Victor Vroom’s Decision

Victor Vroom’s research has helped thousands of leaders make better decisions; but his career path was determined by an important decision of his own. When he was a junior faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, he was torn between becoming an academic or a musician. Vroom recalled, “The chairman in the department of psychology said, ‘Victor, if you want to get anywhere in this world, you’re going to have to make a decision,’ and I did--to become an academic and analyze how leaders make their decisions.”

Vroom, the John G. Searle Professor of Organization and Management, studies the social aspects of decision making. “Who needs to be involved in the making of the decision? What are the social processes that should intervene between the occurrence of a problem and its solution, whether the problem is a disaster on a ship at sea or a need to revamp the MBA curriculum?” Vroom asked with a chuckle.

He developed a normative model that can guide managers in choosing a decision-making process, with categories ranging from autocratic to highly participative. He collected data from dozens of managers about successful and unsuccessful decisions they had made. Then Vroom wondered: “What was there in the description of the cases that could be used in predicting the degree and form of participation that would be most successful?” These situational factors took the form of a decision tree in which managers answered a series of questions about the nature of the team, the problem or decision, and the organizational context. From these answers, they were guided to the “best” decision process.

Vroom then concentrated on the development of a more complex and user-friendly model, which he called Expert System. A manager using this online decision aid is asked a set of 11 questions concerning their problem, the answers to which are input into four equations designed to predict the effects of their choice on decision quality, implementation, time, and development.

Vroom also created a computer program called Lestan (Leadership Style Analysis). It provides a detailed analysis of a manager’s leadership style based on that person’s intended actions in a set of 30 decision-making situations. These cases are all based on real situations and require the respondent to assume various roles ranging from a CEO in an electronics firm to a charter sailboat captain to a high school principal. Furthermore, the cases are very strictly selected so that each of eight factors in the normative model are systematically varied across the set of cases. This enables Lestan to show which situational factors influence each manager’s choices and which are ignored.

Lestan produces a 12-page report for each manager comparing their choices with the normative model, a peer group (usually a set of managers in their own organization or training program), and a comparison group (usually a set of managers in a position to which they aspire). Based on these comparisons, the computer generates a set of recommendations to help the managers increase their effectiveness.

Expert System and Lestan are now available on the Internet (decisionmakingforleaders.com). Vroom hopes the website will provide managers, executive coaches, and leadership trainers with up-to-date leadership development technology on demand and in their choice of language. He also anticipates that the data collected will increase our understanding of cultural, organizational, and gender differences in leadership.