Decision Making: Make Balanced Decisions and Avoid Biases

Do good decisions exist? Think about that question for a moment and allow me to explain the intent and purpose of this article. In these pages, I will take the position that good decisions do exist, but people define “good” differently, and that definition changes based on circumstances. That has huge implications for leadership and safety.

Take a look at the following questions. What decisions would you make? I can guarantee that some of you have disagreed with family members or friends about these very same topics. When it comes to certain decisions, we have strong opinions; with others, we simply don’t care.

  • Should you rinse off the dishes before you put them in the dishwasher?
  • You are traveling to a destination that is a seven-hour drive from your house. Do you make the drive or fly there instead? If you decide to fly, do you check bags or carry everything with you onto the plane? How early should you get to the airport?
  • It’s time for vacation. Beach or mountains? Do you want to relax or head for the thrill rides? Should you rent a hotel room or a house?
  • You are ready to eat dinner. Should it be a hamburger or a salad? Healthy or not? Delivery or carryout?

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to any of the questions above; those decisions are made based on personal preference. But let’s think about how circumstances can change our definition of “good” or “right” and consider their impact on how we should lead others and promote safety.

Normalization of deviation aside, excessive speeding – let’s say 30 mph over the speed limit for argument’s sake – is wrong or bad. Does that change if someone is having a medical emergency and you are transporting them to the hospital?

Now, let’s say wearing rubber gloves is good. Does that change based on the weather or the task being performed? I know all of us would love to say no, but the reality is that far too often, gloves come off because the user feels hot or that more dexterity is needed for a task.

There are nearly infinite internal and external factors that can combine to influence our decisions. So, it is critical that we understand what personally drives us to make good decisions, and we must be able to understand what drives other people’s decision making if we want to influence them in a positive way.

Implications for Leadership and Safety
People are unique, fallible and make decisions based on multiple factors. That means we are not robots who will blindly follow rules and procedures. Those rules and procedures must make sense and be effectively communicated (mutual understanding). Workers need to understand the how and the why behind the rules they are expected to follow, and leaders need to understand the why behind worker behavior. Leaders must create a culture of safety and provide consequences that will reinforce desirable behaviors and change undesirable behaviors. A good strategy is to use more positive tactics than negative ones, but that is a much larger discussion than can be covered here.

I want to reiterate that my purpose here is not to play semantics with the word “good.” The goal is for you to understand why we make decisions the way we do. The four takeaways should be:

1. Gravitate toward outcome-oriented, strategic decisions focused on adjectives like “effective,” “balanced,” “informed,” “rational” and “intentional.”

2. Make effective, balanced, informed, rational and intentional decisions by gaining situational awareness about the people and circumstances involved; deciding what you want the outcomes to be; defining the choices and the potential consequences of each; evaluating which decisions will most likely achieve your desired outcomes; deciding and acting; and evaluating and determining if additional decision making is merited.

3. Provide experiences and consequences to others that encourage them to make decisions that are aligned with your team’s mission, vision, values and goals.

4. There are assessments – such as the Hartman Value Profile and Motivators (visit https://assessmyteam.com for more) – that can provide tremendous insights into your decision making, as well as practical tools, such as self-check, that can help all of us make good decisions. Incorporate those tools into your everyday activities.

About the Author: David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (https://ip-institute.com). He has extensive experience and expertise in leadership, human performance, safety and operations. McPeak is passionate about personal and professional development and believes that intrapersonal and interpersonal skills are key to success. He also is an advanced certified practitioner in DISC, emotional intelligence, the Hartman Value Profile, learning styles and motivators.

About Frontline Fundamentals: Frontline Fundamentals topics are derived from the Incident Prevention Institute’s popular Frontline training program (https://frontlineutilityleader.com). Frontline covers critical knowledge, skills and abilities for utility leaders and aligns with the Certified Utility Safety Professional exam blueprint.


Webinar on Decision Making
September 9, 2020, at 3:30 p.m. Eastern
Visit https://frontlineutilityleader.com for more information.

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David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP, is the director of professional development for Utility Business Media’s Incident Prevention Institute (www.ip-institute.com). His experience includes operations management, safety and training roles. McPeak holds multiple safety and training certifications and has received numerous awards. He also has served as chairman of Task Team One of the OSHA ET&D Partnership, as a member of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board and as a member of the North Carolina Apprenticeship Council. Reach him at david@utilitybusinessmedia.com.

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