‘Decision is like a sharp knife that cuts straight and clean, indecision a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges.’
Graham Gordon


We have to make decisions every day of our lives and Graham Gordon’s quote neatly sums up the way indecision can make us feel. Some decisions are relatively straightforward and others are definitely more difficult. Simple decisions usually need a simple decision-making process. Difficult decisions, however, typically involve a whole host of complex issues.
Very often there is uncertainty – many facts may not be known and you may have to consider many interrelated factors. There are decisions, too, that have high-risk consequences, and the impact of your decision might have serious implications for you or for others.

Every given situation has its own set of uncertainties and consequences, and anything that involves interpersonal issues can often be challenging as it difficult to predict how other people will respond.

All in all, decision making can be quite a stressful process but can be effectively managed using a systematic approach.


‘When making any decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.’
Theodore Roosevelt

Decision Making – Steps to Success

  • Establish a decision-making process
  • Identify who else may be involved
  • Create a broad range of options
  • Analyse the pros and cons of each option
  • Develop an implementation plan
  • Be positive about your decision and stick with it.

Appreciative Enquiry

When faced with a decision, especially a complex one, we usually focus on what’s not working in the current situation to help us make the right choice. However, if the decision requires careful thinking, looking at your options from a more positive angle can also be helpful. Appreciative enquiry focuses on the decision-making process from an optimistic point of view, by considering what is actually already working and building on those strengths to help make a final decision.

The basis of the appreciative enquiry approach is recognising and appreciating what is already of benefit and value in the circumstances you are making a decision on. This will allow you to pinpoint ways of making positive change for the future. To apply this method to decision making, it is crucial to stay optimistic in order to identify and build upon the strengths of the given situation and allow yourself to eliminate any weaknesses.

Follow the ‘5Ds’ to effectively implement the appreciative enquiry approach in your decision making:

1. Define the decision to be made. Identify what you would like to achieve as a result of your decision.

2. Discover what is working well now – decide what are the most positive, valuable and appreciated elements in the situation you are making a decision on. Analyse your findings and identify what most contributes to any successes you have enjoyed to help you come up with as many options as possible.

3. Dream: What might the future look like once you have made your decision? What would you like the outcome of your decision to be? What changes would you like to see?

How can the current successes from the ‘Discover’ stage be used to further build strengths in order to help make your decision? Brainstorm these ideas with those who will be affected by your decision. Agree on the ‘dream’ or decision with them.

4. Design: Ask yourself what practicalities are required to make the dream reality? What systems, strategies, tools, finances or materials are needed to implement your decision? Are these realistic? Do you have enough resources? Who do you need on board to help make your decision work?

5. Deliver: Once you have decided how to put your decision into practice, it is time for action. Make sure that you do plenty of planning and preparation to really make sure that everything goes according to plan.

Keep in mind that it really is important to stay positive and focus on all the good points of the current state of play when using the appreciative enquiry approach. This will allow you to come up with plenty of positive alternative options based on what you know already works.

How to make a decision

The best way to make a complex decision is to use an effective process. A systematic approach will help you to address the critical elements that will result in a good decision. It can also lead you to consistent, high-quality results, and improve the quality of almost everything you do. By taking an organised approach, you’re less likely to miss important facts and you can build on the approach to making your decisions better in the future too.

The following systematic approach will help you to thoroughly assess the situation before making your final decision:

If you have to involve other people it is so important to involve the right people and allow other opinions to be heard. It is also important when you make any decision to be aware of the implications that it will have on others. Whilst you may be prepared to take a gamble, if you are putting others in a difficult position it is important to take that into consideration and act with integrity. Make sure that you are asking the right questions and challenge yourself.

Being creative will help you to begin to explore the available options – the basis of creativity is all about considering things from a different perspective. The more options you consider, the more comprehensive your final decision will be.

The more options you consider, the more comprehensive your final decision will be. When you generate alternatives, you force yourself to dig deeper and look at the problem from different angles. If you use a ‘there must be other solutions out there’ mindset, you are much more likely to make the best decision possible and not miss other options.

When you’re satisfied that you have a good selection of realistic alternatives, you’ll need to evaluate the feasibility, risks and implications of each choice.

In decision making, there’s usually some degree of uncertainty, which inevitably leads to risk. By evaluating the risk involved in various options, you can determine whether the risk is manageable. Risk analysis helps you to look at risks objectively. It uses a structured approach for assessing threats and for evaluating the probability of events occurring.

There will always be some element of risk attached to everything you do, as you cannot predict outcomes. Sometimes you will make decisions that you look back on and feel that perhaps another approach may have been better. That’s life! You cannot expect to get it right all the time. If you did, how would you learn? If you get caught in a paralysing loop of fear because you don’t want to make a mistake or take a risk, the chances are you would never get anywhere. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith.

So once you have evaluated the alternatives, the next step is to choose between them. With all the effort and hard work that goes into evaluating alternatives and deciding the best way forward, it’s easy to forget to ‘sense check’ your decisions. This is when you look at the decision you’re about to make dispassionately to ensure that your process has been thorough, and that common errors haven’t crept into the decision making process.

Once you’ve made your decision, it’s important to develop a plan. You will also need to explain your plan to those who may be affected by it and involved in implementing it. The more information you can give to people about why you made a certain decision, the better. One of the key benefits of taking the systematic approach to decision making is that you will be able to analyse and evaluate your decision-making process, which will, in turn, make it easier to communicate. If you need the support of others, they will also feel more reassured that you have given consideration to your actions. This will be very helpful, both to you and to those around you, and will almost certainly be very much appreciated. As with any change, the more information you provide, the better.

This will also give you personal reassurance that you have thought your decision through without making a knee-jerk decision.

Once you have made your decision, stick with it. Accept that you have made the best decision based on all the information that you had at the time. Deliberation or indecision will hamper your progress, so go for it and trust in a positive outcome.

Yes, of course, there may well be occasions where you have to accept that you could have done things differently or even better. Give yourself the best possible chance with the best possible information and at least you will know that you did something with your best possible intention and effort!

Risk Analysis

Important decisions usually carry an element of risk; risk of something going wrong and the negative consequences that will result if things don’t go to plan. It can be difficult to spot risk, but if the decision you are making is complex and involves others, it is crucial to identify the risk to your success and manage it effectively. Risk analysis is a process that will help you plan for any eventuality and move forward with your decision.

Firstly, you will need to determine all the possible threats that could affect the outcome of your decision, and establish the likelihood of these actually happening. Identifying risk can be a complex and time consuming task as you will need to do plenty of research, but it is worth doing as this could save you time, money and stress in the long run.

Explore in detail what could potentially go wrong in every area you can think of, and evaluate who or what this would affect – for example consider issues with people, safety, operations, assets, reputation, ethics, structure, finances and technical aspects. List what the impact and cost of failures in each of these areas would be.

Once you have listed every possible element that could affect the success of your decision, you will need to ascertain how relevant they actually are to your personal situation, and how likely they are to occur. Gather as much information on this as possible. Look for the vulnerabilities in your plan, and ask other people who may have different perspectives to your own, or who have had experience in making a similar decision.

To calculate the financial cost of a risk, look at the probability of it happening alongside the cost to fix the problem caused.

Once you have identified and evaluated the threats your decision faces, you will need to know how to effectively manage them if you are to go ahead with the decision. Avoiding the risk altogether by shelving the idea could mean that you miss out on an opportunity. One alternative would be to share the risk with other people, teams or organizations. This would, of course mean that you would also have to share any potential gain. Or, if there is nothing you can do to prevent the potential threat, and the potential risk is lower than the potential gain, or the potential gain is simply worth the risk, you will need to just accept the risk and make every effort to control it.

Risk can be managed by taking preventative action. Put in place any steps you can to counter the threat happening in the first place. If this is not possible, it is crucial to be prepared for the worst and have a back-up plan and a remedial course of action in place so that you can fix things quickly should they go wrong.