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Strategic Decision Making: How Do We Know When We Make the Right Decision?

Strategic Decision Making: How Do We Know When We Make the Right Decision?
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By James Lint
Senior Editor for InCyberDefense and Contributor, In Homeland Security 

We have all had to make quick decisions or been forced to make one we did not want to make. We ask ourselves, “Did I get it correct? Did others think I was correct?”

Ray O’Hara, Executive Vice President of Atlanta-based security company AS Solutions, gave a talk on strategic decision making at the recent International Security Conference & Exposition West in Las Vegas.ISC West logo

What Is a Decision and What Is Right?

O’Hara discussed what it means to be right in decision making. He advised the audience to consider the questions, “What are we trying to accomplish? What are we doing right now? Is this my decision to make?” O’Hara also noted that good decisions must be based on pre-determined, long-term goals and short-term objectives.

Define Your Scope of Risk during Decision Making

There is always risk in making a decision. However, O’Hara said that these questions help you evaluate the risk:

  • Who owns the risk or who has the authority to make decisions?
  • What risk are managers willing to commit resources to find a solution?
  • Why are managers unwilling to commit resources to other risks?

Managers will be willing to accept some risk events but not others.

According to O’Hara, defining the risk is a key decision that managers and advisors must make to gain additional resources and mitigate that risks. Good managers have a global view of their company and the outside elements that can affect risk.

O'Hara Decision making
O’Hara giving his talk on decision making.

What Is an Informed Decision-Making Process?

O’Hara said that first, “You must learn and understand the key objectives that create the path for accomplishing your goals. Second, you’ll need to predict the circumstances under which you will most likely follow this path and think about other considerations.” These considerations include:

  • The decisions that will lead to success
  • The decisions you can predict for these circumstances
  • Issues to take to key stakeholders/managers or risk owners
  • Conversations with decision makers to decide which decisions are the best and to gain their bigger picture view
  • The next best solution in case decisions change

When Is It Not Your Decision to Make?

“There are many decisions that are not yours to make,” O’Hara pointed out. The military often teaches initiative and how to jump in and do something.

But is that always correct? Is that the best use of senior managers’ experience?

O’Hara suggested that managers should train their staff standard operating procedures. Employees should learn the best time to bring in management. At times, he said, it can also be beneficial to request information from senior managers before making a decision that is in your lane.

Security professionals, for instance, might take a current news item and think how they would react to a similar incident. A specific example would be mapping out reactions if an active shooter incident, such as the recent Florida high school shooting, happened at their work site.

They would face the questions, “What would you do? Who would you contact? And at what point do you bring others into the decision-making discussion?”

O’Hara recommended revisiting these types of conversations with risk owners and managers. He advised, “Ask them to help you understand at which point you no longer have authority. Add these situational aspects to your decision map and work to understand the circumstances when you would reach these limitations.”

O’Hara said this process ensures you and your risk owners are on the same page. It also creates a partnership up and down the chain of command and is applicable in many organizations and walks of life.

Understand Your Risks in Decision Making

He advised the audience to do gap analysis and look for problems before they occur. His recommendations included thinking about what can be learned from recent events and considering what you could do better because of your tools, situation or organization.

According to O’Hara, always document decisions. That is one of the best reasons to map out your process because you may have to justify your strategic decision when it comes to making even bigger decisions. Documenting how you came to your decision based on the risk involved will help you make a coherent case for that decision when necessary.

Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 49th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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