Instead of “pros and cons” try these 4 steps to reach an effective decision

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Every day in and outside of business we are faced with a range of critical decisions; some small nonetheless important, and others challenging, significant, and involving situations that we may not have encountered before.

If you are like me, the best decisions I have made or seen are those made with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight.

There is no such thing as a perfect decision for a variety of reasons; for a start the information is not perfect, it is usually a blend of fact, assumption, and opinions. There is also the impact of our individual model of the world and how things should be that can add bias or that will influence the decision making process.

The reason I comment on this is that in a recent leadership discussion, a leadership group raised a decision that was facing them and indicated they were going to apply the much used “pros and cons” approach to take advantage of an amazing opportunity for their organisation, however, not only would the decision impact future outcomes for their organisation, it was a circumstance they had not encountered before.

We explored with the leadership team an alternative four step approach to the familiar “pros and con” approach. The steps are:

  1. Invest time up front in discussion and analysis to agree the apparent problem or opportunity; in this case it was an opportunity. Don’t stop at this point, invest time to define the real problem or opportunity by going into deeper discussion and exploration of the circumstances and the information available to ensure the scope of the opportunity are clearly defined.
  2. To capitalise on this opportunity, the team then mapped all of the possible decision options. Two things to note;
    • There are usually eight to ten decision options available, don’t stop until you find them, you may have to dig for them.
    • Don’t dismiss those ideas that might be regarded as radical as it is these options that often become the catalyst for other viable options to be generated.
  3. Discuss in detail each of the options and consider the positive and negative consequences that would result if the option was adopted and actioned.
  4. When the positive and negative consequences have been fully discussed and explored, step back.  Remember there is no such thing as a perfect decision so for each decision option there will be trade-offs to reach an effective decision. Take time to consider for each decision option what is being traded-off.

The outcome is to reach the most effective decision possible. An effective decision is its acceptance x its quality[1]. There is little point to having a high quality decision which few people agree with and accept; likewise there is little value in a decision that has wide acceptance but is of questionable quality. Applying the four steps of clear problem or opportunity definition, options, consequences and trade-offs produces deeper exploration and discussion of the issues and challenges and teases out aspects that don’t surface using the “pros and con” approach.

Out of interest, the leadership group created two teams to test both methods. They reported the alternative to the “pros and cons” approach produced a more effective decision allowing them to fully capitalise on the opportunity presented.


Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.

[1] Human Synergistics