Bitesize Leadership Techniques – Operational Decision Making

Making sound business decisions and taking action to resolve immediate issues and pursue opportunities.

Operational Decision Making

Operational Decision Making is one of my Bitesize Leadership Techniques. They are exactly what the title suggests. Short snippets of leadership tips, tools, process and ideas for you to use on a just-in-time basis. Use them as an update and to refresh your leadership professionalism. You could call it leadership in a hurry! This article is an Executive Summary of my eBook of the same name – Operational Decision Making – published on Amazon Kindle. If you are a subscribers to Kindle Unlimited you can borrow and read the eBook for free.

What & Why

Operational decisions will usually need to be taken in response to situations that arise in the short-term business cycle. These decisions have an immediate impact on the business, on the leader and on the leader’s team. The decisions advance specific business goals. And they remove obstacles to achieving those goals. Or both.

They are part of the choices and judgments a leader makes in a fast moving business environment. Consider the hundreds of operational decisions being made in an organisation on a daily basis. Thus you will appreciate the need for an evidence based process which calls for a leader to be both systematic and thorough.

Peter Drucker, often described as the father of modern management, is quoted as saying: “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision”.

From this you will see an operational decision has an outcome based on a procedure that is designed to resolve every day or, in most cases, ‘unexceptional’ occurrences. This contrasts with strategic decision making, which is concerned with larger chunky issues, and often comes with a blueprint unique to each organisation.

Operational Decision Making is about making sound business decisions and taking action to resolve immediate issues and pursue opportunities.


Here are some practical principles for you to follow for Operational Decision Making:

Debate then Investigate

Operational decisions can be complex and involve or affect a lot of stakeholders. But where to start? It’s too easy for leaders to start out by seeking the facts and figures they think they need for a decision. A better place to start is by facilitating a debate where people feel free to speak up. You need to create a constructive environment to explore, investigate the situation and weigh up your options.

Organise and Analyse

Operational decisions call for a systematic, structured and speedy approach. Your personal behavioural style will determine how you deal with this; the strengths you play to and the weaknesses you take into account. Are you high-task, high-caution or somewhere in between? You need to strike a balance . On one hand speed versus patience. On the other, attention to detail versus making good progress. Beware of derailers. Be sure to use established decision making tools and techniques.

Generate and Assess Options

Importantly, the key to operational decision making is to consider a wide range of alternatives and their consequences, as well as to calculate risks. For example, use tools such as brainstorming to work with others to create options. Furthermore, use tools such as decision based criteria, pros and cons, force field analysis, risk versus impact quadrant analysis to assess options. Operational decision can affect many other people. Whilst you need to consider multiple perspectives as you look at the options, you can’t take too much time. Time is always of the essence.

Make Timely Sound Decisions

Operational decision making needs to be evidence driven, and the alternatives need to be understood. This means combining speed with agility; and acting without prejudice, bias or favour. This is critical for making the right decisions at the right time with and for the right people. Watch out for the following derailers: assumptions, bias & favour, predisposition, keeping decision making to yourself, managing for the status quo, and seeking perfection.

Implement and Evaluate

The key now is to not only implement your decision, but to carry people with you. You need to evaluate the outcomes; adjusting the decision and / or learning from the results. Take a moment (but only a moment) to reflect and ‘sense check’ the course of action you’ve chosen. You need to communicate to everyone affected in an engaging and inspiring way. Use both lead and lag measures to evaluate the outcomes of your decision. And don’t forget qualitative measures, which includes going back to where you started – debate and discussion.

Further Reading

The LARA Leadership Learning series consists of 10 short modules published as Kindle eBooks and Paperbacks on Amazon.They are organised against the Leader of Others leadership competencies. If you are a subscribers to Kindle Unlimited you can read these eBook for free.

On this Blog Chilcot Report: Decision Making Lessons for Leaders, my article from 2016 where I look at Judgement, Execution & Influence.

Problem Solving and Decision Making on the BusinessBalls website.

Leading authority on leadership and leadership development, author John Adair’s best seller on Amazon Decision Making and Problem Solving.

Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.