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

Decisions about making decisions, April 13, 2008, 2D.

When beginning a home repair project, it is helpful to have all necessary tools close at hand.  It is often advisable to even have extra tools within reach should the project be more complicated than originally thought.  The larger the variety of tools in a handyman’s toolbox, the more likely he will be to fix the problems that he encounters.

In a way, a manager is like an organizational handyman.  Managers identify and solve many types of problems (e.g., personnel, planning, scheduling, budgeting, technology, operations, facilities, policies, resources, etc.) with the best interests of their organizations in mind.  Some problems are straightforward and predictable and others are more complicated.  A good manager, like a good handyman, is able to quickly determine the types of tools that he needs to fix the problems that he encounters.

Sometimes the tools that are needed to solve organizational problems are co-workers and the knowledge, insight, and creativity that they possess.  People use the knowledge that they gain from past experiences to define and remedy the problems that they encounter.   Knowledge can be gained from direct personal experiences or from the experiences of others.  Groups are able to outperform individuals on mental tasks in large part because of the diversity of experiences that members bring to their groups.  When the experiences of group members are used to solve problems instead of just those of a single manager, better solutions usually arise.  The benefits of group problem solving, however, come with costs—primarily, the time spent by group members away from their normal work responsibilities.

Not all of the decisions that managers make need to be solved with the help of coworkers.  Managers can make some decisions with little or no input from workers.  Effective managers know when to solicit input from others and when to solve problems by themselves. 

The Normative Decision Model, developed by Victor Vroom and his associates, gives explanation to the appropriate level of worker involvement in the decision-making process.  Decision acceptance and decision quality drive the model.  When it is important that workers buy into and accept the decision, they should be included in the decision-making process.  Likewise, when it is important that exceptional and high-quality solutions be developed, more people should be included in the process.  Time should also be considered when selecting the appropriate degree of worker involvement—as time available to make decisions decreases, more autocratic decision styles are appropriate.

The model also describes five decision-making styles that range on a continuum from “autocratic” to “group.” The autocratic style is one where managers make decisions independently and autonomously.  The middle dimensions involve the manager collecting relevant information from others, consulting with individual coworkers, and consulting with groups of workers before making decisions.  Under the “group” style, managers allow their workers to solve problems.  The appropriate decision-making style is dictated by characteristics of the situation—acceptance, quality, and time.  Like tools, different decision-making styles are appropriate for different types of problems and skilled managers know when and how to use each of them.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved