VUCA unpacked (5)—Decision-making process

This is the final article in the VUCA unpacked series.

Decision-making process skills leverage and extend collaborative capacity, perspective coordination, and contextual thinking skills. They are essential for addressing conflicts, solving problems, and making decisions — especially in complex situations. Like other VUCA skills, they are required and continue to develop throughout our lives.

This article builds upon earlier articles in this series: VUCA unpacked (1) — Introduction, VUCA unpacked (2) — Collaborative capacity, VUCA unpacked (3) — Perspective coordination, and VUCA unpacked (4) — Contextual thinking.

What are decision-making process skills?

We think of decision-making process skills as those skills that are called upon during decision-making processes. Most of these skills are also manifestations of VCoL+7 skills, which I will discuss further in the second half of this article. As noted above, decision-making process skills leverage and extend the first three mega-skills discussed in this series—collaborative capacity, perspective coordination, and contextual thinking. In fact, just about every micro-skill in the decision-making skill map exercises at least one of the first three mega-skills. Considering that most of us—especially leaders—make many decisions daily, decision-making is one of the most common contexts in which we call upon these three mega-skills.

We divide the decision-making process mega-skill into six macro-skills: (1) framing, (2) setting goals, (3) gathering information, (4) identifying solutions, (5) deciding, and (6) implementing. The decision-making process map is the only VUCA skill map in which macro-skills are arranged in a (mostly) temporal sequence.

Skill hierarchy

Framing: By default, all decision-making begins with a frame of reference. This frame can be conscious or unconscious. Sometimes, making a decision without considering one’s frame of reference is appropriate. For example, if I’m deciding between a glass of wine or a micro-brew with supper, I probably don’t need to consciously consider my frame of reference. On the other hand, if I’m choosing between a glass of wine and a glass of water just before a meeting with my boss, the frame of reference may deserve consideration.

Framing involves at least four macro-skills, including (1) defining the issue that has led to the need for a decision, (2) identifying and working with key considerations, (3) identifying gaps in our understanding of an issue, and (4) recognizing biases that could limit our ability to fully understand an issue.

Setting goals: Once a frame has been chosen (or constructed), it serves as a guide for setting decision-making goals. Mini-skills required for setting goals include (1) identifying desired outcomes and (2) seeking alignment around those outcomes.

Gathering information: Prior to setting goals and immediately after goals have been identified, it is often wise to gather additional information. Mini-skills for gathering information include (1) considering diverse perspectives, (2) evaluating the validity and credibility of information, and (3) recognizing biases that could affect the value of the information-gathering process.

Note that many of the “evaluate information” skills require a fair bit of knowledge to practice effectively.

Identifying solutions: Once we have gathered all of the information required to support a high-quality decision, it’s time to generate solutions. Generating optimal solutions involves skills for (1) identifying alternatives and (2) considering the ethical implications of possible solutions and the cognitive biases that interfere with making ethical choices.

Deciding: Thousands of Lectical Assessments have revealed that the single most neglected mega-skill in the decision-making process map is deciding itself. Few adults are able to explain in any detail how they actually make a decision. Most of us rely primarily on intuition, even in situations in which other options might be preferable. Skills for making decisions include (1) setting the appropriate level of collaboration for a particular decision and (2) getting clear about the specifics of the process to be used. Needless to say, participation in the decision-making step of a decision-making process also requires several collaborative capacity and perspective coordination skills.

Implementing: The final decision-making macro-skill is implementation. A successful implementation requires skills for (1) setting milestones, (2) delegating roles, (3) making contingency plans, and (4) measuring outcomes.

As you explore the decision-making skill map, take a few minutes to consider how the micro-skills in this map:

  1. differ from the skills in the collaborative capacity, perspective coordination, and contextual thinking maps, and
  2. relate to the skills in the collaborative capacity, perspective coordination, and contextual thinking maps.
This image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

If you’d like to play with this map, download the original Simple Mind file.

Decision-making process skills & VCoL+7

Decision-making process skills lean heavily on every single skill in the VCoL+7 model.

When my colleagues and I first developed VCoL+7 we weren’t thinking specifically about decision-making. We were focused on identifying core skills for life and work. It just so happens that all of the +7 skills are required for optimal decision-making. Recognizing this fact helped us to see the import of decision-making and the ways in which it permeates human life. I’ve personally even been tempted to claim that life is, at one level, a series of decisions and outcomes. This is certainly true of leadership.

Yet modern societies — even democracies — do not valorize decision-making. We typically do not place decision-making at the center of curricula, we do not have decision-making bees or decision-making clubs, there is no national television game focused on real-life decision-making, and our children engage in very few activities designed to develop their real-life decision-making skills.

To make matters worse, during the last 20 years, several educational psychologists—based on studies involving undergraduate students educated in modern societies—have suggested that there is little point in attempting to build our decision-making skills because our mental architecture prevents us from exercising control over the decisions we make. Given that we put little effort into equipping children with good decision-making skills—including most of the +7 skills—this conclusion seems premature.

If you are in any doubt about the importance of decision-making skills, spend a day practicing the micro-VCoL below.

More about micro-VCoLing and micro-skills

Up next

Stay tuned for CAOS skills unpacked, a series of articles exploring the mega-skills associated with the Lectical Reflective Judgment Assessment (LRJA).

Citation for this article

Dawson, T. L. (2021). VUCA unpacked (5) — Decision-making process.

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Award-winning educator, scholar, & consultant, Dr. Theo Dawson, discusses a wide range of topics related to learning and development.