling new data warrants change.
  • Take responsibility: Accept outcomes without blaming external forces or delegating hindsight scrutiny to others.
  • Communicate candidly: Transparently explain rationale and address concerns rather than avoiding difficult conversations.

Great decision makers convert uneasy dilemmas into progress by taking a stand based on informed judgement and principle.

In summary, honing decision skills requires applying rigorous processes, welcoming diverse views, studying past outcomes, and mustering courage to confront hard choices. But wisdom means striking the right balance between data and conviction.

Key Things to Remember About Decision Makers

Core concepts to remember:

  • Decision makers hold authority to make binding choices aligned to their role.
  • They guide organization strategy, departments, finances, operations.
  • C-suite are strategic decision makers, managers are tactical, frontline are operational.
  • IT, Marketing, Sales, Finance leaders are key functional decision makers.
  • Groups enable diverse input but individuals enable speed and decisiveness.
  • B2B buying committees distribute influence across multiple roles.
  • Decision rights flow top-down but input must flow bottom-up.
  • Power brings accountability for the risks and outcomes of choices.
  • Great decision makers balance data, experience and leadership skills.

Signs That You Are an Effective Strategic Decision Maker

Hallmarks of excellence include:

  • You take a broad systems view connecting decisions to corporate goals.
  • You gather comprehensive data and diverse views to make informed choices.
  • You leverage frameworks and models to weigh tradeoffs rigorously.
  • You have the courage to make tough calls amid uncertainty.
  • You clearly explain the rationale for choices to build alignment.
  • You empower execution but hold yourself accountable for results.
  • You revisit past decisions when new data indicates adjustments are needed.
  • You invest time to improve decision skills through training and lessons learned.
  • You mentor and grow future strategic leaders’ decision acumen.

How to Continuously Improve Your Decision Making Skills

Steps to hone abilities:

  • Formally reflect on recent wins and mistakes to extract lessons.
  • Learn structured decision tools and techniques like weighted criteria matrices.
  • Take statistics and data science courses to strengthen analytical skills.
  • Read case studies detailing complex decisions at other companies.
  • When facing dilemmas, take time to clearly define the problem and objectives.
  • Intentionally seek input from people with different backgrounds and functions.
  • Note emotions you feel during the decision process as clues to potential biases.
  • Record predictions to compare later versus actuals to improve forecasting.
  • Deconstruct competitors’ moves to guess at their underlying decision calculations.
  • Volunteer for stretch assignments that broaden the types of decisions you make.

In summary, excellent decision makers commit to continuous skills development while leveraging tools ranging from data to devil’s advocates to strengthen judgement.

Key Takeaways on Understanding Decision Makers

  • Decision makers hold the formal authority and accountability to make binding choices guiding an organization’s strategy and operations.
  • While the C-suite renders the broadest decisions, managers at every level make important judgement calls daily.
  • Certain contexts favor individual decision makers while groups excel at complex choices requiring diverse perspectives.
  • Buyer committees at B2B companies distribute influence across multiple roles, requiring seller focus beyond just the top executive.
  • Outstanding decision makers combine courage and conviction with inclusive processes and data-driven rigor.
  • Leveraging structured frameworks, analytics, and dedicated decision tools elevates choices beyond just intuition.
  • Common decision traps stem from biases like confirmation, availability, anchoring and overconfidence.
  • With authority comes responsibility for risk-taking, ethics, transparency and learning from both wise and poor decisions.
  • Great decision makers never stop honing their skills through training, lessons from history and surrounding themselves with talented teams.
  • At its core, sound decision-making requires asking the right questions more than having all the answers. Uncertainty is the norm, not the exception.

In today’s fast-changing markets, firms cannot afford delayed or ill-informed choices. Investing in developing sound decision makers across the organization establishes a competitive edge difficult to match.

Frequently Asked Questions About Decision Makers

What are the key roles and responsibilities of a decision maker?

Decision makers are responsible for making major choices that guide an organization’s strategy and operations. Their choices allocate resources, set policies, and drive new initiatives. With decision authority comes accountability for the risks and outcomes.

What are some common types of decision makers?

Typical types include strategic decision makers like CEOs and Presidents, tactical decision makers like department heads, operational decision makers like frontline managers, and specialized decision makers covering functions like IT, Marketing, Finance, HR, and more.

What traits make someone an excellent decision maker?

Great decision makers demonstrate courage, conviction, accountability, vision, inclusiveness, analytical skills, communications abilities, and the leadership to motivate implementation. They balance data and diverse input with sound judgment.

When are groups better at decision making than individuals?

Groups excel at complex choices involving uncertainty, many variables, extensive expertise requirements, large capital, and the need for alignment across factions of an organization.

How can you tell if you are improving as a decision maker?

Signs of progress include learning from past wins and mistakes, getting more comfortable with hard calls, using more rigorous processes, seeking more input, adapting choices when new data warrants, and reflecting on biases.

What are some common decision traps and biases?

Watch for biases like confirmation (selective facts), availability (recent events), anchoring (first impressions), loss aversion (fearing risk), and overconfidence (in analysis and judgment).

How can facts and data complement intuition in choices?

Data techniques like statistical analysis, decision frameworks, financial modeling, predictive analytics, and simulations can stress test assumptions and estimate trade-offs when added to experience.

Why is transparency important for good decision makers?

Explaining the rationale behind choices and acknowledging where decisions missed the mark builds trust and understanding needed for stakeholders to move ahead without second guessing.

How do you know when to revisit a past decision?

Re-evaluating is wise when goals are missed, core assumptions are invalidated by evidence, the competitive context shifts, unintended consequences emerge, or new data suggests an alteration may be optimal.

What steps can improve skills in making tough calls?

Practices that boost decision skills include learning decision tools and techniques, reflecting on wins/losses, taking courses in statistics or analytics, tackling diverse decision types, reading case studies, and proactively seeking development opportunities.