Decision-Making Styles

This literature outlines two key models of decision-making style (rational versus intuitive, and autocratic versus group decision-making approaches) and considers their implications and those factors influencing differences in decision-making styles.

Adapted from: Encyclopedia of Management Theory Decision-Making Styles (Pg 188-189) By Eric H. Kessler

Decision-making style is an individual’s preferred way of perceiving and responding when faced with a problem-solving situation. This represents a combination of a person’s innate personality-driven preferences with his or her learned and habitual responses that have been developed over time through the course of the person's life and experience.

Scholarly interest in decision-making styles has its origin in the recognition that individuals can exhibit a particular or dominant behavior in the way they approach decision making, and that an understanding of this and the factors influencing such biases and preferences can help improve the quality and effectiveness of individual’s decision making.

Rational vs Intuitive Decision-Making Styles: The Distinction

A long-standing distinction is made between rational and intuitive decision-making styles.

Rational Approach — A rational approach is typified by making decisions in a deliberate and logical manner. This tends to be linked to a structured decision methodologies and reliance on existing concepts and cognitive categories to filter data.

Intuitive Approach — An intuitive individual is seen as working on the basis of a hunch or impression of an issue or situation. This is associated with iterative and trial-and-error decision-making approaches, where the individual’s focus tends to be on the stimulus for the decision itself.

Interrelatedness of Both Approaches

Much of the rhetoric on organizational decision-making tends to focus on the development of and mechanisms for rational approaches, but there is a growing recognition that decision makers combine rational and intuitive approaches to make effective decisions.

A major financial investment tends to be associated with need for rationality, whereas strong emotional investment tends to be linked with an intuitive bias. Hence, significant decisions such as purchasing a house that contain both financial and emotional elements tend to combine both approaches.

Factors Linked to Rational versus Intuitive Preferences

The availability of information and access to existing knowledge are likely to be significant in influencing the choice between rational and intuitive approaches. Other aspects of the decision environment such as the availability of time and significance of the decision (in individual and organizational terms) are also significant.

Organizational factors identified as affecting the choice to use differing styles include structure, culture, and communication. In addition, individual differences also play a part. An individual’s information-processing capacity is heavily linked to rational versus intuitive preferences, as has the extent to which individuals need structure and tolerate ambiguity. Personality, perception, experiences, and attitudes to involvement and risk have all also been argued as significant factors influencing preferred decision-making approaches.

A number of factors are therefore seen as significant in influencing decision-making styles.

Divergent Approaches

Other work has extended this rational-intuitive model are discussed below.

Dependency Approach — Another approach identified as significant by a number of authors is dependency.

Dependent decision makers are seen as requiring the advice, direction, and support of others when making decisions. Although this can be a dysfunctional style, in that it can manifest itself as a reliance on others, it also can be seen positively as a bias toward involving and engaging others in the decision-making process and is therefore an approach that supports employee involvement and engagement.

Avoidant versus Spontaneous Approaches — Susanne Scott and Reginald Bruce suggest that individuals in their decision-making styles can, additionally, be either avoidant or spontaneous.

An avoidant individual would typically seek to postpone or avoid making a decision.

A spontaneous decision maker is likely to be impulsive and prone to making “snap” or “spur of the moment” decisions.

Spontaneity is a trait typically valued by organizations, but this is not without the risks associated with undue haste, and while an avoidant approach is also potentially dysfunctional, it also perhaps represents a more considered approach to decision making than the focus on spontaneity encouraged by many organizations.

Autocratic versus Group Decision-Making Approaches

Victor Vroom and his coworkers have developed a different perspective that focuses on decision participation styles and suggests a continuum from autocratic approaches at one end to a group decision making style at the other.

Autocratic Approach — An autocratic style involves minimal input from subordinates (as providers of information), with a manager making a lone decision on the basis of the information available at that time.

Group Decision-Making Approach — A group approach is predicated on a high level of subordinate involvement, with the manager delegating the decision to a group. The group then becomes responsible for making that decision through consensus.

Between these approaches sits a consultative approach. This involves sharing a decision with subordinates (either individually as a group) to get their views on the decision, but significantly, the decision remains the responsibility of the individual manager and may or may not represent the views expressed by subordinates through consultation.

Again group and consultative styles support employee engagement and involvement. Although the nature of the decision and constraints such as time might affect the selection of these choices, a manager’s approach will also be influenced by his or her personality, individual preferences, and experiences.

As we have seen, the preceding outline indicates that when describing decision-making styles, there exist a variety of approaches and a number of self-assessment tools exist that allow individuals to surface and explore their decision-making style preferences.

Different styles should not be viewed as better or worse than each other. Alternatives represent a range of attitudes and approaches; individuals may have a tendency to an approach but adopt different styles depending on the decision, its context, and other significant factors. What is important is that individuals recognize the implications of the styles they adopt.