AJS South Africa

How to Make Better Decisions

Insights Into Practice

Have you ever been curious as to what goes on in the minds of other legal practitioners? Have you ever wondered whether you measure up?

It’s only natural, after all it’s human nature to be curious about the world and the people around you – how do they do what they do?

With that in mind, join us as we investigate frequently discussed topics, with the aim of discovering new approaches to the practice of a law in an ever-changing and evolving world.

Take this blog’s topic – making better business decisions for your law firm – How do other firms do that?

How to make better decisions

Making decisions is something a lot of us struggle with. In fact, some of us are so crippled by choice that any decision becomes paralysing – decision paralysis is real.

And as we all know that cannot be good for any business.

Decisions are a part of our everyday life. From choosing what type of coffee to drink to what supplier to use. We are required to do our own analysis, weigh up options and come to the best decision both for ourselves and for the business we are in. And that can be quite a task when you are surrounded by hundreds of choices.

So, what do you do? How do you go about decision making in a way that best serves your law firm? Is there some kind of special formula to follow or is decision making a series of random choices made on the fly?

Making better decisions is said to start with 7 easy steps – as set out by Dartmouth College

  1. Identify the decision – it’s important to identify the nature of the decision you need to make. This is essential in step 1.

2. Gather relevant information – collect some pertinent information before you make your decision: what information is needed, the best sources of information, and how to get it. Some of this info will be sourced internally through self-assessment and the other will be sourced externally, by doing research.

3. Identify the alternatives – as you collect information, you will probably identify several possible paths of action, or alternatives. Take note of these alternatives and jot them down. They may come in handy as you progress.

4. Weigh up the evidence – draw on your information and emotions to imagine what it would be like if you carried out each of the alternatives to the end. Evaluate whether the need identified in Step 1 would be met or resolved through the use of each alternative. By doing this you are sure to develop preferences for certain alternatives. When you do, place them in order of priority based on your own value system. Again, this will be the list from which you will draw conclusions and hopefully come to some form of decision.  

5. Choose among the alternatives – after going through step 4 above, you will already have some inkling as to which alternative best serves the decision identified in step 1. Now is the time to choose which alternative is best for your current circumstance. 

6. Take action – it’s at this stage when one can start taking steps to implement the decision identified in step 5. After all – without action your decision remains just a thought.

7. Review your decision and its consequences – consider the results of your decision and evaluate whether or not it has resolved the need you identified in Step 1. If the decision has not met the identified need, you may want to repeat certain steps of the process to make a new decision.

The Dartmouth decision-making process includes solid steps to make a decision and are probably already included in most of our decision making already.

But is that all that is needed to make better decisions? We would argue that it isn’t. In fact, according to an article in Forbes titled 16 Key Steps To Better Business Decision Making, 16 members of Forbes Business Development Council share some of the key steps a company should take to improve its decision-making process. These would be over and above the basic steps as set out by Dartmouth.

They include –

  1. Be inclusive – decision making is only as good as its speed and inclusion. There is always a desire for the fastest speed and highest quality, and you as a leader must recognize they regularly conflict with one another. When making a decision as a team or individual, ensure that the absolute critical intention and stakeholders are defined and agreed upon–and then choose for your role to actively remove barriers.

2. Clarify and simplify the problem – clarify and simplify the problem your decision will solve, who it will impact and how. Making decisions involves making choices and making choices will result in trade-offs. The clearer you are with the problem you seek to solve, its trade-offs and how you manage them, the better your decision. In a world of uncertainties, a good decision is better than the best decision.

3. Put your customer at the centre – business leaders should develop a deep understanding of their customers. You need to develop an understanding of their motivations, desires, processes, and organizational dynamics. Grounding your beliefs, mission, and purpose to align with your customer is the core of what creates a successful business.

4. Seek out diverse perspectives – seek out diverse perspectives on the decision, especially from the people the decision impacts. Make sure that you get a broad set of input and have your perspective challenged. Create a sense of psychological safety (where there aren’t negative repercussions to your team speaking honestly) and ask people from multiple levels of your organization—not just your peers or leadership team.

5. Understand your personal biases – it’s important to understand your personal biases and blind spots so that you have the most complete picture. Secondly, you have to fail fast. Our tendency is to hold onto a bad decision—escalation of commitment—but if you can change course quickly, you will minimize the impact of a bad decision and free up time to focus energy on more productive activities.

6. Suppress your ego – a leader is only as good as the team around them. Wrong decisions with serious consequences can be mitigated by tapping into the talent around you. Ensure you are allowing team members to openly voice their opinions and ideas. Encourage them to share data and play devil’s advocate. Collaboration is a wonderful tool when utilized properly.

(We highly recommend reading the Forbes article).

The decision-making process suggested by Dartmouth is effective in the sense that it promotes decision making within an environment that limits personal monetary or institutional bias. It also allows for a more holistic decision-making process within the ambit of a separate value system, which – ultimately – gives those making the decision a kind of hall pass to make a decision based purely on what is best for the business. Without any personal feelings or opinions to sour the mix.

However, it must be noted that decision-making processes that involve deep analysis won’t fit the situation where a decision needs to be made in a hurry. There, past experience will become vital.

Whichever way you go about making decisions, be sure to give some thought, apply some reasoning and gather some information before you jump headfirst into something you cannot get out of. Here support and advice by those you work with becomes the backbone for further discussions.

And lastly remember to take deep breaths. Don’t become overwhelmed by all the information, opinions, and advice. Go back to the 7 steps to get the process going. You got this.

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

(Sources used and to whom we owe thanks: Harvard Business Review; Business News Daily; Dartmouth and Forbes).

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