How to Improve Decision-Making Skills in 9 Steps

How to Improve Decision-Making Skills in 9 Steps

As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, you’re already making several calculations and decisions for the day. A few decisions are relatively small, like “What will I wear today?” or “What will I have for lunch?” Some days, you might be pondering questions with greater impact, like “Should I say yes to taking the lead on this project?” or “Should I apply for that position?”

If you’re a manager, you might have important decisions to make that affect the whole organization. Your decision-making abilities on things like which projects to bid on, who should lead a project, or what to present to a client are important in building a successful business. The path you choose directly impacts your company’s ability to achieve its goals.

Effective decision-making may seem to be an innate ability for some people. But for most of us, it’s a skill we need to learn. In this article, we define decision-making and discuss how you can improve your decision-making skills in nine steps.

Feel free to use the jump links to read ahead.

  1. Understand the context
  2. Make a plan
  3. Identify the “who” and “why”
  4. Weigh the pros and cons
  5. Get a second opinion
  6. Limit your choices
  7. Set deadlines
  8. Evaluate the outcome
  9. Learn from experience

9 Steps for strategic decision-making

How to Improve Decision Making Skills

As you try to improve your decision-making skills, a step-by-step approach may be quite useful. This systematic path helps you make deliberate and thoughtful choices while sorting the available information and assessing possible outcomes.

Follow these nine steps to help you increase your chances of choosing the best options. Soon, good decision-making will become a habit, and you’ll have a valuable skill to include on your resume.

1. Understand the context

The first step is to identify and define the situation. Look at the issue from all angles and understand the nature of the decision. Then, confirm that it’s yours to solve—you might be able to delegate it or you may need to bring it to a higher level in the organization.

If you’re the one who has to make the decision, start with the goal in sight. Before you begin evaluating the options at hand, define what a successful outcome looks like. Having a clear vision of the desired outcome can help you make a big decision.

You also have the option to implement agile decision-making and bring your team into the process. Agile decision-making involves breaking down a large decision into smaller pieces and working through them with transparency and collaboration.

The actual decision-making is done methodically, regularly, and repeatedly. The regularity and transparency reduces the instances of complex and huge adjustments, and, instead, the team pivots and makes small changes when needed.

For example, say you’re launching a new product. The whole team gets updates and gives feedback on assigned tasks at scheduled meetings. If there are issues, the team discusses it and comes up with a solution together.

Note that agile decision-making is successful when team members are empowered, well-informed, and have the autonomy to deliver what the customer wants in the most efficient way they can think of.  

2. Make a plan

Not all decisions we make have long-term consequences, so some choices are easy. If a decision were easy, you’d have made it already, right?

In the workplace, decision-making can be difficult because you don’t want to make mistakes. This may be when you find yourself going back and forth, unable to make a decision.

When you need to make a decision that does not fall into the “easy choice” category, the next thing you need is a plan. Determine what kind of information you need. Who, what, or where is the best source of information? Decide how to collect any relevant data or observations.

This step includes thinking about the support you need to make the decision. For example, do you need the input of your manager or your team? Don’t forget to give yourself a deadline and include a date when you should make the decision.

3. Identify the “who” and “why”

Before you make decisions, ensure you’re taking into consideration who’s involved and why. Sometimes, you have to involve other people, a manager or your team, in the decision-making process, especially if you’re faced with making a decision that’s outside your area of expertise.

To make sure roles and responsibilities are clear among the experts you bring in, you may want to implement Bain’s RAPID technique. This is quite an undertaking if you decide to use it. But it’s helpful when you’re dealing with a large decision that features many moving parts and different people involved in the process.

Similarly, you can also use a RACI chart. The RACI model is a visual diagram that outlines the functional roles and responsibilities of each decision-maker or expert in the project. Both tools provide a clear distinction regarding who’s in charge of what, helping to clarify decision accountability.

For instance, if you’re trying to determine how to improve customer experience satisfaction, who better to ask than your customers? So, bring in the customer-facing members of your team and get their feedback.

Also, if you’re making a decision that would impact your whole team, it’s often best to consider their opinions and ideas. As an example, if you’re looking to move to a hybrid work environment, expect that not all of your team members will have a common preference for a remote or in-person workplace. Having a discussion among all members of the group may be wise. Hear what they have to say and maybe even make the decision using a team process.

4. Weigh the pros and cons

Now you’re in the nitty-gritty of the decision-making process. You’ve collected all the information you need. It’s time to weigh the positives and negatives of each choice.

Make a list of your choices and their pros and cons. Comparing and contrasting is easier when you have a structured format that lets you examine options side by side. Having a list might help you think of additional items to consider.

When possible, support your decisions with data. This helps you employ critical thinking and make the best decision without being influenced by your biases. For instance, if you’re choosing between using organic leads or paid ads to increase your web traffic, make sure you have the materials that may help you make the smart choice to provide the highest expected value.

Different approaches work for different businesses. So, look at earnings reports, cost-benefit analyses, and other business materials to make sure you’re making a data-driven decision when you can.

There are also decision-making tools you can use to help you map out the possible alternatives to your decision, its cost, and its chances of success or failure. These applications can help you make a decision by simplifying the process with a diagram.

One such tool is the Decision Matrix Analysis. This is a good technique to use when you have several acceptable alternatives to choose from and many factors to take into account. It’s a particularly powerful tool to use in any important decision where you don’t have a clear and preferred option.

You can also use Force Field Analysis, which enables you to examine your project and gives you a framework of the factors influencing a particular situation.

5. Get a second opinion

It’s OK to ask for help and get a second or even third opinion because having different perspectives can help validate your choice or show you an angle you haven’t considered. It’s also a nice boost of confidence to know that other people are considering the choice you picked as the right decision.

You can ask a mentor, a trusted friend, a supervisor, or someone who’s given you great advice before. However, be careful not to take on so many outlooks that you’re confused and unable to form your own opinion.

6. Limit your choices

So far, you have all the information you need, your list of pros and cons, and opinions from pertinent individuals. The next thing to do is narrow your choices. The more choices you have, the harder the process will be.

If you’re starting with 10 choices, picking just one can be difficult and overwhelming. Not to mention, all those options can feel ever-expanding and endless if you keep thinking they’re all equally probable.

Begin with the process of elimination—cross out the unsuitable solutions based on your assessment and discussions with others. Get the list down to two or three; then you can critically examine each option.

7. Set deadlines

More often than not, the more time you have to contemplate a decision, the more confusing things get because you start to second-guess yourself. Set a deadline for yourself and be specific about the date and time. A deadline can help you make a decision quickly and lessen the amount of time you spend deliberating.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to make impulsive or emotional decisions that may result in costly mistakes. Give yourself an appropriate time frame to gather the information you need to decide.

One thing to do to develop this skill is to give yourself time limitations for simpler decisions. These successes can help you develop the habit of making decisions quickly and improve your time management. For instance, if you’re going out to dinner, give yourself only three minutes to pick a place from all the restaurants you’ve considered.

8. Evaluate the outcome

You did it! You decided and took a course of action. Now, review the outcome of your decision and assess whether it adequately addressed the problem you identified in the beginning. Sometimes, the results might be immediate, and you’ll know right away if it worked or not.

Sometimes, you might have to wait a bit to see the results. Always ensure you’re looking at data to guide your analysis. If you’ve implemented new practices to improve customer experience, ask your sales team for feedback. Also look at sales numbers and gather reviews from customers.

9. Learn from experience

Remember that it’s not possible to get every decision you make right, nor can you plan for every outcome. No matter how good you are at your job, at some point you’re likely to make a poor decision.

When a poor decision becomes evident, you may need to reverse it or gather more information and explore additional alternatives. Even when things go well after a decision is implemented, you may want to have a brief after-action or follow-up review to confirm why things worked and evaluate what elements of the process could have gone better.

No amount of research can give you a complete picture of every possibility. Spending too much time gathering data can sometimes lead to making a decision too late for it to be beneficial. Learn to recognize when a good-enough analysis is good enough.

When it comes to making choices, be prepared to embrace uncertainty and learn from past experiences to choose better next time.

Make better decisions in the workplace and get what you want

The ability to make good, timely decisions is a valuable skill that each of us needs in every aspect of our lives. It makes us more efficient and productive. Being adept at making smart choices also helps raise self-confidence. The great news is everyone can take steps to become better decision-makers.

One decision you’re not likely to regret is exploring Upwork. Connect with people and do the work you love. Browse the jobs posted, create a free profile, and start sending proposals to get the jobs you like. Clients across a wide variety of assignments appreciate effective decision-making in the professionals they engage.

If you’re a client, hire the right people to get your business to the next level. Post a job to get proposals or do a quick search to get in touch with freelancers who can get the job done.

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How to Improve Decision-Making Skills in 9 Steps
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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