Decisive moments

Decisions, decisions. We all make them. Hundreds of them. Every day. From something very routine such as what (not) to wear to something more occasional, such as deciding to use only 10 words in the first four sentences of an article.

Some decisions are borne of habit – whether it’s our preference for milk in coffee (or is that tea?). Many work-oriented decisions are also routine but require a little more thought: what’s my first task today? How do I plan my time to deal with my priorities?

For effective decision-making, a manager’s most trusted ally is common sense. Always encourage it to have its say – and listen carefully. New managers may believe or wish that the answers to all the complexities they have to resolve can be found in lecture rooms, text books or magazines. Not true. Good managers make decisions which draw on their own life and work experiences as much as their formal learning. There is also a challenge in that the intuitive (as opposed to knee-jerk) response may be at odds with policy or procedure, but if it is sound it will never be at odds with best practice.

In social care the nature of our work will routinely throw up difficult situations. Consequently, decisions that must be taken will be equally testing. And their importance cannot be overestimated, because these choices will impact on the lives of people who use our services.

Making the right decision requires the ability to step back from the situation and analyse it objectively.

The first questions we should ask ourselves are, do I really have to make a decision? What will happen if I don’t? This is not to suggest dilly-dallying on the way either. It is quite simply that dealing with the daily demands of a hectic and complex workload can lead you to work on automatic pilot, tackling issues and situations not appropriate to the role you perform. Decisions ought to be made by the right people at the right level. This requires continual investment of time with your manager and colleagues to clearly map out responsibilities. With this clarity individuals feel secure and confident to make decisions which, importantly, takes a lot of the stress out of doing so.

Equally, to enable yourself and your colleagues to consistently take positive and productive decisions, it is important that the whole team avoids playing the blame game when things go wrong.

Freed-up, clear and confident, you are ready to make that decision. Gather the information you need on which to base your decision and then record and order it. For example, a chronology usually helps makes sense of things, puts them in perspective and reveals emerging patterns.

It is always good to check things out with others. But be warned: never confuse decision-making with the need for consultation. Consultation underpins and informs decision-making. They are not interchangeable.

You need to be clear in your own mind of the answers to the three fundamental questions from My Very Own Big Grown-up Manager’s Pop-up Guide: why are you making a decision?; who does it affect and in what way?; and what outcome do you intend to achieve?

Once decisions have been made, they need to be recorded. You can’t assume anyone else will know what you have decided unless you tell them. So tell them. This helps you to own the decision (always a good thing). Remember, it’s your responsibility once you’ve made up your mind. You may also need to record the reasons for decisions and this in itself can also help to sort out your thinking.

However, most decisions are not set in stone. And, anyway, stone crumbles. It may not be a prerogative, but it is useful knowing when to change your mind, be it climbing down on something or stepping up the ante. Consider what might emerge to cause a review of your original decision. Indeed, there may be legal or policy guidelines that require decisions to be reviewed regularly. All this can help shed light on the status of decisions, and help everyone to know where they stand.

Our mortal enemy, indecision, is usually the result of two factors: a lack of appropriate information upon which to make a choice and, more often, fear of the consequences if you get it wrong. In a culture where individuals are repeatedly criticised by managers and colleagues, decision-making will usually be weak.

Every member of staff has a role to play in creating a work culture where positive decisions are taken at an appropriate level – and in ensuring that decision-making is empowering and rewarding rather than a source of stress.

John Belcher is chief executive, Anchor Trust; Sheena Doyle is programme manager, The Children’s Society; and Daphne Obang is director of social services and housing, Bracknell Forest. 

When I was…

…first a line manager, I worked with a colleague who would ask advice on complex issues, and people willingly gave him time at first. But it soon became apparent that no matter how much time he was given, he would seek out many others to discuss the same issue. This made his first “listeners” feel that their opinions were being discarded. The frustrating part was that he never moved nearer a decision so, ultimately, advice became less forthcoming from everyone. 

Top tips

  • Nobody is too important not to benefit from advice.
  • Run things by your colleagues, or other people who you respect.
  • Make sure everyone who needs to knows your decision.
  • Decisions are rarely perfectly made and perfectly executed.

Rubbish tips

  • Consulting on an issue is the same as decision-making.
  • Every decision takes time.
  • Criticising decisions keeps people on their toes.
  • Putting off a decision will make it easier later.


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