26 September, 2014, by Gemma Morgan-Jones

Making Good Decisions

Speakers: Dr Neil Sinclair and Dr Jules Holroyd, Department of Philosophy.

Decisions: we face them every day of our lives, but making them isn’t always easy. From the seemingly trivial to the biggest life decisions, how do we know we’re making the ‘right’ choices?

In business, we often face difficult decisions. Hiring, firing, planning, evaluating – these are big issues that can have a significant impact on our businesses, so how can we be confident we’re making ‘good’ choices? That was the question on our minds as 18 delegates from local businesses gathered together for this one-day workshop on Thursday 25th September.

The right thing to do

Dr Neil Sinclair from The University of Nottingham’s Department of Philosophy kick started the day by inviting us to consider a number of moral dilemmas. “Even in cases where you think that the ‘solution’ to a given dilemma is obvious”, says Neil, “it’s useful to think about how the decision was reached and justified.” And besides, even when we think a solution is obvious and easy, others might have an entirely different opinion on what the ‘right’ thing to do might be!

The checklist method

As we debated various case studies and scenarios in our small groups, it soon became clear that there were some underlying general principles relevant to our decision-making process. Factors such as fairness, respecting the wishes or desires or others and the principle of improving the welfare of others (or at least minimising harm to others) started to emerge.

Neil introduced ‘The Checklist Method’ of decision-making, a process of actively considering general moral principles in relation to the decision and weighing up the importance of these factors. Re-examining the case studies in light of this method prompted further lively debate!

The case comparison method

Neil then presented an alternative tool, ‘The Case Comparison Method’. When the right solution to a dilemma is not immediately apparent, we can create clear-cut ‘comparison’ scenarios in which the answer is more obvious.

We looked at a medical example in which an elderly, sick patient wishes to be discharged from hospital at some likely future risk to his health and some likely future cost to the NHS. We created a comparison scenario in which the ‘right’ solution was clearly to send the patient home and another scenario in which the ‘right’ solution was clearly to keep the patient in hospital. By determining which comparison case the actual case was most similar to, we could determine a course of action.

Bias in decision-making

Armed with these new decision-making tools, we moved on to look at how bias affects our ability to make good decisions, particularly when those decisions relate to people.

Dr Jules Holroyd introduced the concept of implicit bias; most of us aren’t consciously biased towards or against certain types of people, but studies show that most people do harbour inherent biases. This can be particularly problematic in a business setting when we consider the impact it can have on recruitment and promotion of staff.

Combating bias

Just ‘trying not to be biased’ doesn’t work. We simply don’t have direct control over whether we are influenced by biases! However, we can use certain strategies to combat and address our biases.

Jules provided a helpful list of suggestions of how we can create conditions conducive to good decision making including: anonymising recruitment documents, creating clear evaluation criteria, allowing sufficient time for decision-making and thinking about how we would justify our decisions to others. We can also minimise conditions that can negatively impact on decision making. Avoiding triggers like stress, distraction, tiredness, hunger and eliminating irrelevant information can help us to be more confident that our decisions haven’t been influenced by bias.

In conclusion

We conclude that no one tool is a golden bullet, but the methods we have explored can certainly help us to increase our confidence in decision-making. Our sincere thanks to Dr Neil Sinclair and Dr Jules Holroyd for a fascinating day.

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