Saturday, April 30, 2011

Essay on Decision Making

Essay on Decision Making

Abstract
Critical thinking and decision making go hand in hand to enable us to evaluate a situation, process the information and determine a course of action. The focus of this paper is to put both critical thinking and decision-making under the microscope for closer inspection to see how one compliments the other and how they are used in our professional and personal lives. In addition, the benefits of critical thinking are examined and whether or not these two elements are present in the company I work for, ACN Communications. Lastly, the nominal group technique will be explored as a means for problem solving.

Critical Thinking and Decision Making
Critical Thinking
As human beings, we are faced with many opportunities to critically think about the world around us. From the commercials we see on television, the articles we read in newspapers and even comments from co-workers about the companies we work for, we have the opportunity to question the world and people around us to determine what we think about it and how we are going to respond. The evaluation and questioning of information and situations around us is called critical thinking.

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Critical thinking, as defined in the Grolier Encyclopedia, is "the general term given to a wide range of cognitive skills and intellectual dispositions an individual needs to evaluate claims and arguments in everyday situations, to discover and overcome personal prejudices and biases, to assess the reliability of information according to established intellectual standards, and to make decisions about what to believe and what to do."

In my opinion, critical thinking then is our ability to question whether to believe or disbelieve what is in front of us and to decide how we are going to respond to it. How we respond is determined by the decisions that we make. Decision making is a key component in how we function on a personal and professional level as well.

Decision Making
Both personally and professionally, we make decisions everyday. Determining what to wear to work, which route to take to get there and even what foods we will eat are all decisions that have an impact on our lives. From a professional perspective, decision making is a key part of our jobs. Making the decision to hire or fire someone, whether or not to give someone an important project and deciding if we should launch a new product line, all impact our working lives and relationships in our organization. Decision making is defined as "the act of deciding between two or more alternative courses of action." (A Dictionary of Finance and Banking in Economics and Business, 1997). Being a good decision maker causes others to trust our abilities, whereas the opposite is true if we tend to make decisions hastily without carefully considering the ramifications of those decisions and their impacts across functional units.

It is obvious that decision making is a key component in our lives, but decision making without critical thinking gives us only half of the picture. It is these two components combined that result in successes both personally and professionally.

Critical Thinking & Decision Making
Combining the techniques of critical thinking and decision making results in situations that have been analyzed closely and potential outcomes clearly considered and defined prior to taking any action. In an article written by Greg Kitzmiller (2003), he states that "It seems most business people are busy taking action, meeting with people, interacting and making decisions. Certainly, thinking is one of the most important actions we take and is at the core of strategic planning."

Based on Kitzmiller's comments, I believe that critical thinking and decision making must go hand in hand in order to be successful. In order to develop a strategic plan, you must closely evaluate all aspects and in making decisions about your course of action, you develop a strategic plan for the future. From both a personal and professional level, these two combined techniques will put you in a better position to reach your goals and be successful. As restated by Ken Petress "Making quality decisions involves critical thinking; critical thinking has been defined as - involving the ability to explore a problem, question, or situation; integrate all the available information about it; arrive at a solution or hypothesis; and justify one's position".

Benefits of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking allows us to question our environment and the information presented to us. As stated in our text, we can either "One alternative is to accept passively what you encounter; doing so automatically results in your making someone else's opinion your own. A more active alternative consists of asking questions of yourself in an effort to reach a personal decision about the worth of what you have experienced."

Individual Perspective - ACN Communications, Inc.
When I look my organization, ACN Communications, Inc., I see areas where critical thinking and decision-making are present and absent. Being a product manager for U.S. voice products and North American competitive intelligence, I work with all functional units within the organization. It is at this level, back-office support, that I see the most critical thinking and decision-making taking place. On a daily basis, representative and customer numeric information is prepared to determine our position versus the competition and over the calendar year. Individuals in our operations and finance departments work closely together to monitor our sales and report these findings to upper management. It is at the upper management level however, where I lose sight of critical thinking and decision-making.

Our senior management staff consists of 5 founders, a CEO, COO, CFO and numerous Vice Presidents. Not assuming that these individuals are lacking in critical thinking, it is sometimes difficult to follow their reasoning for the decisions that they make. Case in point, a little over a year ago, half of our organizations employees were relieved of their duties in a downsizing effort. We were advised that in order to remain profitable, we had to decrease our expenses and streamline all of our processes. The remaining employees did just that and now a year later, we have rehired all of our staffs and added additional members to our organization. I question, why we could not streamline our processes and still retain the knowledgeable staff we had in place? It is very difficult to exist in a downsizing effort since work requirements increase while headcount does not.

When I stop to consider that I probably do not have a clear picture of how ACN looked financially a year ago, I know that I cannot critical evaluate the situation in order to understand their position and reasoning. Perhaps this understanding in and of itself is critical thinking.

Nominal Group Technique
The nominal group technique strongly encourages and harbors participation by everyone in the group selected to tackle a particular issue or problem. No one or two individuals dominate this decision-making process. In addition, this technique works well with large groups as well as smaller groups and really focuses on the issues at hard without the concern of having too many issues on the table for consideration.

In order for this technique to be successful, there are key steps that must be followed as stated in the article, "What Needs May Be" by Kim, Siegenthaler and Kevin Riley.

The first step is selecting the participants. If there will be many participants, individuals are to be separated into smaller groups. All participants are given paper and pencil for writing down their concerns.

The second step is for the participants to brainstorm individually. The participants are given a single question to address regarding the subject of the meeting. The group is asked to write down their thoughts in short answer without sharing them with the group.

The third step is for someone to act as the recorder to jot down the ideas as they are read aloud in a round-robin. In order to encourage teamwork, participants sit facing each other in a circle. Each participant reads aloud one of their concerns and the recorder writes down their issue on a large piece of paper for all in the room to see.

The fourth step is to assign a letter grade to each concern and duplicates are removed. Once all participants have read aloud their concerns, the items are ranked according to importance, 5 being the most important and 1 the least.

The fifth step starts discussions on the items and during this process, the items go through another ranking to finalize those issues of highest importance. This process eliminates concerns of little importance and highlights the issues that truly demand the attention of the group.

The sixth and final step is to discuss in detail the remaining items without the intrusion of invalid issues clouding the judgment of the group members.

This process alleviates the chance of someone not having a say in the decision-making and brainstorming process. The NGT technique opens the door for creativity and problem resolution without fear of criticism and in my opinion, encourages teamwork and team-building.

Conclusion
Throughout this essay paper, the benefits of critical thinking, decision-making and the nominal group technique have been discussed with supporting documentation. The above proves that evaluating a situation, sometimes in a group environment, without hastily making decisions proves to provide more insight, creativity and team-building opportunities that lead to a stronger and single-minded successful organization.

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