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May 7, 2024 5:26:00 PM

Smart Company op ed: Dr Ponnampalam on a new way to make better decisions

Johann Ponnampalam, PhD, shares three ways businesses can make better decisions to improve their bottom line.

Are you making good decisions? 

We recently surveyed more than 1,000 decision-makers at Australian businesses on the quality of their decision-making, and we found that poor decision-making is leading to increased business costs, a loss in profitability and a drop in sales.

Even with the best possible intentions and information, most business leaders aren’t clear on how to make better business decisions, leading to poor business outcomes and money left on the table. 

But by understanding the factors involved in quality decision-making, business leaders can make informed, objective, evidence-based decisions to gain a competitive advantage. 

Here’s how. 

Improving decision quality 

Tough economic conditions and the rapidly evolving technology landscape are putting additional pressure on the decisions made by businesses. 

Of those we surveyed, 92% agreed that decision quality has a significant link with their organisation’s success, because essentially every business is a collective of decision-makers, and no matter how big or small the decision, it impacts business output and outcomes.

Decision quality affects everything. Whether you’re running a large team, leading a startup or building your side hustle, every day is full of decisions. From deciding which product to launch to choosing which task on your to-do list to tackle first, the quality of your decisions has a knock-on effect on your business and its success. 

So how can we ensure we’re making good decisions?

The three ‘rights’

Most business decision-making takes into account three things: having the right information, assessed by the right people, at the right time.

On paper, this makes sense. But what this overlooks is that as humans making decisions, we are unconsciously biased — even when those decisions are made with the best possible intentions.

Unconscious decision processes have been hardwired over millions of years to ensure our safety and survival. So while making conservation decisions to ensure safety is sensible when survival is being threatened, these same evolutionary fear-based decisions don’t equate well to a business setting. 

Decision-making errors are often emotionally driven, irrational thought processes caused by the brain’s attempt to simplify complex information and ensure safety. 

We tend to have greater confidence in our abilities than we can justify, we avoid taking risks because of a fear of loss, and we tend to seek out, notice, recall and focus on information that supports our existing beliefs and biases. 


So most decision-makers will ignore unfamiliar ideas that might lead to superior decisions, even when considering the right information, people, and time in their decision-making process. 

A new approach to decision-making

When business is uncertain, it’s common to rely on familiar strategies to stimulate growth. We look to past data to understand what’s worked well previously to boost sales, trim expenses and streamline our operations. 

But exploring non-traditional ideas and solutions is essential to remain competitive, and this is where quality decision-making becomes especially important. 

Adopting a scientific approach to how decisions are made means taking into account the behavioural factors that might be influencing our decision-making, so that we can make informed, objective decisions aligned with organisational goals, and unhindered by personal bias. 

So considering the right information, with the right people, at the right time, as well as understanding human behavioural factors involved in decision-making, leads to quality decisions. 

Better decisions for better outcomes

Nearly 100% of the leaders we surveyed agreed that quality decision-making would lead to better outcomes, and almost everyone (more than 4 out of 5 people) recognised that even the most experienced decision-makers can make bad decisions. 

So when it comes to making decisions within your organisation, consider the decision context and account for behavioural factors that might be at play. 

This is true for every person within the organisation making decisions, whether they’re a senior leader making investment decisions, an HR manager making hiring decisions, or a customer service representative deciding how to solve a problem for a customer. 

By systematically embedding better decision-making processes and stress-testing the human factors influencing business decisions, you’ll be setting your business up to remain competitive in challenging times.

If better decisions are the key to better outcomes, can your business afford to be making poor decisions right now?

Dr Johann Ponnampalam is the founder of behaviour change consultancy Decision Design. 

Read the full article at 



About Decision Design White paper  

To gain a deeper, behavioural science-led understanding of how Australian organisations prioritise, perform on and can improve decision quality, Decision Design conducted an anonymous, nationally representative market study among n=1,182 professional decision-makers. Data was collected between 15 January and 1 February 2024 using an unbranded, online measurement questionnaire. Study respondents needed to work full-time or part-time to qualify and the sample included a mix of sole traders and professional decision-makers from small (<20 employees), medium (20-199 employees) and large (200+ employees) organisations.  View the findings at