What’s your decision-making style?

A few weeks ago I submitted my first TMA for the Management of Change module. The focus of this TMA was to think about the decision-making styles that I have used over the course of my career. I have to admit I was a little sceptical of the relevance of this TMA to the main objectives for the module, but regardless of this I immersed myself in the subject matter and made a serious attempt. I’m very pleased I did this, as I found both the context and assignment very insightful indeed.

The background reading for this TMA was the paper The Seasoned Executive’s Decision-Making Style, originally published in the Harvard Business Review (a copy is available for viewing free of charge from here). It categorises decision-making in two different ways:

  1. Is decision-making undertaken with the intention of arriving at a single answer (single-focus), or is the aim to identify a number of potential options (multi-focus)?
  2. How much information is required in the decision-making process – just the minimum needed in order to make a decision (referred to as satisficing), or is an attempt made to gather all the information relevant to fully understand the scenario or problem (referred to as maximising)?

These two aspects of decision making are then used to identify four different approaches to decision making, Decisive, Hierarchic, Flexible and Integrative:

Four Styles of Decision Making

At this point I was trying to understand how this is linked to Management of Change; the concept was very interesting, but seemed like it would be more relevant to a module such as Organisational Behaviour. However, I started to respond to the TMA, the first part of which asked us to consider the decision-making styles that I had used at each different stage in my career, and the second part asked us to consider how decision-making changed as an individual moves from a production role to a strategic role. Upon starting the assessment, the link to Management of Change quickly became evident, because I realised that decision-making in any management role usually requires change in order to enact those decisions. More importantly, the manner in which decisions are made will have an impact on how effectively those changes can be implemented.

Returning to the paper, it subsequently discusses how certain decision-making styles are more prevalent than others at progressive stages in a management career, and how this differs for higher performing managers. The article argues that an individual might need to evolve their decision-making style in order be more successful in their career, and that not evolving can lead to managers being stuck in an “uncertainty zone”; it also includes some examples that demonstrate this quite clearly. As I wrote the analysis of my decision-making styles over the course of my career, it was good to see that they broadly reflected the pattern described in the paper, particularly in that I started with a maximising approach to decision-making (probably quite typical of those with a mathematical background), but found it necessary to take a more satisficing approach in more senior roles, relying more on others to support those decisions.

Another interesting observation discussed in the paper was that managers and leaders often use completely different decision-making styles when in public (referred to as the ‘Leadership‘ style) and private (referred to as the ‘Thinking‘ style). For example, the use of the Flexible style in public generally increases through a management career (ie. requiring less information, and being open to multiple options), implying that successful managers need to rely on others to provide the detail, and be open to pursuing multiple decision responses (potentially more ‘coaching’ than ‘directing’). However, in private, the use of this style rapidly decreases, with the Hierarchic and Integrative styles being more prevalent, indicating that in private, regardless of seniority, managers and leaders often need to fully understand all aspects of the decisions they are involved in. I expect this poses a challenge to many leaders – how to transition effectively between those Leadership and Thinking decision-making positions, especially when those decisions are connected (or potentially even the same).

The paper also discusses how decision-making styles differ between different geographic regions. This was particularly interesting for me as I work in a global company, so was able to compare this to the behaviours I see from managers and leaders in my own organisation. Finally, the paper concludes with a suggestion of the different responsibilities and appropriate decision-making styles at different levels of management (supervisor, manager, director, and CxO) – for those of you not studying the Management of Change module, this is definitely worth a quick look at.

In summary, this was a very interesting TMA, and although it took me a considerable amount of time to write, I’m very pleased with the insight it has given me into how I approach decision-making, and why this has changed in the past. I also have a much better awareness now of how my decision-making style can affect the progress of projects I am working on, and how they might need to change as I move my career forward.

I hope you found this interesting – feel free to share your opinions and comments below.


One thought on “What’s your decision-making style?”

  1. You should submit your blog for extra marks :-). It clearly shows how much effort you put into each and every module and also shows your understanding of all the topics you’re studying!


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