What is Your Criteria for Making Decisions?

Nov 1, 2021

We are all in the decision-making business – especially as leaders. In order for us to make effective decisions, we need clear decision criteria. Yet too often, we don’t slow down to consider, we just decide. When you look at the next decision in front of you – do you know what your criterion for deciding is?

What are Decision Criteria?

Decision criteria are a set of principles, priorities, guidelines, or rules by which we decide. In other words, they help us make a decision or decide which course of action will be best. While they can be explicit (more on this in a minute), they are often unstated and personal. If they are unstated and personal when deciding in a group, they can be the source of delay, frustration, misunderstanding, and even conflict.

Creating Explicit Decision Criteria

Whether making decisions alone or in a group, it is best to determine how we will decide. We should consider questions like how do we know what a good decision is, and how can we improve the odds that we make a good one? This is where decision criteria can come in. Rather than going solely with our intuition, we can make a decision that considers a variety of important factors.

You can set decision criteria upfront for a specific decision or have a set that you run many decisions through to help create better results.

While you could use nearly anything as your decision criteria, common examples include:

  • Cost

  • ROI

  • Level of agreement

  • Cultural consistency

  • Ease of adjustment

  • Time to implement

  • Ease of implementation

  • Level of risk

A Fun Example

I was recently reminded of the importance of decision criteria in a fun moment in our “watercooler” Slack channel. I read that the National Toy Hall of Fame had named the finalists for induction for 2021. At the time, you could view the list of 12 finalists and vote for the winner. I shared that link with my team and innocently asked, “which would you pick?”

My team’s responses showed something about their personal decision making process and showed that if we were making the decision as a group, we would have needed some agreed on decision criteria.

Read my recount of our online chat, and see if it reminds you of any decision-making conversations you have ever participated in.

One person made a declaration (The Fisher Price Corn Popper). Later they said it was because their kids and grandkids all had them.

Another person declared that would be in their top four, along with Battleship (played for hours and hours), firetruck (had three as a kid), and sand (no reason given).

Next someone said American Girl dolls because they loved the brand-connected books.

Then came two “votes” for Cabbage Patch Kids, then a third, all with stories about receiving and playing with them.

Battleship got more love (we still play it with our kids now). Then Risk got a vote. Because “of the touch of history injected.”

So what were the decision criteria the team was using?

While we could make a list just from my brief description, the important point is, they weren’t all the same! And had this been a real decision we were making as a team, you can see that until we had some agreement, tacit or explicit, on what we were using to decide, it would have:

  • Taken us longer to decide

  • Created frustration, and perhaps (although not likely for toys) conflict

  • Reduced the level of true commitment we would have shared about the resulting decision

Now What?

The next time you need to make a weighty decision alone or in a group, start by determining your decision criteria. When you do that, you will likely reach better, more informed decisions, and will, if deciding collectively, build greater commitment to the resulting course of action.

By Kevin Eikenberry