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Decisions, Decisions…


by Abby Welsh, SIOP Intern

The latest book in SIOP’s Organizational Frontiers Series explores the impact of decision making and judgment and offers advice for improving both

From the moment we wake up, we make decisions. We decide what to wear and what to eat for breakfast. But the decision making doesn’t stop there.

In the workplace, employees also make decisions and judgments on a daily basis that have the potential to affect their lives, their families, their work organizations, and sometimes even the broader society in which they live. There is no way around it, but there are ways to improve how a person makes a judgment or decision.

Reeshad Dalal, chair and associate professor in the Department of Psychology at George Mason University believes the newest SIOP Organizational Frontiers book, Judgment and Decision Making at Work (Routledge, 2013), can provide extensive knowledge to those who seek guidance when making decisions or judgments.

“Judgment and decision-making topics aren’t well represented in undergraduate-level I-O psychology textbooks,” Dalal explained. “These topics aren’t well represented at the SIOP conference either, although this may be changing. Nor are they well represented in most I-O journals or in white papers by I-O-oriented consulting firms.”

Because of this, Dalal, along with Scott Highhouse, a Bowling Green State University psychology professor, and Eduardo Salas, Trustee Chair and Pegasus professor of Psychology at the University of Central Florida, made the decision to produce this book, which seemed like a no-brainer.

“I think there’s great scope for us to provide evidence-based suggestions regarding how people can make better decisions in organizations and regarding how organizations can restructure decision-making processes to yield better decisions,” Dalal explained.

This book begins to remedy the situation by facilitating cross-pollination between the disciplines of organizational psychology and decision making in the workplace.

“The workplace is a key domain where decisions matter,” Dalal added. “In my view, I-O psychologists need to make sure that when policy makers, the media, and so on think about the workplace and the critical judgments and decisions contained in that important domain, they come to I-O psychologists rather than to, say, economists. We need to take our seat at the table.”

Dalal said there are differences between decision making and judgments of which people may not be aware . For example, a decision would be deciding to take office supplies home for your personal and family use. “After all, your kids could really use those pretty highlighters for their schoolwork,” he added. Examples of a major decision would be deciding to report a coworker for sexual harassment. quitting a job, shutting down the assembly line after hearing a suspicious sound, or deciding that an overdue project isn’t worth staying late at work to complete. On the other hand, a judgment would entail providing an opinion, such as forecasting sales for the next year or rating the performance of your subordinates, Dalal said.

“This may be controversial, but I’d argue that a very large percentage of behavior in the workplace can be thought of as the result of judgments and decisions,” Dalal explained. “Sure, there is behavior that’s purely ‘routinized’; and, sure, people sometimes find themselves in prohibitively ‘strong’ situations where there is no freedom of decision and action. Still, that leaves a very large chunk of work behavior as potentially falling within the purview of judgment and decision making.”

Judgment and Decision Making at Work breaks down the two different research methods that are used, on judgment and decision-making: laboratory and naturalistic.

“Researchers who study heuristics and biases—and who tend to do most of their work in the laboratory—tend to be most interested in why experts perform so poorly relative to, say, normative models,” Dalal explained. “Researchers who fall within the “naturalistic” decision-making tradition--and who do most of their work in the field--tend to be most interested in why experts perform so well relative to, say, novices.”

They believe that both types of research methods are necessary because I-O psychologists need the causal certainty that comes from laboratory experiments, and they need the generalizability that comes from field research.

The book covers core areas with the aim of explaining how judgment and decision-making perspectives can benefit research and practice in topic areas.

For example, the book includes chapters on performance appraisal, self-assessment, employee selection, individual differences, job choice, goals, leadership, pay, combining information and judgments, teams, multiteam systems, stress, accelerating expertise, and assessing decision-making competence, Dalal said.

The book offers advice for each topic a chapter discusses. For instance, as Dalal pointed out, the chapter by Bonaccio and Van Swol suggests that, if a decision is made by a group, it would be best if the group: (a) is composed of members who are all experts but have different areas of expertise, and (b) resists the urge to emphasize information possessed by all the members and instead emphasizes the unique information that each member possesses.

“I’d be surprised if there were a topic in I-O psychology that couldn’t benefit from judgment and decision-making perspectives,” Dalal added.

The authors agree that the workplace is a great venue for discovering additional heuristics and biases in order to figure out how to prevent them. They also believe it is a great place for discovering how expertise can facilitate good decision making.

“We hope there is more to come on this topic from our organizational science and practice,” Dalal said. “I don’t think knowledge needs to proceed only from the field of judgment and decision making to the field of I-O; rather, I think knowledge can and should proceed in the other direction too.”

Those who wish to find out more about ways to make better decisions and judgments can purchase Judgment and Decision Making at Work in the SIOP store here.