“Human decision-making is complex. On our own, our tendency to yield to short-term temptations, and even to addictions, may be too strong for our rational, long-term planning.” – Peter Singer, American philosopher

Every day we wake up, we’re confronted with decisions that need to be made, ranging from the mundane (what shirt or dress to wear?) to the complex (should I hire the new marketing manager or not?).  And whether we realize it or not, we use the same decision making process for both scenarios, just at different speeds.

We get into trouble when we start taking mental shortcuts – when we tell ourselves we have been in this situation before so “I know the answer”.  Unfortunately, the known answer incorporates your personal bias without truly defining the problem or decision criteria.

Here’s a tried and true decision making process we ask clients to undertake:

1. Define the problem

A clearly defined problem allows us to effectively search our alternatives.

I see organizations chase the wrong problem on a regular basis, leading to solutions that only address symptoms, not root causes.

Example problem: “We need to expand and require another retail location.”

2. Determine the decision criteria

What are the most important criteria that should be considered in selecting our alternatives?

  • Population density in excess of 50K within two km of the location
  • Price per square foot < $30
  • On a major street
  • Has great sign visibility
  • Supports an open concept feel
  • Is in a trendy part of the city.

3. Weight the decision criteria

Use a scale where 10 is vital to the decision and 1 is a nice to have. For our example problem:

  • Population density in excess of 50K within 2 km of the location (10)
  • Price per square foot < $30 (10)
  • On a major street (7)
  • Has great sign visibility (9)
  • Supports an open concept feel (3)
  • Is in a trendy part of the city (8).

4. Develop Alternatives

Develop a list of alternatives that meet the decision criteria.In our example problem there are four retail location alternatives:

  • Lonsdale
  • Main Corridor
  • Cambie Corridor
  • Commercial Corridor.

5. Select the best alternative

Select the alternative that best meets the most important decision criteria. For our retail store example, we would inspect each location and choose.


Effectively deciding on the decision criteria and being honest about the importance of the criteria truly helps you select the right alternative. And, to filter your internal bias, leverage your network to provide perspective. The more you practice this, the more effective your team’s decision making becomes.

The Challenge

  • Clearly list and prioritize the decision criteria for one key decision currently in front of the team
  • Vet the criteria based on the most important viable priorities and generate your new list of alternatives.

Dean Ritchey is a Coach and Strategic Planning Advisor at Lawrence & Co. Growth Advisors.