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Stuart Duff

Pearn Kandola

Partner and Head of Development

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Reasoned judgements: 5 steps to help avoid bad decision making


In all walks of life, whether it be business, politics, at home or in our social circles, we instinctively look to our leaders and role models to make important decisions.

Experience and industry knowledge are undoubtedly useful resources that we can use to guide us through the process. But it can be easy to forget that the ability to step back, analyse a situation and use that information to make a reasoned judgement is a skill that can, and should, be practiced and honed.

Tough decisions

One of the best examples of a major decision going badly wrong in recent times is Theresa May’s now-infamous call for a snap election, which backfired in spectacular fashion when voters went to the polls in June.

With a 21 point lead in the polls, it’s easy to see why Theresa May saw the call for a general election as a well-reasoned judgement. Her approval ratings were high and the Labour party was portrayed in traditional media channels as being in disarray.

By leaning on the message that the Conservatives are “the only party able to provide the strong and stable leadership required to guide the UK through Brexit,” the Prime Minister decided that the odds were good enough to risk the keys to Number 10.

However, when the results came through and the Prime Minister was faced with the harsh reality of not increasing her existing majority, it was clear that she had significantly misjudged the situation.

Of course, Theresa May is far from the only politician in recent times to act on a judgement that seemed well reasoned, only to find the outcome is very different from their expectation.

David Cameron, for example, promised a referendum on membership of the European Union as part of his manifesto, safe in the assumption that there was no chance of a “leave” vote. Just a year after winning the 2015 general election, the UK had voted for Brexit and the Prime Minister announced his resignation on the steps of Downing Street.

Likewise, Tony Blair’s decisions in the build up to the Iraq war, which have been recently scrutinised in the Chilcot Inquiry, have been found to be “far from satisfactory.”

The process for reasoned judgement

When advising business leaders on how to make a reasoned judgement, we would encourage a process of using all of the available information to weigh the pros and cons of alternative options, in order to select a course of action.

The process begins when we first become aware of the need to take action, but are unsure of the best choice. The outcome should always be a final decision.

We recommend that all leaders have a go at using the following framework, regardless of whether the decision to be made is large or small. Treating the act of making a judgement as a step-by-step process can be a powerful way of breaking down what might seem like a complicated decision, and over time these steps become more familiar and fluid in decision making.

1 Framing

This is the information stage of making a judgement. Clarify the purpose of the judgment and gather as much information as possible, such as who will be affected, who will make the decision and what knowledge or expertise is required.

In my opinion, this is where Theresa May fell short. She considered some of the variables, such as her lead in the opinion polls, the fact that young people – typically Labour voters – hadn’t turned out in force for a general election in decades and the perceived weakness of the Labour party. She then made a judgement that the British public saw her as the only safe pair of hands to tackle Brexit.

Communication is key, especially when the judgement that you have arrived upon affects others.

However, she failed to grasp the impact of a struggling health and education system, spiralling rental costs and an inflated housing market, alongside Jeremy Corbyn’s growing popularity. Had she given more thought and weight to the factors working against her, there is a good chance that she would not have called the election.

2 Deciding

It’s important to make a clear decision on how the judgement will be made. Using the available ideas and data, negotiate and prioritise the implementation stage to arrive at a clear judgement.

This is the part of the process where David Cameron fell short. With his hands tied by a mandate in his electoral manifesto, the decision to call a referendum on the EU was effectively taken out of his hands.

From there, Cameron was on the back foot, launching a desperate campaign to convince the British public of the damage of a Brexit vote.

3 Communicating

Communication is key, especially when the judgement that you have arrived upon affects others. Summarise the process that allowed you to reach a decision and communicate this to all involved.

This is where Tony Blair’s decision to enter Iraq ultimately failed, with the Chilcot Inquiry finding that the former Prime Minister “wasn’t straight with the nation.” Communication is a crucial part of decision making, and Tony Blair has shown that failure to keep all parties informed can have dire consequences.

4 Implementing

Once you have settled upon a course of action, identify the actions required to implement it, as well as the method for reporting the success of the judgement upon its completion.

When you demonstrate effective judgement, you are simply making rational, realistic and informed decisions, based on consideration of all of the facts and alternative options.

The campaign that May ran upon was plagued with backlash from the public, with criticisms of both her manifesto and her delivery coming in thick and fast. While she did indeed implement a plan, she failed to anticipate that it wouldn’t be the plan that the electorate wanted to see, and flex accordingly.

5  Evaluating

Finally, take the time to analyse the outcome of the judgement, so that you can learn for future reference from successes and, indeed, failures.

I’m sure that this stage of the process is still ongoing behind the doors of Downing Street. For Theresa May, David Cameron, Tony Blair and countless other politicians, there are sobering lessons to be learned about considering all of the variables before putting a decision into motion.

When you demonstrate effective judgement, you are simply making rational, realistic and informed decisions, based on consideration of all of the facts and alternative options.

The concept may seem simple, yet reasoned judgement plays an important part in many professions and is a skill that we believe all leaders and managers – prime ministers included – can learn.


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for the article,
    Thanks for the article, Stuart. In my experience, problems are created when the wrong solution is applied for the problem. In some cases it’s not diagnosing the reason for the problem.

    When I used to be in H.R., managers would approach me with a ‘I’ve got a performance issue with Fred. What do I do?’ scenario. I used to say : “Why is this happening?”. Invariable the response would come back: “I think it’s…..” or “I assume it’s……..”. What the manager is saying is they don’t know.

    Knowing the reason for the problem helps us to decide the appropriate solution.
    Bryan – off shelf course materials

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Stuart Duff

Partner and Head of Development

Read more from Stuart Duff

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