How New Managers Can Get Better at Making Decisions

Group working with their manager on a business problem
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Congratulations on your new role as a manager! While your skills as an individual contributor helped you earn this job, it will be your effectiveness as a decision-maker that propels you to success in this and future roles. This article offers eight ideas for the new manager to strengthen his or her decision-making muscles. 

8 Tips to Help New Managers Strengthen Decision-Making

  1. Recognize that decisions promote actions. Your team is dependent upon you for critical choices on policies, programs, budgets or pursuing new ideas. Respect their need for a decision and work diligently every day to help team members move forward with their initiatives. 
  1. Balance the need to help people move forward on their initiatives with your obligation to your firm and boss to manage risk. If you assess an issue as potentially risky, you are within your rights to engage others, including your boss, to help you evaluate your options. Your team members may momentarily be placed on hold, but your job is to first do no harm with your decisions. Vow to follow-up quickly and then do it. 
  2. Help team members learn to make their own decisions for well-established policies. Decisions governed by policies are considered programmed decisions. These might include budgetary limits or policies on handling customer returns or complaints. Work diligently to ensure that team members understand these established policies and reinforce their responsibility to make their decisions without requiring consultation. It is essential that you avoid conditioning everyone to come to you for every single decision. 
  1. Draw your firm’s values into your decision-making processes. If the values are clearly defined and visible in your workplace, they offer invaluable support for some of the most difficult decisions. Values describe expectations for behavior, including navigating conflicts, pursuing innovation, engaging with coworkers and serving customers. Strive to draw your firm's values into your daily decision-making activities and be certain to educate your team members on how the values apply to each situation. 
  1. Learn to frame issues in various ways. Psychologists show that we develop different solutions for the same situation, depending upon whether it is framed as a positive or a negative. When faced with a negative frame, we tend to take more risks. When evaluating the same issue as a potential positive outcome, we make more conservative decisions. Learn to frame issues from multiple perspectives and encourage others to help you develop and explore various decision options based on the positive or negative frame. This exercise will uncover new ideas and help you and others consider a complete picture of the issues and opportunities. 
  2. Use data extensively and carefully. A great exercise when facing a difficult issue is to ask and answer the question: “What data do we need to make this decision?” This effort forces you to go beyond the data at hand and ensure you are developing a complete picture of the evidence. Too often, we focus solely on the information that supports our case, while ignoring or suppressing contradictory information. And remember, data often shows a correlation between two issues, but correlation is not causation. Don’t fall into the correlation trap!
  3. Learn to facilitate effective group discussions. For the many instances where you will be working with a team on making a decision, it is essential to cultivate effective facilitation skills. Practice guiding your team through the steps of problem definition, framing, data analysis, options development, risk assessment and ultimately making the final choice. Learn to keep people focused on a single topic at a time. 
  1. Start journaling your decisions. Leonardo Da Vinci did it. Thomas Jefferson did it. The late management guru, Peter Drucker did it too. They all learned to note their decisions and then look back at them to assess outcomes and identify where they might have gone wrong. The process of documenting and reviewing decisions and outcomes is integral to strengthening and improving over time. 

The Bottom Line

As you grow in your career and gain added responsibilities, decisions become increasingly more challenging. Senior managers and executives grapple with difficult decisions including where to invest and how to deploy resources to grow the business and beat competitors. Every manager will eventually be involved in decisions on talent, including hiring, firing, and promotion. You will encounter ethical dilemmas where the decision-choice is gray, and not black or white.

 Strengthening your decision-making skills is an essential part of developing as a manager. Make it a key part of your continuous improvement program.