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Perception and Decision Making
Decision making is an important skill for organizations seeking to reach goals. Organizational excellence is about accurate decision making. Consequences from decisions can make or break a company. Perception plays a vital role in the decision making process. Therefore, decision makers often use perception to create, evaluate, and choose decision options.
Perception is “…a process by which individuals organize and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment” (Robbins, 2005, p. 134). Is perception perfect? No, perception is not perfect. Perception is often based on assumptions attributed by one's personal characteristics. Various factors can influence one's perception. The perceiver may be influenced by his or her personal characteristics such as attitudes, interests, expectations, or experiences (Robbins, 2005). An individual is perceived through personal characteristics such as attractiveness, size, color, background, accent, and other distinguishable characteristics (Robbins, 2005). Perception is also influenced by situation factors including the time of the event, work setting, and social setting (Robbins, 2005).
A person's perception of others can impact an organization's behavior. An organization's behavior is impacted by employment interviews, performance expectations, ethnic profiling, performance evaluations, and employee effort (Robbins, 2005). Management judges and evaluates potential employees during employment interviews. New employees are subjected to being judged by their co-workers. Management also evaluates employee's performances and efforts. Ethnic profiling has been a major issue for human resources within organizations following the horrific events on September 11, 2001 (Robbins, 2005). Many employees secretly or overtly have concerns regarding working with people of Middle Eastern descent. To combat these feelings of mistrust many companies have implemented racial diversity and multicultural training.
At times employees are quick to inaccurately judge co-workers behaviors. For instance, an employee arrives late at work and is caught sleeping at his desk by a co-worker. The co-worker does not know whether the other employee's behaviors are internally or externally caused. The co-worker attributes the employee's behaviors to too much partying. This perception is conveyed to management. The organization's behavior will be based on the situation's distinctiveness and consensus (Robbins, 2005). In addition, the organization will take into account of the consistency of the employee's behaviors (Robbins, 2005).
An organization's behavior may be prone to fundamental attribution errors and self-serving biases (Robbins, 2005). Management may attribute employees' poor performances to internal factors rather than external factors (Robbins, 2005). An organization may attribute its success to their expertise instead of attributing the success to the work completed by employees (Robbins, 2005).
There are numerous perceptive shortcuts that allow one to judge someone else quickly, but sometimes incorrectly. Perceptive shortcuts include selective perception, halo effect, contrast effects, projection, and stereotyping (Robbins, 2005). Selective perception occurs when a person filters stimuli based on personal references (Robbins, 2005). The halo effect is the judging of others based on one characteristic or experience (Robbins, 2005). Contrast effects are when people are evaluated relative to the value of the person preceding them (Robbins, 2005). In the perceptive shortcut of projection, people see characteristics of themselves in others (Robbins, 2005). Stereotypes are assumptions that all members of a group have the same characteristics.
There are both positive and negative effects of using perceptive shortcuts when judging others. Selective perception allows one to draw conclusions about others, but the conclusions drawn can be incorrect (Robbins, 2005). A person using the halo effect may have a good impression of a person if he or she has desirable traits. The halo effect can have negative effects if the perceiver carries over negative feelings from a past experience resulting in an inaccurate picture of the target (Robbins, 2005). Contrast effects can have positive effects if the person preceding the one being evaluated is inferior (Robbins, 2005). On the other hand, contrast effects can have negative effects if the preceding person is extraordinary (Robbins, 2005). Projection is a defense mechanism that can be used to alienate or distant someone. Projection does not take into account that everyone has individual differences. Stereotyping can have positive effects on a person that decides to live up to a group stereotype that results in success. For instance, an Asian that chooses to live up to the stereotype that all Asians are hardworking may reach financial success. Generally, stereotyping has negative effects. Stereotyping is hurtful, unfair, and often limits people from success. An overweight person may not get a well-deserved promotion because he or she is viewed as lazy. Unfortunately, this overweight person may have a medical issue that has resulted in excess pounds, but he or she is an extremely hard working and motivated employee.
Decisions in real world organizations are made based on the perceptions of individuals reacting to a problem (Robbins, 2005). An organization's decisions are based on organizational goals, schedules, finances, employees, and other data (Robbins, 2005). Today, many organizations have empowered non-managers to make decisions (Robbins, 2005). Decision makers in real world organizations participate in bounded rationality, common biases and errors, and intuition (Robbins, 2005). Typically, decision makers do not exhaust every possible alternative to a problem (Robbins, 2005). Decision makers are adept at creating a short list of alternatives and choosing one that is likely to solve most of the problem's complexities (Robbins, 2005). Common biases and errors - overconfidence, anchor, confirmation, availability, representative, escalation of commitment, randomness, and hindsight - can cloud the decision maker's judgment (Robbins, 2005). Decision makers engaging in intuitive decision making base their reasoning on gut feelings, experience, and learning (Robbins, 2005).
Perceptions shape ethical and moral decisions. There are three criteria in ethical decision making - utilitarianism, rights, and justice (Robbins, 2005). The utilitarianism criteria, which governs many businesses, is “…consistent with goals like efficiency, productivity, and high profits” (Robbins, 2005, p. 158). Utilitarianism forsakes one's individual rights (Robbins, 2005). The rights criteria involves “…respecting and protecting the basic rights of individuals” (Robbins, 2005, p. 158). The third ethical criteria of justice, used most often by unions, involves equal pay, rules, and benefits for all employees (Robbins, 2005).
Ethical decision making takes into account every person, animal, or object that will be affected by an organization's decision (Christensen & Kohls, 2003). When all stakeholders are not considered, then the decision is unethical (Christensen & Kohls, 2003). In the Exxon/Valdez oil spill, the companies involved had to make ethical decisions that were best for all stakeholders - the companies, animals, and the environment (Christensen & Kohls, 2003).
Everyone attempts to explain the world around them through their perceptions. Perceptions can lead to errors, but an accurate perception can prove effective in the decision making process. Management cannot rely solely on perceptions to make decisions. Managers must attribute a person's behavior to a specific cause. The combination of decision-making criteria, perceptions, and the avoidance of biases and errors make it possible for decision makers to correctly solve problems.
Christensen, S. L., & Kohls, J. (2003). Ethical decision making in times of organizational crisis. Business & Society, 42, 328-358. Retrieved University of Phoenix Library database.
Robbins, Stephen P. (2005). Organizational behavior (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: