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The Art of Decision-Making

Thank goodness we have survived this health crisis. The pandemic has changed us as a nation and a world. Personally, it has centered me more around my family, friends, community, and the team at STN.

As the pandemic descended upon the school transportation industry and all of society 16 months ago, it felt like we had little information, and things were shutting down all around us in a matter of days. Talk about a sense of uncertainty, emotion and panic. When the schools closed nationwide, I was utterly shocked. I never thought that it was even a possible, but it happened. Then came virtual learning.

Leaders are forced to make decisions on a daily basis. But what do you do in a crisis situation? Let’s face it, making critical decisions in times of crisis is hard. And something like a pandemic, the likes of which no one has seen before, adds another level of stress. But how do you know if you’ve made the right decision?

My first reaction is to go with my gut. But then I realize that my intuition can be filled with mental shortcuts and biases that can lead me in the wrong direction. I prefer to slow things down and look at all my options. Going to my team to discuss ideas and gaining insights is crucial, since we are all in this together. Having your team on the same page makes it a lot easier to move forward together in most situations. Ultimately, I need to take responsibility for the final decision, but I greatly value my team members’ feedback. I also like to reach out to valued clients for an outside opinion.

Related: (STN Podcast E67) Can’t Go Back to the Old Ways: Post-COVID-19 Ops, Summer School & New ZEV Players
Related: New Safety Concerns
Related: (STN Podcast E14) – Leading in Uncertainty: Transportation Director Shares Post-Coronavirus Plan & Encouragement

According to “Psychology Today,” our brains often run on two different tracks when making decisions. The first one is that gut reaction or feeling we have for something. It’s a decision you make based on emotion, instinct and whatever information you have at the time. When you’re in this mode, your decisions become automatic and you often don’t give much thought to the exact influences of those decisions. The second track is much more deliberate, such as looking at the benefits, weighing options, and bouncing ideas off others. That exercise might seem to be more fun, and a creative step to take in the short term.

Either move you make may have some serious consequences long term. When faced with making decisions in a crisis, psychologists suggest a “think-instead-of blink”approach. You want to slow down knee-jerk reactions, but you also don’t want to be paralyzed by never-ending analysis.

The largest knee-jerk reaction that stood out to me the most at the onset of COVID-19 was all the panicked buying of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers, cleaning, and disinfecting products. It was nuts. The school district bid process completely went out the window. Now, buyer’s remorse has set in. Some products purchased couldn’t be used because they were deemed unsafe or toxic by the federal regulators. There were also plenty of fake or counterfeit products like supposed N95 mask that flooded the market. Buyers definitely should beware in a state of crisis.

Now that the panic has subsided, I reflect on how much the school transportation industry has evolved. Our industry experienced forced innovation and the adoption of technology at such a rapid pace. It is truly unprecedented for the school bus industry. New solutions emerged that addressed cleaning, sanitizing, air purification, student connectivity, contact tracing, and so much more. This all comes back to smart decision- making during an emergency. Our industry and its suppliers did just that.

Related: Masks Up (and Off?)
Related: The Road to Reopening

It is now appears that in-person classes will be back in full swing for the 2021-2022 school year. I believe some behaviors, safety protocols, and procedures will remain in place, while others will fade away. It’s easy to fall back into our old ways, but there are some major lessons to be learned from this whole ordeal.

Be sure to remain poised for the next crisis because it will come. Remember your decision-making skills. Your students, schools, team and communities are counting on you.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the June 2021 issue of School Transportation News. 

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