Rational Decision Making Model

What is a decision? The word decision can be defined as, “the act of reaching a conclusion or making up one’s mind” (American Heritage, 2000). Essentially, a decision is a choice that an individual or a group of people makes. A decision can be a single action, an entire process, or even just a single spoken word or gesture. Decision-making is one of the defining characteristics of leadership. Making decisions is what managers and leaders are paid to do, and is an integral part of their day’s duties. The affects of decisions can range from minor in consequence to life or career threatening.

Regardless of the consequences, it is important to understand when a decision needs to be made and the best way to make it. This paper will focus on the Rational Model for decision-making. The first section will describe the Rational Model for decision-making. It will identify all the steps of the Rational Model and what they entail. The second section will detail a recent job-related issue I was involved with. I will discuss the issue and show how the Rational Model of decision-making was effectively utilized to reach a decision.

Decision Making Model – The Rational Model A decision is a solution chosen from among alternatives. Decisions must be made when a person is faced with a problem or an issue that needs resolution. Decision-making is the process of selecting a course of action (ideas or alternatives) that will solve a problem and resolve any issues. Decision-making models provide people with a method for making decisions. There are numerous decision-making methods people utilize today. Some are meant to be all encompassing, meaning they can be utilized in many different environments.

Others are specific to issues or industries, such as technology, psychology, and mathematics. Regardless of the problem, there is usually a decision-making process that is best suited for any situation, and it is up to us to find it. The Rational Model Definition According to the School of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University, the Rational Model of decision-making, “requires comprehensive problem definition, an exhaustive search for alternatives, and thorough data collection and analysis.

According to this model, information exchange and communication are unbiased, and accurate decision alternatives are intentionally chosen to bring maximum benefits to the individual, organization or group” (2003, p. 3). Essentially, the Rational Model requires people to have a clear understanding of the actual problem. Unless the issue is clearly established, the Rational Model can be ineffective. This model also incorporates extensive research, so that all options or alternatives can be brought before the decision-maker(s). The Rational Model is a step-by-step decision-making model.

Depending on the source of definition for the Rational Model, it consists of anywhere from four to nine steps that must be taken to reach a comprehensive, educated and effective solution. Basically, the Rational Model can be broken down into four basic steps, which can be further diluted to create the additional three to five steps. Step 1 – Define the Problem The first step of the Rational Model is to define the problem. As stated in the definition, in order for the Rational Model to be effective, the problem or issue needs to be clearly understood. It is imperative to truly understand to source of a problem, not just the symptoms.

The MBA program at the University of Houston Victoria provides this example, “if a member of your staff is impolite to a client on the phone, the problem may not be that your staff member is impolite–it may be that he needs customer service training, or that he is having difficulty coping with the stress that his professional responsibilities involve” (2005). Essentially, the virus needs to be treated, not the cough it causes. Step 2 – Generate Ideas/Alternatives The second step to the Rational Method is the generation of a list of possible solutions or alternatives.

The Rational Method requires that all possible solutions to a problem be discovered. No solutions should ever be evaluated or discarded at this point of the decision-making process. This process requires extensive research, and multiple resources and parties should be involved in the generation of this list. This search should continue until all possible solutions are presented or, “until the cost of search outweighs the value of the added information” (Penn State, 2003, p. 3). Step 3 – Evaluate Ideas/Alternatives The third step of the Rational Model is to assess and evaluate all the ideas and alternatives collected in Step 2.

This is the point in the Rational Decision making model where all the advantages and disadvantages for each alternative are weighed. Factors such as the ability to implement, the completeness of the solution, the amenability to all parties, the required time and cost are all to be considered. It is important to spend the time here to identify the best all around option as opposed to the quick and easy solution. Step 4 – Implement Solution The fourth and final step of the Rational Model for decision-making is to implement the chosen solution(s).

Once a solution has been selected, a plan to implement that solution must be developed and rolled-out. This is a very important step as without the successful implementation of the solution; all the work done to find the solution is wasted. It is imperative here to get the buy-in of all parties and stakeholders that are involved with, or affected by, the solution. Often considered as a separate last step, the final piece to Step 4 is the monitoring, or the follow-up of the solution. It is imperative to check the status and success of any implemented solution.

This will help to identify any needs for adjustment and provide further input for future decision-making opportunities. Job-Related Example In my current position with the On-site Services Division of W. W. Grainger, Inc. , I am actively involved in Kaizen events sponsored by our clients. Essentially, the purpose of these events is to solve a problem or lean a process. Recently I was involved in an event with a client that utilizes clean room garments. At the time of the event there were no effective controls in place to regulate and track the usage of these garments.

The client in question was loosing close to $75K a year in lost and damaged garment charges. Obviously, this was a significant problem that required a long term and effective resolution. In these Kaizen events, a form of the Rational Decision Making process is utilized. The first task of the event team is to map out any and all processes involved and identify all the symptoms. This way the root cause of the problem can be uncovered and clearly defined. In this case the issue was that employees were misusing and damaging the garments, losing them and even “allocating” the garments for home use.

The next step is to research and consult subject matter experts in order to collect any and all possible solutions. In this case, clean room, supply chain, garment and electronic distribution experts were all consulted in an effort to seize every potential option. In this case, the options were incredibly varied and ranged every where from bar-coding and tracking all garments to replacing them with disposable garments to methods of controlled distribution and collection. As it is in the Rational Method of decision-making, the third step in these Kaizen events is to analyze the alternatives.

The pros and cons of each potential solution are weighed. Factors such as ease of use, effectiveness, reality of implementation and cost vs. benefit are all evaluated. In this particular instance, the sheer cost of the lost garments was enough to warrant a very strict, but slightly more expensive system of control. A system of electronic point-of-use garment exchange machines (similar to those used by hospitals for scrubs), was the eventual decided upon solution. The final step to any Kaizen event is the report-out of the event results and the implementation of the solution.

In the case of the garments, the machines were leased, the software tailored and the hardware put into place. At this point training occurred, and then the new process went “live”. The results have been closely monitored ever since. To date, this process has been running for three months. For that period of time lost garment charges were just below five hundred dollars. This is a projected annual lost garment cost of under $2,000, and decrease of over $73K in cost annually. Conclusion Decision-making is an every day part of both a person’s business and personal life.

The size and the consequences of these decisions can vary greatly, but all of them are required to be made. Decision-making models can help provide a person a process with which he or she can engage to help reach a decision. One of these models is the Rational Model. The benefit of utilizing the Rational Model to reach a decision is that it is easier to justify and defend a decision, due to the complexity and the thoroughness of the processes involved. The Rational Model is useful for developing a strong business case for why a specific course of action should be considered anytime a major business, or even personal decision must be made.


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