Not forcing managers to pick from alternatives makes them choose better

Ultimately they make a saner choice of the solution to the complex problem they are attempting, than if they are forced to make a choice

Multiple options to go forward
When managers try to resolve a complex business problem, it helps to not force them to choose from a restricted set of alternatives

Restricting options available for solving a business problem may not necessarily be a good thing, according to a new Canadian study.

Managers seem more inclined to choose higher-risk options when compelled to pick from competing alternatives to complex situations, according to researchers from the University of Guelph and University of Waterloo

But when they’re not forced to choose, managers are prone to give it much more thought and solve the problems at hand with lesser negative consequences, says the study.

“One of the most powerful tools to combat high-risk or unethical decision-making may simply be offering managers the option not to choose,” said Theodore Noseworthy, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies. He conducted the study with colleague Prof. Scott Colwell and lead author Prof. Michael O. Wood of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development.

The research published recently in the Journal of Business Ethics emphasises how psychological mechanisms paly a part in judgement and problem-solving.

192 managers were asked make decisions under “high” and “low” psychological distance. Also participants were either forced to choose between competing solutions or given the option to reject both alternatives.

The majority chose the higher-risk choice when they were psychologically distant from the situation. However, when given the possibility of not choosing, managers did not exercise this option. Instead, they spent more time reflecting and opted for the less risky solution.

“Where this gets interesting is why this happens,” Noseworthy said. “Managers were more likely to see the potential ethical consequences of their actions when they are given the option not to choose.”



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