According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “decision” is the ”
a: act or process of deciding
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b: a determination arrived at after consideration
Organizations and individuals make decisions every day. Decisions are made by flipping a coin, taking a guess, thinking about the thoughts and feelings of others, considering values and beliefs, complying with a mission statement, or picking a solution with more positive than negative consequences.
In order to understand the decision-making process, we have to look at exactly what goes in that process and apply it to a real-world work situation. According to the Management Mentor, there are 5 major steps in the decision-making process. By outlining the steps and applying them to a data capture problem in Safety we can see the process in action and how important critical thinking is to the process.
Step One: Identify the problem and the criteria to be met (www.themanagementor.com). Misdiagnosing a problem can result in bad decisions. Evaluating the problem from a new perspective helps decision-makers think out of the box. Another issue in identifying problems is that sometimes symptoms are identified and not the actual cause of the problem. Decisions can end up biased against the wrong aspects of a process.
In the Safety redesign, departments were divided into pre-market and post-market trials. A further division occurred by breaking up the collection in therapeutic areas. A data capture process is a perfect choice to illustrate step one. In medical trials, if a patient has an “adverse event,” which can be anything from a cold to cardiac arrest, it is reported to the company. The number of these events needs to be gathered monthly to report to the Medical Directors in the therapeutic areas. It was a time consuming manual process of hand counting the adverse events that Safety received.
On-demand data was impossible to get and the information was inaccurate. The managers blamed the administrative coordinator’s skills in the past. What I saw experienced was a process that needed to be developed to accurately capture the information in a timely manner. It was the process, not the person that needed to be fixed.
Step Two: Develop a list of alternative actions (www.themanagementor.com). Brainstorming a list of possible solutions is the next step. Asking for information on how other groups gather this information helps with coming up with alternatives. In Safety there were no similar processes. This situation was unique to our department. Past experience and judgment played an important part in coming up with a solution. I consulted with the managers to find out what standard software they were comfortable using.
Step Three: Choose a solution from the list of alternatives (www.themanagementor.com). Choosing an alternative is the first stage in decision-making. The solution selected needs be able to fulfill the needs identified in the first step. Sometimes there is more than one solution and sometimes those solutions can fit the problem in different ways. Currently, a totally electronic triage process is being investigated for the adverse events to get from our safety department to Global Safety.
What was needed in the immediate data collection solution was something accurate that would not conflict with larger-scale projects being developed. The solution was to create an Excel workbook that captured all the necessary information and automatically populated a summary page that could be viewed on-demand. Having formulas calculate the numbers drastically reduced errors and provided the on-demand data for the managers.
Step Four: The process of decision-making does not end with the selection of a solution (www.themanagementor.com). A decision’s success depends on the implementation of the solution. Identifying each task to be completed and the resources required for the completion of the objective is critical for the success of a decision-making process.
Training the administrative coordinators and making sure they understood every aspect of capturing the data was key. Checks and balances were implemented so that numbers “matched” in two places. If the total number of initial adverse events did not match the subtotal of related and unrelated cases, the administrative coordinator would see that an error occurred.
Step Five: Evaluate the choice (www.themanagementor.com). Even after a successful implementation, the effectiveness of the decision made needs to be monitored and evaluated periodically. In the case of the data capture workbook, the managers are happy to have on-demand data. In addition, the data for the month of March was accurate and complete compared to 16 errors in February, which used the old manual process.
Organizations need to create an environment that encourages “out of the box” decision-making. I was astounded by the fact that the data collection process was totally manual and consisted of a sheet of paper with hash marks. How a person could use a paper and hash mark system for seven months, without looking for an easier way of collecting data showed me how important critical thinking is in the workplace.
By using the workbook the coordinator now saves over four hours of time each month. If individuals are given the tools to really look at situations, identify problems, and come up with creative solutions, they will feel empowered to contribute and facilitate change in the workplace.
Reference The Manage Mentor (n.d.) The Decision Making Process. Retrieved April 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web at: http://www.themanagementor.com/enlightenmentorareas/hr/OB/ob_dcsnmaking_3.htm Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Online (n.d). Decision. Retrieved April 14, 2004 from the World Wide Web at: http://www.m-w.com
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