The Importance of Good Decision Making

By Schachter, Debbie | Information Outlook, April 2006 | Go to article overview
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The Importance of Good Decision Making


Schachter, Debbie, Information Outlook


You're new to your management position in a special library and your staff seems to be pleased with your initiatives. In meetings, your library staff seems to be supportive of your ideas for general changes and responses to particular issues. Staff members offer few suggestions or disagreement on the actions that you bring forward, and you have felt secure in proceeding with resolutions, based on your best judgment. Recently, however, a couple of key decisions that you have initiated have led to some significant negative results, unforeseen by you and apparently by your employees, as well. What is going wrong?

This scenario, while somewhat simplistic, is an example of flawed decision making in action, and a problem to which the new manager may be especially prone. With the best of intentions on the part of the library manager and her or his staff, it is clear that the lack of an effective process for decision making will lead to negative results. As the library leader, you need to recognize what is occurring in your library and seek to redress it before major problems arise. As suggested by the volume of management literature on decision making, it is the lack of or poorly understood decision-making process in your library, that leads to problems, and there are some recognized methods for responding to the negative situation.

As the library manager, you understand the expectations of your own superiors--that you are ultimately responsible for the library's direction and the decisions made to reach library goals. This assumption of your responsibility will also be shared by your staff members, but possibly to an extent that they are afraid to speak up in meetings or to share their concerns or suggestions. How you foster your employees' perceptions of their roles in library decision making is based on how or whether you define your expectations for your staff.

As an individual, you may actually dislike it when staff members disagree with you. This type of attitude will inevitably leads to a form of groupthink your employees won't bother to critique issues or suggest resolutions to problems, because they assume you will feel threatened by their outspokenness. Alternately, you may have high expectations of receiving feedback, suggestions, and some level of healthy skepticism of shared ideas, but your staff doesn't rise to meet these expectations. Ultimately, the result is the same--poor decision making--and calls for a serious review and revamping of your library's decision-making process.

To make the best of decisions, you need to encourage the critical thinking and information sharing skills of your staff members; if these skills exist already, you simply need to provide an environment that encourages staff members input. Information needs to be shared and alternative actions analyzed. For the best decisions, that is, those based on the best available information and with the most support from your staff, you need to develop some level of consensus. As Michael A. Roberto of the Harvard Business School states, consensus consists not of being in total agreement as to the solution, but of "a high level of commitment to the chosen course of action and a strong, shared understanding of the rationale for the decision." (1)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Creating the Process

Start by examining your own behavior with your staff, with respect to seeking their input and sharing of information with then.

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