Decision Quality Case Study


Life and work are just a series of big and small decisions followed by action in line with the decisions. Good decisions are based upon a mixture of data, analysis, intuition, wisdom, experience, and judgment. Making good decisions involves being patient enough to ask for other people’s opinions and thoughts and then coldly making the decision. No one is ever right all the time; it is the percent correct over time that leads to high decision quality.

The individual in this case goes first to quick solutions, conclusions and statements before analysis. They rely too much on themselves and don’t ask for help. They only have one way of thinking about making decisions and lack orderly decision models, and ways to think outside of their paradigm. They often don’t take the time to define the problem before deciding. They are also prone to go for the big elegant decision when five little ones would be better.

Impact if Unresolved

Poor decision quality by an executive in an organization can lead to broader problems as they maybe seen as a role model and then the problem gets inadvertently pushed down in the organization. This pattern can also cause other issues in the organization:

  • Faulty thinking
  • Narrow perspectives
  • Prejudiced: preconceived notions – making the data support their decision rather than analyzing it in an unbiased manner
  • Managers who want to do everything themselves and don’t ask for help

Institutionalized impatience because mangers don’t want to wait for data

Options For Improvement

  • Self-assessment bias inventory
  • Audit and rating of past decisions quality
  • Practicing decision delegation
  • Study of historically high decision quality business leaders (Jack Welch)
  • Decision quality mentor as role model

In a vacuum any of these options might help the individual improve their process for making a decision.  Because the individual is being told how to make better decisions by others or is attempting to emulate someone else the improvement will be limited. In order to show improvement  that will be authentic to the individual and adaptable in the future they need to reflect on what is causing them to exhibit the behavior that is leading to bad decision making.  If they can create self-awareness of why they have functioned like they have in the past and what situations are most likely to cause them to make bad decisions then they have a much better chance of applying the learnings from the above bullets consistently.


If the coachee is a high level executive or being promoted to a VP position or above probably all of these things need to happen for improvement. A coach can bring objectivity to the decision process and collect important information from others about the quality of the decisions made by the candidate. When the candidate approaches a problem they must strip themselves of preconceived opinions and prejudice, assemble and learn the facts of the situation, make honest and unbiased decisions and then stick to them.

Shadow coaching can help identify hasty assumptions that might be inherit in the coachee’s decision making. The coach can identify biases, check for common errors in thinking, carefully analyze problem definitions, slow down knee jerk reactions and create decision models. The coach can also deploy some “brain training” techniques to assist in breaking the pattern of faulty decision-making.

One of the mantras for quality decision-making sounds a little like this:

Before making any sizable decision, ask yourself, are any of my biases affecting this decision? Do you play favoritism deciding quickly in one area but not another? Do you avoid certain topics, people, groups, or functional areas because you are not comfortable or don’t know? Do you drag out your favorite solutions often…. too often? Do you state as facts things that are really opinions or assumptions?

Some research says that the best decision isn’t always the first or even the second solution you think of in the process. The highest quality decisions are somewhere between the second and third decision you come to when the voice in your head tells you something isn’t quite right.

Coaching Anecdote

Byron, an Olympic swimmer and used to preforming as an individual came to the business world assuming that all tasks would require him to act alone and that his decisions would be the most correct. Byron is impatient, feels it would take less time if he does the work himself, questions others understanding of the problem and doesn’t trust anyone’s data but his. He is the first one at every meeting to offer a solution and then defends it for the rest of the meeting. His behavior stifles brainstorming, consensus and team building.

Mapping new decision-making patterns was instrumental in Byron improving the quality of his decision-making. He had to start delegating some decisions and ask his peers to review the data he had collected to make sure he had collected enough. Now he tries to collect one more piece of data after each conclusion that he is done.  A careful analysis of his decision-making history identified a pattern that short time frames created poor quality decisions and that many of those times frames were self -imposed. Byron also had learned to “sleep on” decisions when possible which has improved his outcomes. Performance reviews highlighted that his leaders wasn’t sure he could trust his decision because of inconsistency. Byron made huge improvements and was promoted to a global role in his company after 10 months of coaching.