Decision-making in business is a fundamental skill. Getting a decision wrong can not only damage your personal reputation, it could have a significant impact on business performance.

Anyone with a relatively senior position should take their decision-making responsibilities very seriously. The good news is that effective decision-making is less about ability and flair, and more about establishing robust processes.

Here’s how to improve your decision-making at work…

1. Be rigorous.  

Take every decision seriously and consider the implications of making a wrong call. The first step is to identify how important a decision might be. Deciding where to take a client to lunch is clearly of lesser consequence than deciding on your future strategy.  But even the lunch venue could be an important choice. A restaurant with bad service could impact on the atmosphere for your business lunch.

2. Identify the decision. 

Be clear about what needs to be decided. You may find there are multiple decisions to be made. For example, you need to decide between two strong job candidates. But one is requesting to work from home one day a week, while the other wants to change their start and finish times. Not only do you have to decide which candidate is best for the job, but you may also need to decide what flexible working practices would work best in your team.

3. Gather information. 

This is an essential step. Making decisions based on gut feel, without following a process, can be very risky. It’s important to understand the specific details of each option, with facts and figures wherever possible. Today, data is thought to be a business’ most valuable commodity because it informs good decision-making. Gather as much data as possible before looking at the options.

4. Explore the alternatives. 

Give serious attention to the various options you have in making the decision. Try not to dismiss anything too quickly. Assess the pros and cons of each option, using the data you gathered in step 3. Some decisions require systematic thinking and there are a number of models and tools you can consider, such as a decision matrix where you score each option against a number of criteria.

5. Make the choice – and validate it. 

Step 4 should have helped you to reach the best outcome. Now you should look back at the final decision objectively and make sure that you feel you can explain why and how you made it. This can prove very important if, for any reason, your decision is questioned in the future. If appropriate, talk through the decision and how you made with your team or your director, to gain support for it.

6. Reflect. 

This is a step that is often neglected but is vital in helping you learn from the past. Look back at the decision after a few months have gone by. With hindsight, was it the right move? What can you learn about the process and your own role in making that decision? What could you do differently next time?

Senior leaders are called ‘decision-makers’ for a reason. Some choices are easy; others can seem impossible. But adopting a thorough and careful approach should help you make the right move – and be able to defend it if needed.