Crucial Decisions: Leadership in Policymaking and Crisis Management

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9780029161616: Crucial Decisions: Leadership in Policymaking and Crisis Management

It was poor policymaking by corporate heads that brought Lockheed and Chrysler to the brink of bankruptcy; it was the failure of top managers to respond to new market conditions in the early 1980s that led to the demise of hundreds of corporations, both large and small; and it was "quick-and-easy" decisions by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan that resulted in serious mistakes in foreign policy. Now, Irving Janis, one of the world's leading authorities on decisionmaking, presents a comprehensive analysis that shows corporate executives, government and organizational policymakers, and general managers how to avoid making critical errors and ensure quality in making vital decisions.

Using cogent evidence and illustrations from studies of top-level policymakers in government, business, and public welfare organizations, Janis shows how the likelihood of failure is substantially reduced if sound procedures of information search, appraisal, and planning are used. He alerts executives to the preconditions, precipitating events, and catalysts that create situations where the most dangerous error of decisionmaking -- relying on simplistic decision rules -- often occurs. For issues perceived as routine or unimportant, Janis contends that policymakers typically resort to a "quick-and-easy" or "seat-of-the-pants" approach to decisionmaking. When that judgment is objectively incorrect, the results can be disastrous. Similarly, critical mistakes are made by policymakers coping with problems they regard as serious when they give priority to constraints which result in failure to carry out the crucial steps of effective problemsolving.

By following the four essential steps outlined by Janis,policymakers can adopt "vigilant problem solving," the high-quality procedural strategy for arriving at policy decisions When policymakers utilize the vigilant problem solving approach, they are likely to take full account of the various constraints involved in a situation and may even seek out additional information about them. Consequently, the risk of failure, especially in critical situations, is substantially lowered.

Janis also details how executives can deal with challenging threats and opportunities and reveals what specific leadership practices are likely to improve crisis management. A profile of twenty leadership practices will help managers function as effective executives who practice and promote high-quality decisionmaking on issues that affect the vital interests of the organization. A set of seventeen characteristics for selecting the best personnel for policymaking positions is also provided to aid managers in reducing their sources of error. Janis' highly acclaimed decisionmaking strategies give a powerful advantage to managers in all kinds of organizations, from the smallest family business to the largest corporation and government agency.

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Review:

Robert L. Kahn Institute for Social Research The University of Michigan "Crucial Decisions" is a remarkable book -- remarkable in its analyses of 19 international crises, in its comprehensive model of decision-making, and in its lucid presentation of so great a body of empirical research and theory. This book deserves a readership to match its breadth -- and that means academics of many disciplines, managers and those who teach them, and people at all levels of government.

About the Author:

Irving L. Janis is adjunct professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale, and author of two landmark books: Groupthink and Decision Making with Leon Mann.

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