Reactive Decision Making

Making Good Decisions Under Pressure

Reactive Decision Making - Making Good Decisions Under Pressure

© iStockphoto
jgroup

It is possible to make good decisions under pressure if you plan ahead.

People tend to make decisions reactively when confronted with emergency situations or when a disaster unfolds.

In these circumstances, the best decisions tend to be those that have been thought-through and rehearsed ahead of time, a good example being the use of a pre-prepared evacuation plan if the office catches on fire.

The normal decision-making process generally involves:

  1. Defining the problem.
  2. Collecting necessary information.
  3. Developing options.
  4. Devising a plan.
  5. Executing.
  6. Following-up.

However reactive decision-making is, well, reactive. Because of this, there's not usually time to execute this full decision-making process, meaning that it's all-too-easy to make a bad decision when under pressure.

What this means is that actions to be taken in an emergency should be carefully planned for beforehand so that you can act appropriately when an event occurs. This may include, for example, devising contingency plans for what to do when a supplier ships poor quality goods when you are on a very tight deadline, or planning how to get essential systems back online if your office premises are burgled and computers are stolen.

Planning for Exceptional Reactive Decision Making

When doing this, the first step is to look at the risks you face and determine if they have a high or low probability of occurring.

You can use a Risk Assessment Matrix (RAM) to do this. To create a Risk Assessment Matrix, draw a graph, matrix or simple table with a vertical axis marked as "Consequences" and a horizontal axis marked as "Probability".

Use a simple scale of 0 (very small) to 5 (very large). "Consequences" are credible potential worst-case scenarios that may develop. "Probabilities" are your best assessments of the likelihoods that individual consequences will occur.

How to Coach Toolkit Offer

FREE when you join the Mind Tools Club before midnight, PST June 21.

Find Out More

Now brainstorm the possible consequences to which you're exposed, and then assess the risk of each consequence occurring. Where possible, base this assessment of risk on real-world evidence and experience.

Then plot these on the RAM. You'll find that that as you do this, your contingency planning priorities quickly become clear.

Keep in mind that using a Risk Assessment Matrix is not an exact science: what it is is a useful visual tool for looking at the relative importance of each risk. This will allow for better planning and optimal outcomes when reactive decision-making must be relied on.

But what do you do when you are forced to make a reactive decision without having a plan in place? When this is the case, you may not have enough time to complete a thorough RAM. Such a decision must be made quickly, using appropriate reasoning and should aim towards the best possible outcome.

Making Unexpected Decisions Under Pressure

For instance, a team leader unexpectedly walks off the job in the midst of the company's largest project, jeopardizing the project's outcome and negatively impacting other areas in which he or she is involved. Obviously, work must go on. This is when it is important to make a quick reactive decision based on perceived risks and possible consequences.

In such a case, it may be appropriate to gather the team and re-assign certain tasks so that everyone involved is taking up some of the responsibility left by the departing team leader. Or, perhaps appointing a new team leader is the best reactive decision to make. Whatever the decision, make sure to make it based on what's best for all involved, while remaining mindful of the larger picture, i.e. possible risks and consequences. Here it's often not possible to achieve a perfect outcome – what you're trying to do is control damage as best you can.

Tip:

Because reactive decision-making is based so much on people's individual experiences, decisions made may vary from person to person.

Also, because reactive decisions are often needed when emergencies occur, these can be some of the most difficult but important decisions one can make.

Key Points

A good manager or team leader will have plans in place for many situations that call for reactive decision-making, recognizing that there will not be time to assess and weigh the risks, consequences and necessary outcomes when a crisis occurs.

When devising such plans, drawing up a Risk Assessment Matrix can help you quickly spot and communicate the most important contingencies to prepare for.

Rate this resource

Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Hi wavo

    Thanks for sharing this with our other members - it's always to hear what other people use to make their work easier. We are all here to help and learn from one another and we'd love to see you on the forums too: http://www.mindtools.com/forums/ - Career Cafe Central is where most of the interaction happens.

    Yolandé
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago wavo wrote
    For those of us new to team management, I found the following module helpful for what to use to filling in the Risk Assessment Matix: Risk Analysis and Risk Mangagement. It includes lists of threats' to think about like:

    •Human – Illness, death, injury, or other loss of a key individual.
    •Operational – Disruption to supplies and operations, loss of access to essential assets, or failures in distribution.
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Most of us have probably had to make a reactive decision at one time or another. Visualising yourself being calm and in control even in an emergency situation, may help you to make better decisions. One area where extra care needs to be exercised is when we have to make decisions regarding people - whether to hire of fire or discipline etc. Never make these decisions while you are angry - think it through and make decisions that will be good for today but also good for the future.

    Kind regards
    Yolandé