Decision Making Essay

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Decision  making  is a complex  process  that  can be seen to involve many different stages or events before an actual decision is made. Essentially, decision making is concerned  with the  processing  of generating options and then choosing among them. Decisions in organizations can be divided into various groups, and each decision has various phases. For instance: operational decisions, usually with short-term effects and of a routine  nature;  tactical  decisions, usually with medium-term  effects and  of  a  nonroutine nature; strategic decisions, usually with long-term effects concerning the organization’s goals.

Moreover, decisions can be classified into various types. Many are routine, with considerable guidance available on  how  and  what  to  do,  given company policy and  prior  history.  These may be considered well-structured and they are called programmed in the sense that organizations  have a program  to deal with them. Other decisions have to be more creative because they are made about phenomena that are new or where there is a limited amount  of data or experience to go on. These may be considered ill structured or unique and they are called nonprogrammer.

There is strong  evidence among traditional  theories of a polarization  between  unitary  and pluralist approaches  to decision making. Unitary approaches to decision making posit a general agreement  about goals and the best means to achieve them.  Pluralist approaches  to  decision  making  emphasize  conflict and power struggles between individual coalitions in organizations in circumstances  in which participants have  substantial   knowledge  and  information.   The basis of most  of the  traditional  models  of decision making is choice. Decision making in this approach can be defined as a response to a situation  requiring a choice.


There  are various  models  of decision  making  with different assumptions about aspects of decision making, such as the preference and goals of participants; the  types of conditions  with  which  different  styles and  processes  of  decision  making  are  associated; the nature  of power and authority  implicit in them; expected  results  and outcomes; and the  underlying values, beliefs, and  dominant  rationale.  Under  the rational model of decision making, the assumption  is made that  participants  have agreed in advance that making a decision is the right process to follow and that  the rules and language of decision making are understood by all. The rational  model aims at making optimal decisions on the basis of a careful evaluation of alternative courses of action. The model views the decision-making process as a sequential series of activities leading from an initial recognition of a problem, through  the delineation  and evaluation of alternative courses of action, and the selection of the preferred alternative to the implementation of action.

The administrative  model  of decision  making  is based on the actual behavior of decision makers, proposing that organizational decision making is a product of bounded rationality. This model recognizes the influence of nonrational,  emotional, and unconscious elements  in human  thinking  and  behavior  on  suboptimal  efforts to reach decisions and the existence of group pressures that limit the appearance  of optimizing behaviors as well as the limited availability of perfect information  and time and cost considerations attached  to  information   gathering  and  evaluation. Thus, decision  making  leads  to  a satisfying rather than  a rational  decision, which broadly satisfies the parameters  of a problem rather than searching for an ideal or optimal solution.

Incrementalism introduces  the  notion  of mutual adjustment  and gradual change, reflecting the troublesome   character   of  decision-making   processes arising from the competing  interests  and values that are  brought  into  play in  complex  decision-making processes. It proposes  that  the decision maker does not attempt  to roll out all possible alternatives before tackling a problem,  but  rather  places limits on the alternatives  to be considered,  based on the  current state of knowledge, and solves the problem  through making small and gradual changes.

The garbage can model of decision making assumes that some organizations display characteristics  of organized  anarchy,  for instance,  problematic  goals, unclear methods, and fluid participation. Under such conditions,  where clear criteria of choice are absent, extraneous matters tend to get lumped into the decision making process, and solutions  often bear little relation to problems. According to this model, the factors that influence decision making in organizations are the range of issues-cum-solutions-cum-problems that happen  to be in the garbage can at a particular time and the total demands upon the decision makers at that time. In this sense, it could be argued that the model is based on circumstantial rationality.

The political model is pluralistic in nature,  recognizing the role of various stakeholders  as well as of conflict and conflict resolution in the decision-making process. According to this model, organizations  are portrayed as consisting of shifting coalitions, and decision making is about reconciling the interests  of different stakeholders.

Group Behavior

Many  decisions  may also be affected by the  effectiveness of group behavior. In the case of successful groups, a phenomenon that can lead to the escalation of bad decisions is referred to as groupthink, which is defined by Irving Janis as the “deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.” The primary condition of groupthink is group cohesion, underwritten by a history of individual and group success. Groupthink has the following symptoms: (a) an illusion of invulnerability, with excessive optimism  and risk taking; (b) pressures on individual members to conform and reach consensus, meaning that unpopular  ideas may be suppressed;  (c) the  continuing  search  for group consensus  can result in collective rationalization  by members, which leads them to discount warnings and negative information;  and (d) an unquestioned belief in the morality of the group that leads members to be convinced of the logical correctness  of what they are doing and ignore the ethical or moral consequences of  decisions.  With  groupthink,   members’  striving for unanimity—their  need for consensus—overrides their  motivation  to realistically appraise  alternative courses of action.

To  prevent  or  reduce  the  effects of groupthink, managers can encourage  each member  of the group to evaluate their  own and others’ ideas openly and critically; ask influential members  to adopt an initial external stance on solutions; discuss plans with disinterested  outsiders  to obtain  reactions; use expert advisers to redesign the decision-making process; assign a devil’s advocate role to one or more  group members  to challenge ideas; explore alternative  scenarios for possible external reactions; use subgroups to develop alternative  solutions; and meet to reconsider decisions prior to implementation.

Finally, there have been recent developments  that recognize some of the limitations of traditional  decision-making  literature  and have led to a shift away from decisions to other concerns such as action; from choice to that  of change in the  context  of decision making or to the interpretation of action. These revisions acknowledge that  the concept  of a decision is problematic  and individuals in organizations  are not often  faced with clear-cut  rational  choices. In fact, decision makers often value ambiguity and they can see how events unfold and influence interpretations of them so that they can look good and avoid blame.


  1. Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Harper, 2008);
  2. Kenneth Chelst and Yavuz Burak Canbolat, Value Added Decision Making for Managers (Chapman & Hall, 2009);
  3. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown and Co., 2005);
  4. David Hardman, Judgment and Decision Making (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009);
  5. Anne Houlihan, “Empower Your Employees to Make Smart Decisions,” Supervision (v.68/7, July 2007);
  6. Göktuğ Morçöl, Handbook of Decision Making (CRC/Taylor & Francis, 2007)

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