Effective decision making to avoid failures and maximize success is your key to a great career. Yet how can you ensure that your decision making results in the right calls as opposed to decisions disasters?
Let’s say you were offered what you perceived to be a promising leadership role in another company and you decided to take the offer. However, just a few weeks in, it became clear to you that the role is a bad fit and you ended up having to look for another job. You’re now worse off than you started.
Or perhaps you impulsively decided to switch industries just because you had no career movement in your current one, then found yourself saddled with immersing into an entirely new field on top of figuring out how to move up.
Another type of problematic decision making is ignoring a looming problem: deciding not to decide. Perhaps you were already aware of skills you needed to acquire or brush up on for you to be able to compete for a promotion, but you decided to wait it out. You opted to bank on your seniority in the company to carry you over to your next promotion. However, the company decided to promote someone younger who had more fresh skills.
People at all stages in their careers commit serious decision-making mistakes largely due to the many dangerous judgment errors that result from how our brains are wired. Scholars in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics call such mental blind spots cognitive biases.
Fortunately, recent research in these fields has discovered strategies to realize when you’re falling into cognitive biases, as well as ways to defeat these dangerous judgment errors in your career.
8 Steps to Effective Decision Making for a Successful Career
“Avoiding Disastrous Decisions” is a pragmatic and battle-tested strategy that helps you choose the best option among several that each have strengths and weaknesses. I developed this technique based on research on the multi-attribute utility theory.
Then, I used this model extensively during my leadership coaching engagements for the last 20 years helping executives in large and mid-size companies and nonprofits avoid career disasters. After perfecting it based on these engagements, I am sharing it with you. It will help you to make the right calls even if you don’t hire me.
Use the technique in cases where it’s worthwhile to spend serious time and energy on a decision, meaning where the decision is really significant. These might include:
- Making a substantial career strategy shift
- Pursuing a higher role in your organization
- Acquiring new skills to boost your career potential
- Changing fields or industries
- Picking a mentor
- Widening your professional and career network
- Choosing an executive search firm to assist you in job hunting
This web app, designed specifically for use with the technique, helps make the decision-making process and the math involved easy, simple, and transparent.
My strong suggestion is to use this method together with the “Making the Best Decisions” technique. That’s because the “Avoiding Disastrous Decisions” strategy focuses only on trade-offs between different options rather than all the other aspects of making the best decisions. I make sure that all of my coaching clients use these two techniques together, and I am giving you the same advice I give them.
Step 1: List Career Decision-Making Criteria
Write out all the relevant and important attributes for your decision, meaning the key criteria you will use to make your choice. Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis by listing all possible criteria: try to limit yourself to 10, unless it’s a truly complex decision. When picking an organization to work for, you can use criteria such as “expected salary,” “organizational culture,” “role fit,” “upward mobility,” and so on.
Brainstorm the categories, then put them into the web app so you can be guided through the process.
Step 2: Weigh the Attributes
Give weights to each of your attributes, from 1-10 on their importance to you (1 lowest importance, 10 highest). Make sure to use this step to evaluate honestly which of these criteria is more important to you. For example, you can weigh “expected salary” at 4, meaning you are flexible on the amount, and weigh “organizational culture” at 9, meaning it’s a critical factor for success in your career.
Step 3: Rank It!
Rank each option that you are considering choosing on all the attributes in a decision matrix table, from 1-10 on how good they are (1-poor, 10-great).
Step 4: Math It!
Using the table, multiply weights by rankings – the web app makes it easy.
Step 5: Check with Your Gut
Your gut can give you some useful information, as long as you make sure to use your head to evaluate the data provided by your gut. Your gut is particularly valuable on questions that have to do with your values, and major decisions often relate to values questions.
Does the answer you got feel aligned with your intuitions? Would you be surprised if you looked back and wished you made a different decision? Experiment with adjusting weights and rankings to address gut feelings, but be cautious about trying to get the numbers to fit some predetermined choice.
Step 6: Check with Your Head
Check for potential dangerous career judgment errors, especially ones resulting from paying too much attention to the gut. Look out for the 30 most dangerous judgment errors for decision making in professional life.
Pay particular attention to cognitive biases to which you might be prone personally. Play around with adjusting weights and rankings to address such errors.
Step 7: Red Flags
Decide what kind of red flags you would use to reconsider the decision if relevant new evidence emerges that would influence your rankings and/or weights. It’s best to decide in advance what you would consider to constitute important evidence. By doing so, you’ll reduce the chance of being swayed by short-term emotions as an individual or simmering tensions and disagreements as a team.
Step 8: Choose and Commit
Make your choice and stick with it. This precommitment will help reduce feelings of anxiety and doubt and help you be happier.
The “Avoiding Disastrous Decisions” strategy should be used every time you need to make a critical career decision. Using this technique will allow you to be confident about the quality of your decision making and maximize the chance that you’ll make the right call. If you’d like case studies with in-depth guidelines of how you can apply this strategy, see the Manual on Avoiding Disastrous Decisions.
ExecuNet VIPs can watch the author’s recorded ExecuNet Master Class, How to Avoid Disasters in Managing Your Career.
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