Organizational Behavior and Effective Communication Research Paper

Pages: 6 (1787 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Business

Organizational Behavior

Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Workplace Decision Making

Decision making is one of the most critical skills that business leaders employ in the management of their organizations. Yet it is also one of the processes that is most liable to be tainted by assumptions, biases, misinformation, even ego, leading to decisions that can be disastrous for the organization. Good decision making practices can sometimes be counter-intuitive; therefore, it is crucial that an effective business leader learn to recognize and avoid the common pitfalls that often sabotage clear thinking and effective decision making. Towards that end, this paper seeks to reveal some of those pitfalls, to point out their existence in a workplace environment, and to offer alternative practices for arriving at better decisions.

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It is difficult to underestimate the impact that one decision can have on the well-being of a company. One of the most famous instances of bad corporate decision making was the New Coke debacle of the 1980s. In April of 1985, Coca-Cola, the longtime leader in soft drink sales, decided to replace its original formula with a new recipe. The decision was made based on positive results from a few consumer taste tests (Walton, 2010, p.277). Despite these results, the move was an unqualified disaster. Consumers began hording the original product, and one group even went so far as to threaten a class action lawsuit against the company. Coke ended up reversing its decision and reintroducing the original formula, but not before its brand was severely damaged. As a result, the market stronghold that Coke had always enjoyed weakened, allowing Pepsi, who had been a distant second place before the fiasco, to establish a strong competitive presence in the market (Ibid).

Research Paper on Organizational Behavior and Effective Communication Assignment

This is just one example of a major executive decision that had a disastrous impact on a company's performance. But even decisions on such a large scale with such momentous implications for the organization can be subject to erroneous human thought processes. Smaller instances of bad decision making in the workplace occur every day, with less noticeable but nonetheless damaging results. Decisions concerning hiring, brand implementation, budget, product design -- even the logistics of the company holiday party -- can have ripple effects within the organization, and should be approached carefully and with an eye towards rationality, honesty, and effectiveness.

The Harvard Business School's decision making guide (2006) isolates five key steps involved in effective decision making. Step one is to "establish a context for success" (p.9). This means creating a workplace environment that is conducive to rational thinking, intelligent discussion, honest assessment, and clear decision making. Creating this environment might require approaching one's workplace with a critical eye.

For instance, an educational media company for which I worked previously, (we'll call it Scholar Unlimited for the purposes of this paper) was hindered in its decision making practices from the start because its workplace did not offer the context for making successful critical decisions. While the decision making process appeared to take into consideration opinions from many different sectors of the company, engaging in company-wide surveys and taking informal polls during team meetings, in reality there was no established system in place to ensure that opinions that ran contrary to the expressed opinions of the executive committee made it to the final discussion of options. Middle management would make note of opposing views, but in their ambition to appear in line with the executive committee's expressed opinions, they would not send these alternative ideas up the line.

In her article on embracing opposing views in the decision making process (2008), Debbie Schachter points out the demoralizing and destructive results of such a system: "The staff quickly learns that its input is not desired with these types of [systems] and may cease to make an effort with their ideas and problem solving skills" (p.44). Such an environment is poisonous to effective decision-making; if the decision making body is only exposed to opinions that already match its own, then there is in fact no decision making process at all -- only a confirmation of preconceived attitudes.

Such a system promotes the process of advocacy rather than the process of inquiry. Advocacy involves asserting one's own point-of-view to the exclusion of other alternatives, while inquiry involves approaching a problem with a focus on understanding all variables and possible solutions (Eisner, 2005, p.171). The decision making process at Scholar Unlimited gave no forum for a process of inquiry, while rewarding the advocacy of the executive committee's point-of-view.

The second step that the Harvard Business School report recommends is to "frame the issue properly" (p.25). J. Edward Russo and J.H. Shoemaker define a frame in problem solving as "the particular perspective [people] adopt (often unconsciously)" that "exerts enormous power over the options they will recognize and the solutions they will favor" (qtd. In Harvard, 2006, p.25). A mistake in framing was one of the most influential factors in Coca-Cola's flawed decision to change their soda formula. The executives framed their company's success as a function of the flavor of their product, and therefore they concluded that replacing their formula with a flavor that tested better in sample groups would necessarily make their business more successful. Their frame neglected to take into account the other factors that contributed to their customers' attachment to their product, factors such as childhood memories and even basic habit. With such a frame in place, they could not possibly have developed a marketing strategy that would address these factors, and therefore they not only made a bad decision, but also implemented it poorly given the real attitudes of their consumer base.

Peter Drucker et al. (2001) call the step of framing the question "one of the most dangerous steps" in the decision making process (p.157). It is very easy to fall into the trap of framing questions in ways that inherently reinforce the status quo, or that skew the conversation towards one conclusion. In order to avoid this common pitfall, leaders must intentionally frame the questions in their decision processes in ways that open many avenues of consideration, always being wary of underlying assumptions and language choice that may predetermine the outcome.

Step three in the Harvard Business School's model for effective decision making is to "generate alternatives." Generating a sufficient and well-founded array of alternative options is key to ensuring that the best decision is arrived at. Alternatives can be generated in several ways. Leaders can rely on their "training, personal experience, education, and knowledge of the situation" to create alternatives (Lewis et al., 2006, p.151). A decision making process that includes a variety of appropriate people with varied experiences, that fosters inquiry, and that frames the issue in an open manner will naturally generate an array of viable alternatives. The more alternatives, the more likely a deciding body is to choose the best course of actions.

A failure to generate alternatives is another of the common pitfalls that the decision making process at Scholar Unlimited exhibited. Even when alternatives were developed via survey or lower level meetings, the process immediately discarded them by not ensuring that the variety of alternatives were included in the executive discussion. The overarching presence of the one alternative that the executive committee preferred necessarily stifled the development of perhaps more effective alternative developed on lower levels.

The fourth step advised by the Harvard Business School is to "evaluate alternatives." There are several strategies that can be employed to select the best of many alternatives. The most effective approach is to rate each alternative based on a predetermined set of criteria relevant to the desired outcome. These criteria may be indicators of quality, sales performance, efficiency, risk, or other benefits (Lewis et al., 2006, p. 153). While this approach was in fact implemented at Scholar Unlimited, the lack of a variety of alternatives undermined the evaluation step because the decision was already in a sense made.

If a variety of appropriate alternatives is available, evaluating them can sometimes be challenging. It requires an enormous amount of thought, discussion, and knowledge about possible outcomes for each alternative. An open and rational discussion, combined with the quantifiable methods of evaluation described above, will without fail result in the selection of the most effective decision.

The final step in Harvard Business School's key steps for decision making is to "choose the alternative that appears best." This may seem simple, but without the proper decision making process, this step can be the hardest to reach. At Scholar Unlimited, decisions would often become stuck at the evaluation level, primarily because the president of the company did not like to make decisions himself if there was not consensus in the executive committee. If this were the case, the decision process was either abandoned or restarted in a different frame, resulting in an enormous amount of wasted resources and frustrated employees, as well as key business initiative that remained undecided.

The key to avoiding this type of paralysis at decision time lies ultimately with the leader of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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