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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Decision-making means legal, ethical choices, April 20, 2008, 2E.

The decision-making process involves several distinct stages.  The first step is to define the problem.  Alternative solutions to a problem are then generated before one is chosen as the solution to implement.  After a solution is implemented, it should later be evaluated and altered if necessary.   Not all problems are the same and not all alternatives are acceptable. 

Decision-making involves selecting an alternative to implement from among a host of possible alternatives.  Many times, the alternatives that decision-makers select and implement are those with which they are familiar or those that are readily available.  For example, each day when I get in my car to return home from work, I choose an alternative that is very familiar and easy for me to implement.  However, on any given day I could choose a different alternative from among an almost unlimited number of other effective solutions.  I could bum a ride from one of my friends or acquaintances from work, call a taxi, ride a bus, walk, ride a bike or skateboard, or choose any combination of those alternatives.

In addition to those alternatives, there are also a host of illegal alternatives that I could choose from.  I could steal or hijack a vehicle, sneak onto public transportation, or ride in a taxi and stiff the driver of the fare.  However, I never consider those alternatives as legitimate possibilities because they are not legal.   Selecting and implementing one of those could result in criminal prosecution, fines, incarceration, and other unpleasant consequences.  Illegal alternatives are screened out as unacceptable before ever being evaluated as possible solutions.

Some alternatives are legal, but are also never considered as possible solutions.  For example, I could con a motorist into driving me home under the guise of a personal or family emergency.   I could play on the sympathy of a coworker by faking an injury for a ride or to borrow a vehicle.  I could also concoct a hard-luck story to solicit money from friends or strangers for bus or cab fares.  These alternatives never come up for consideration in my mind because they violate my sense of ethics and morality.  Violating my ethical principles would make me feel guilty and ashamed of my actions and could cost me the trust of those who helped me—if they ever learned that I took advantage of them.  Only the alternatives that are legal and ethical become possible solutions to a problem.

As more and more organizations embrace the notions of empowerment and shared decision-making, it is becoming increasingly important that workers know how to make decisions.  They must understand how to define problems and develop alternative solutions that are both legal and ethical.  To do that, workers need to understand the legal environments in which their organizations operate and the ethical guidelines that drive their operations.  Organizational leaders must continually train and educate their workers on these issues and clearly espouse their expectations for ethical and legal behavior.  Failure to do so can be costly.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved