How to Make Better Quick Decisions

We all face challenges that require decisions, whether an immediate choice where there is limited time to react or a long-term process involving significant data. Top performers are able to make solid decisions consistently. The ability to make effective choices is a valued skill that must be sharpened regularly.

Simply defined, decision-making is the ability to choose between two or more different courses of action, often associated with setting a direction or confronting a problem. However, be forewarned that the process used to make effective decisions are NOT the same for those that need to be made immediately versus decisions to be made over time.

There are two dominate decision models in practice today for short-term and long-term decision-making, respectively, identified by these acronyms – DODAR (favored by the Aviation Industry) and the Kepner-Tregoe Matrix (used when there is a lot of data to process).

Making solid quick decisions is a learned skill, reinforced with continual training. The Aviation Industry has adopted the DODAR acronym as a way to assist pilots to remember the decision process when faced with emergencies. Other industries have adapted this process, such as Healthcare, but some with mixed results. For example, an emergency in an operating theater is not the same as those occurring in the cockpit.

Improving Quick Decisions

Our focus for this blog is improving our quick decision process by adopting the DODAR acronym. Once again, to be fully transparent, there are a number of other quick-decision acronyms to consider, such as RAPID (Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, and Decide) or DECIDE (Define, Establish, Consider, Identify, Develop and Implement, Evaluate). Both acronyms are ways to remember the associated process, but they aren’t necessarily defining the order, unlike DODAR.

What is DODAR?

The DODAR process defines the decision process and the order used by pilots during pre-flight preparations, as well as in emergencies. Often the letter “T” for time is inserted in the beginning as a reminder that options change due to associated urgency. Outside of fire or a medical emergency, most issues allow for more time to decide, which is always desirable.

The DODAR acronym represents the following words used to describe the decision process. Each word is a reminder for the pilot to reassess their course of action and their next step. An attempt is made to generalize these steps so it’s easier to understand how they can be applied to any industry and organization:

  • Diagnosis — Begin by identifying and understanding the problem. Are there time constraints to consider? There is a pilot’s “golden rule” that is always followed: aviate, navigate, and then communicate. Often, when a problem occurs, we tend to respond first with an acknowledgement email, text or phone call, rather than assessing the issues.
  • Options — Continue by evaluating courses of actions. Remember that problems, along with time constraints, determine what options are viable. Start eliminating options and identify those that provide an immediate remedy. Keep in mind that sometimes, a solution is temporary, designed to allow time to craft a permanent resolution.
  • Decision — Once evaluations have been completed, the severity of the issues understood, and the best possible options identified, a decision must be made. When a decision involves a team, keep them in the loop. While getting consensus from team members is appropriate, the team leader must make that final decision. Committing to a course of action requires the leader not to “second guess” their decision, which can create undesirable results if allowed to occur.
  • Act — With the decision made, it’s time for action. Steps to initiate and complete the identified tasks becomes primary. When a team is involved, the leader assigns appropriate tasks to be completed. This is the correct time to communicate in brief, non-technical terms to customers involved.
  • Review — Take a moment and re-evaluate the situation once more. This provides an opportunity to reassess the actions already taken, steps about to happen, as well as ensure nothing has been forgotten. This step is a quick, self-check to ensure conditions haven’t become worse by actions already taken.

The DODAR model is designed to make quick decisions. As the chart below shows, there are three course of actions. Familiar problems are easy to resolve since they have occurred before, at least one time. In those occasions where there are multiple options to remedy the problem, a single action must be selected and followed.

The challenge is when an issue occurs that hasn’t happened before. This requires a solution to be created, even if temporary.

Call to Action — Practice Makes Perfect

Pilots constantly train using the DODAR model to assess situations and determine the best course of action. So, why should top performers do less? Preparation for emergencies is essential in today’s business environment. Organizations need to be flexible, and their employees nimble, ready to adapt to changing conditions.

Start by writing out each word in the DODAR acronym on a sheet of paper, allowing space to write corresponding details, when a challenge occurs. Leave room on top to describe the issue or problem. Keep this sheet on your desk, ready to be used at the first opportunity to practice your quick-decision skills. It doesn’t have to be an emergency, just a situation that requires a choice to be made.

When the opportunity occurs to practice, start by describing the problem. Then write out details for each step. Initially, the process of writing things out may feel slow and cumbersome. But with more practice, the process becomes natural. TIP: Using a real sheet on your desk is a reminder to practice the DODAR model. Eventually, a physical document will not be necessary, unless you desire to keep a historical record. In this case, a digital document is appropriate.

The key to success is to practice. Don’t let an emergency catch you unprepared. Decision-making is a “learned” skill, essential if you desire to become a top performer. Make learning a lifestyle, rather than an event.

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