I wish to call attention to certain critical aspects of scientific decision-making including the appreciation of decision-making as a science
Every responsible government places premium on the establishment, maintenance, and sustenance of a modern, robust, effective public service. In most democracies, the public service represents the ‘permanent government’ that must be equipped to adequately advise the government of the day, implement government programmes, and effectively communicate the reasoning behind government-sanctioned programmes to the citizens. The net effect is that, if public servants are well-equipped to discharge these tasks, the programmes of government will be effectively implemented.
The Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration is, of course, unrepentant and unapologetic in its dogged belief in the all-important role of the public service as outlined above. This is what informs the many varied and in-depth trainings that have been delivered to all cadres of the Lagos State Civil Service since the assumption of office in 2015.
Whether it be the private sector or the public sector, the decision-making task is a sacred duty entrusted to executives and the success and effectiveness of policies and programmes wholly depend on it. This sacred duty acquires even more delicate and important dimensions in the Lagos State Public Service where senior officers are tasked with implementing statewide policies for the benefit of the entire citizenry of the state.
I wish to call attention to certain critical aspects of scientific decision-making including the appreciation of decision-making as a science, the appreciation of the difference between problem analysis and decision-making, the examination of the four widely recognised decision-making styles, and the inherent need to appreciate alternatives while making decisions.
You will find that “. . . decision-making is a truly fascinating science, incorporating organisational behaviour, psychology, sociology, neurology, strategy, management, philosophy, and logic. The ability to make effective decisions that are rational, informed, and collaborative can greatly reduce opportunity costs while building a strong organizational focus. . . effective decision-making is a central skill necessary for success. This requires the capacity to weigh various paths and determine the optimal trajectory of action.”
It is also important to distinguish between problem analysis and decision-making. Indeed, while they are related, problem analysis and decision making are distinct activities. Decisions are commonly focused on a problem or challenge. Decision makers must gather and consider data before making a choice. Problem analysis involves framing the issue by defining its boundaries, establishing criteria with which to select from alternatives, and developing conclusions based on available information. Analysing a problem may not result in a decision, although the results are an important ingredient in all decision making.
As to the matter of decision-making styles, the need for senior officers to develop a decision-making style that will make the proper implementation of government policies effective and will be tuned to achieving intended goals can never be over-emphasised. In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors noted that, “the job of a manager is, above all, to make decisions. At any moment in any day, most executives are engaged in some aspect of decision making: exchanging information, reviewing data, coming up with ideas, evaluating alternatives, implementing directives, following up. But while managers at all levels must play the role of decision maker, the way a successful manager approaches the decision-making process changes as he or she moves up in the organisation. At lower levels, the job is to get widgets out the door (or, in the case of services, to solve glitches on the spot). Action is at a premium. At higher levels, the job involves making decisions about which widgets or services to offer and how to develop them. To climb the corporate ladder and be effective in new roles, managers need to learn new skills and behaviours — to change the way they use information and the way they create and evaluate options.”
The import of this quote is to emphasise: (a) the need for senior level executives to appreciate the fundamental differences in the character of their decision-making responsibilities; and (b) to develop a decision-making style that is unique to their responsibilities and job description.
Indeed, it has been observed that, “decision-making styles differ in two fundamental ways: how information is used and how options are created. When it comes to information use, some people want to mull over reams of data before they make any decision. In the management literature, such people are called “maximizers.” Maximizers can’t rest until they are certain they’ve found the very best answer. The result is a well-informed decision, but it may come at a cost in terms of time and efficiency.
Other managers just want the key facts — they’re apt to leap to hypotheses and then test them as they go. Here, the literature borrows a term from behavioural economist Herbert Simon: “Satisficers” are ready to act as soon as they have enough information to satisfy their requirements. As for creating options, “single focus” decision makers strongly believe in taking one course of action, while their “multi-focused” counterparts generate lists of possible options and may pursue multiple courses. Single-focus people put their energy into making things come out as they believe they should, multi-focus people put energy into adapting to circumstances.”
Following from the above, one may now appreciate why contemporary business thinkers classify decision making styles into four classes, namely:
(a) decisive (little information, one course of action);
(b) flexible (little information, many options);
(c) hierarchic (lots of data, one course of action); and
(d) integrative (lots of data, many options).
My view is that none of the classes is absolutely the best and none is absolutely the worst. As popular wisdom dictates, context is everything and every executive must decide, based on context, which approach best suits any particular decision-making style.
A process-informed decision-making style will ensure that decisions are not made haphazardly or dictated by emotions or the whims and caprice of the decision makers. Writing on this aspect of decision-making, it has been noted that “Decision making comprises a series of sequential activities that together structure the process and facilitate its conclusion. These steps are:
(a) Establishing objectives;
(b) Classifying and prioritizing objectives; (c) Developing selection criteria;
(d) Identifying alternatives;
(e) Evaluating alternatives against the selection criteria;
(f) Choosing the alternative that best satisfies the selection criteria; and (g) Implementing the decision.
I will now address the matter of alternatives and how they operate in the context of decision-making. As many senior organisational and business leaders know, a major part of decision making involves the analysis of a defined set of alternatives against selection criteria. These criteria usually include costs and benefits, advantages and disadvantages, and alignment with preferences.
Dr. Benson-Oke, Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions