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Marketplace insights

Learning to make effective business decisions

Most of us are faced with making decisions every day of our life, all day long. From the time we rise in the morning to the time we retire at night, we must decide many things. What will I wear today? What route should I take to work? What do I want for lunch? Many of these decisions are made carefully and with some thought; however, most of our daily decisions are made subconsciously, giving little thought to the outcome or result of the decision we have made. This is simply how we live our lives.

Decision making involves the choice between two or more options. As Native people, we tend to make our decisions instinctually; we rely on our senses to help guide us though the activities of our lives. We choose and select our actions with trust and confidence. This seems to work well for us in our personal lives, and even if we end up making the wrong decision we are unaware or minimally affected by the results. It is something we can easily move past. In some cases, the negative impacts of poor decision making is mislabeled as ''fate.''

In business and industry, the decision-making process must be much more involved. It is an area where poor decisions can result in costly or devastating mistakes that may have an impact on many people. In business it is important to weigh out and consider our choices. Effective decision-making in business is more of an objective process, requiring patience and strategy. Actions should be based on the collection of data or information, reviewing and understanding the information, examining possible outcomes and identifying the desired results. The process can seem time-consuming and tedious. Sometimes we are tempted to overlook the responsibility of using a good decision-making process.

Traditionally, our American Indian cultures encouraged us to think critically about things; we were taught to be patient and give careful consideration to our actions. However, as we have transitioned into our modern environment, we may have lost some of the patience we once possessed. Our modern lifestyle does not support the time it requires to engage in an effective decision-making process, to think things through carefully and thoughtfully. In business, unlike our personal lives, we must be more accountable for our actions. Making the wrong decision may not be as easy to overcome.

Critical thinking is part of making an effective decision. Critical thinking is a way of thinking that looks beyond the simple obvious picture, but considers all the variables that might affect a situation or decision. A critical thinker might ask questions like: Is there something else that I need to understand here? What other things should I consider before making this decision? Who else is or should be involved? How will they be affected by it?

In business, an effective process for good decision-making can include the following:

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* Collect any information available. In some cases it might require a little research; however, it will be well worth the effort if it uncovers something that has considerable impact on the decision. An example might include choosing a supplier for your business: Some research might reveal that a company has a poor delivery record with other customers.

* Examine your information carefully; look at the many parts to get a clear picture of the problem or issue. For instance, you are choosing to apply for a new grant to provide nutritional education in your department; however, there are many other programs that provide this service. Your staff might become overextended with this added responsibility; clients have indicated that they are not interested in seeking this service through your program. By examining the whole picture, you can make a better decision that goes beyond just applying for additional funding.

* Select possible choices for action and consider the potential outcome. Think about it in terms of: ''If I do this ... this will happen'' and ''If I select this direction ... this will happen.'' This will help to prevent an undesired outcome. You may engage in a business opportunity that, although appears profitable, may pose an interpersonal threat. You might want to carefully think through all of the potential results to your actions. It may save some time in the long run. And lastly, make your decision with confidence.

In organizations, recruiting help and support for important decisions can also be of great benefit. Involving others in the decision-making process is traditional for most Native communities. It is usually referred to as consensus-building. Although this in itself can also be very time-consuming, making some decisions this way will benefit you by gaining the perspective of others while helping to gain ''buy-in'' from your colleagues once a decision is made.

For all of the many decisions we must make in our lives, learning to make a good decision can be worthwhile. Reflecting on our own lives might bring about good examples of how bad decisions affected us, such as relationships, career choices and even responses to others' behavior. If we had thought things through and decided on another action or choice, we may have saved ourselves some grief. In business, good decision-making skills are critical. Most of the time, we cannot afford the consequences and losses poor choices can bring, and neither can our employees.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O'odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at