July, 2016
Saturday, September, 1, 2012
Critical Decision-Making Made Easier
Tags: technology strategy
Posted By H. Mark McGibbon, Lockheed Martin Visiting Chair at the National Defense University (NDU) Information College (iCollege)

No doubt in these times of economic instability it’s more important than ever to be able to make critical decisions, particularly at high levels in both the government and private organizations. Americans are demanding more from their executives. To answer this demand, executives must learn how to work collaboratively during critical decision-making sessions. In particular, chief-level executives, such as Chief Information Officers (CIOs), must work collaboratively to produce value-added programs, projects, and initiatives (PPI). Collaborative decision-making should include disparate opinions to avoid “groupthink”--when a group thinks the same way and does not welcome divergent thinking from individual group members. Executives, therefore, should prepare for meetings to constructively debate PPI issues by including evidence-based information based on facts, and not on gut-level based opinions.

According to Professors Paul Flanagan and Matt Newman ( of the Systems and Technology (S&T) Department at the National Defense University’s (NDU) Information College (iCollege), evidence-based decision-making produces better outcomes, especially when coupled with qualitative and quantitative information. However, combining qualitative and quantitative information for decision-making is difficult for the average human. Automated tools, however, such as Decision Lens™ (, allows executives to use evidence-based decision-making with relative ease.

The Decision Lens™ software combines quantitative and qualitative information to produce weighted value results using a sophisticated decision-making algorithm known as the Analytical Hierarchal Process (AHP). This complex algorithm works behind the scenes by comparing pairs of information that would take a human hundreds of hours to process. Furthermore, this automated AHP process allows executives to focus on the key critical decisions instead of having to worry about processing the information to derive accurate results.

Keeping Egos in Check

Sounds good, right? Maybe too good to be true? Not if you know what to expect and what you expect is what you want (or need). Although this decision-making algorithm can be fallible, its normalization process helps winnow out executive egos, pet PPIs, and other individual motives during the collaborative decision-making process. Nevertheless, using an automated tool with a sophisticated decision-making algorithm helps ensure no single executive takes credit or the responsibility for the final decision, thereby making executives accountable to each other for the good of the entire organization.

In some organizations, executives make decisions based upon their functional area of responsibility, which does not account for other functional areas in the organization. In other organizations, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or government agency head makes most of the critical decisions after soliciting input from direct reports and then converging all information for the final decision. In other organizations, key executives (other than the CEO or agency head) may hold the critical decision-making power and provide favoritism toward a functional line of business, which hurts the overall organization. No matter who holds the decision-making power, the executive team should always collaborate to review, debate, and decide a course of action on decisions that affect the entire organization. This collaboration should reveal the major benefits and significant adverse effects that could derail, setback, or impede the final decision. To ensure good decision-making, executives could refer to past PPI successes and failures. However, each decision is unique because it is impossible to predict an unknown future, and this usually is not the most comprehensive approach.

What’s Your Style?

For critical decisions affecting the entire organization, executives must have the courage to raise concerns, propose a better decision, expose weaknesses, articulate real threats, and describe the merit or value of a critical decision proposal. There is no place for hubris, ego, petty disputes, personality conflicts, rice bowling, or other negative human-centric characteristics when making critical organizational or enterprise-wide decisions. These types of critical decisions require executives to work as a team.

If executives could perpetually exist in the environment where such negative human-centric characteristics did not exist, critical decisions would be easier to make. However, there are many other communication variables to consider when making critical decisions such as the communication styles, which can foster or inhibit critical decision-making. Everyone, for example, possesses one or more of the four basic communication styles: Director, Reflective, Supportive, or Emotive (

1. Director communication style, enjoy hearing themselves talk, think they have all of the answers, and love to give orders.

2. Reflective communication style makes decisions in a slow and methodical manner after acquiring facts; moreover, the Reflective person often has a desire for more facts, which can hamper effective and time-sensitive decision-making process.

3. Supportive communication style enjoys the support role of helping others, yet detests and rescinds from possible confrontational experiences.

4. Emotive communication style relies upon injecting emotion into their communication process and, if overdone, the effect could result in histrionics in the eyes of others.

Executives must be able to identify these communication styles to effectively communicate with others. Taking into consideration these communication styles and the negative human-centric characteristics, executives have a lot to consider before entering into another critical decision-making session and could make a poor decision if they don’t. A Chief Information Officer (CIO), for example, who works independent of other executives, risks not acquiring funding from the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the integration of competitively advantageous information technology (IT) within the operations department. Further, the CIO should have solicited input from the Chief Operating Officer (COO) because the COO is probably the most cognizant of operational processes pertaining to the CIO’s IT proposal. From a holistic perspective, the Chief Enterprise Architect (CEA) ties together the organization’s processes, technology, and people to meet the organization’s vision, mission, goals, objectives and tasks. The CIO could have gained valuable strategic insight from the CEA. The CIO could have saved hours of future IT investment research by talking to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) whose job is to manage future IT investments. Finally, the CIO should have sought approval from the CEO, who in turn could have kept the board of directors informed. With this internal collaboration failure, the CIO weakened, instead of strengthened, the organization’s competitive advantage.

Learn to Play Well With Others

The executive who makes decisions independent of other executives will naturally make decisions with limited information depending upon the executive’s communication style and ability to collect, analyze, and evaluate information. An easier way is for the executive to work collaboratively with other executives. Granted the executive team can be either dysfunctional or functional depending upon the executive team’s knowledge and willingness to effectively cooperate, communicate, and collaborate with one another, but his does not mean teams should not actively debate to express differing opinions and avoid group thinking. The goal is for executive teams to freely debate, but work as a functional team. To achieve a functional team status, executives must understand functional team attributes such as their and other executive’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles.

It’s important for executives to work collaboratively on critical decisions that could severely affect government and private sector organizations. By using automated decision-making tools or not, executives must work in a functional and collaborative manner and avoid using negative human-centric characteristics and understand the four basic communication styles. This will ultimately create an environment for functional executive team decision-making.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin or the U.S. government.

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