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Virtues of Government Service – Number 8: Values-Based Decision-making

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

Success in business and life is largely determined by the choices that we make. We spend a good portion of each and every day poring over decisions. We like to think that we’re rational human-beings, in control of our senses and our brains. It follows that our decisions should, therefore, be good, solid, evidence-based, data-backed, smart and even wise.

In fact, our decision-making is disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities, not to mention time constraints and conflicting objectives. At times, we’re overconfident. Other times find us weak-kneed and timid. Our tendency is to seek out information that supports our biases. And, we downplay information that doesn’t. Our emotions get involved. Remember the adage that says; “People make decisions for emotional reasons and then (try to) support them with logic.”

Is there any hope for improved decisions and better outcomes? Yes!

 Trust Your Instincts (But Get the Facts)

Rational decisions are those grounded in solid statistics and objective facts.  One would expect that these would result in the same choices as would be computed by a logical robot. But they’re not necessarily the most sensible.  Remember the omnipresent, fascinating and sometimes infuriating tension between Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk?

Sometimes the facts aren’t easy or obvious. For example, most will remember the famous “Trust but verify” quote attributed to Ronald Reagan. This old Reagan adage, coined during the Cold War and Reagan’s meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, is, ironically, derived from a proverb of Russian origins! The point is, if you’re making decisions about nuclear warfare and such, don’t wing it! Know the facts and the facts behind the facts!

Knowing Your MVP – Mission, Value and Purpose (Personal and Business or Organizational)

If you’re in tune with your mission, values and purpose, decision-making is easy – or at least easier. This is as true for the newly promoted supervisor and the experienced CEO. In Smart Choices, John Hammond, Ralph Keeney and Howard Raiffa—experts with over 100 years of experience resolving complex decision problems —offer an approach to help:

  • Evaluate plans/ideas.
  • Break down potential decision into the key elements.
  • Identify the drivers most relevant to your goals.
  • Apply systematic thinking.
  • Use the right information to make the smartest choice.

Be proactive. Don’t wait until a decision is forced on you — or made for you. Seek out decisions that advance your long-term goals, values and beliefs.

 Be your own MVP

You are your own most valuable person. What does that mean? Well, in sports, the most valuable player or MVP is the individual who makes the biggest contribution to the team’s success. In that simple sentence are some complex ideas. First is the idea of the “individual.” When all is said and done and the season is over, it’s the individual who paid the price, made the sacrifice, put in the work and who is celebrated even while recognizing that the performance was a team effort.

Southwest Airlines Chicken Salad

Some of you may have heard the Southwest CEO “Chicken Salad Story.” It goes something like this. A Southwest customer service manager goes in for a meeting with Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, which he refers to as THE low-fare airline. In her briefing, she mentions a recent customer satisfaction survey. Customers are complaining about the lack of food service – just peanuts. She suggests that perhaps serving a chicken salad on certain flights might improve the survey results.

Mr. Kelleher thinks for a moment and then asks; “Can you explain how serving chicken salad helps us be THE low-fare airline?” Point made. For Southwest, every decision is balanced against the one, sole purpose. Price.  When you know your purpose, decision-making gets easier. If you don’t know your purpose, begin your search for it now. You’ll discover that the real payoff in knowing your MVP is in the freedom that develops because of this understanding.

How Can We Do Better?

Very few of us are trained and equipped with useful decision-making skills. Because of this, we often approach our choices tentatively, or even fearfully. Sometimes we avoid giving important decisions the time and thought required. Be careful to avoid getting distracted by short-term emotions.

Despite the growing reliance on “big data” to game out every decision, humans are incapable of constant, rational thought. We simply don’t have the time or capacity to calculate the statistical probabilities and potential risks that come with every choice.

3 Steps to Wise(r) Decision-Making

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has some good material about decision-making. Here are a few ideas gathered and fused from their publications.

Here’s a three-step process that can be applied to any situation where you need to make an important decision. If you follow these basic steps, you will find yourself making wiser decisions, both in your professional as well as your personal life.

  1. Define specifically what the decision is that needs to be made.
  • When does the decision need to be made?
  • Why is this decision important to you?
  • Who will be affected by this decision?
  • What values does this decision involve for you?
  1. Visualize the outcomes of alternatives.
  • For each remaining alternative on your list, picture what the outcome of that alternative will look like.
  1. Do a reality check.
  • Which of your remaining alternatives are most likely to happen?
  • Cross off those alternatives that most likely will not happen to you.
  • Decide which ones feel most comfortable.

Wise decisions are decisions that are made using a definite process. They are based on the values and perceptions of the decision-maker and include carefully considered alternatives and options along with periodic reassessments of the decision and its effects. Wise decisions may or may not follow societal norms and expectations. However, they are right for the decider based on what she knows at that point in time about both her options as well as herself.

Rick Pfautz is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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