How many schools teach you how to make decisions? You may get a job where your employer has to, like joining the armed forces but that's not everyone's choice or option. By the time most of us face the big decisions, we are already set in the bad habits we've developed by simply living long enough.

In 2011 I created Goal Modelling (which eventually morphed into Benefit of Experience) as a toolkit for young people who are facing their first big decisions with not a lot of practical help. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised that there are plenty of not so young people out there who would also appreciate a few pointers. If you're in new territory where people want your decision, this one's for you.

‘Public Engagement’ is a big thing these days. Firms want to involve their customers, Government wants the public and Service Providers want Service Users. You may be a patient or service user representative in a public sector programme, a workers’ rep on a company Board, co-opted committee member or non-exec. You are likely to be brought into an established business group to add ‘life experience’ to the business expertise.

They will all be keen to treat you fairly, to get you to play a full and active part. Quite right, you’re not there just to be rolled out as the token user representative. You will be given the opportunity to influence business decisions. However, they may not have the time or funds to bring you up to speed with the specialist expertise in the room. And you might not have the time, patience or interest to let them. You’ve got better things to do with your life. What you need is something constructive to contribute.

Vanilla base, bring your own toppings

The Starter Kit is for people who are facing complex business decisions for the first time. It contains a basic, practical set of tools and advice on making good business and personal decisions.

There is lots of advice out there. I just don’t think it’s pointed at people like you. The many Business Studies textbooks are for established managers and Business Studies students. The stuff on the self-help shelves is very focussed on the author's single issue; being creative, green, emotionally intelligent, etc. There’s not much that offers generic decision making skills.

The whole point of my approach is that it gives you skills that work for any decision. You bring your own beliefs, morals, intentions and history into the mix. After all, that’s the ‘life experience’ that made them choose you in the first place.

The Starter Kit

Deadlines

Someone wants you to do something big, so what’s the first thing you do? Plan to make your decision. It’s always worth taking the time to pause and think before you jump in with a decision.

Decisions

The quick decision is often made at a time of crisis. The best examples come from the military. They get to make urgent decisions in very stressful situations, so they’ve developed a pretty good method to help them cope.

Setting Goals

The purpose behind any course of action has a direct and significant effect on the way it is undertaken. The reasons why you do something will affect the way you do it. 

There are some articles in the library that go into more depth:

Selecting Benefits

We’ve looked at the goals. Now we have to put some value to them, to find out what it’s all worth. It’s about choosing things that add value, not take it away.

Workshop

If there’s more than just you involved, then this will require some serious workshop / brainstorm time. It’s not the sort of thing that can be done in an hour or two. It’s worth putting aside a few sessions to go over this. This is likely to be the start of a major piece of work and it would be a shame to put so much effort into something that’s heading off in the wrong direction to begin with.

Validating Benefits

In the same way as we can have various reasons for the same outcome and find they affect how it is brought about, we can also affect the process through the way we describe the end state. Only a very confident (or deluded) chess player would describe the endgame in terms of where the pieces will be. Yet we are often very granular in describing our programme objectives.

Mapping

The map shows the chains of cause and effect between the resources we use, the things we do and the goals we achieve. In simple terms, it’s the link between means, ways and ends.Some networks are very simple, others are complex. They overlap with our other networks and the networks of those around us.

Practical Application

Having looked at some useful tools and techniques, how do you use them in practice? Here are some suggestions that work in an organisation and at a personal level.

Lessons Learned

This site has described some tools, techniques and models of the world around you. As I said in the introduction, they will help but they’re not guaranteed. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve tried them out in practice.

References and Sources of Information

Benefits Management draws on a number of other management methods, tools and techniques. Some are referenced below. The list is by no means definitive but serves as a suggestion of areas to consider.