Decision-Making: Process and Tools
Step Three - “Identify a Basic Decision Process” and
Step Four - “Involve the Right People”

by Wm. M. Pinson, Jr., Th.D. with Lloyd Elder, Th.D.
adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 10 - Decision-Making

Step Three

  1. Recognize the Need for a Decision--When should the decision-making process be initiated? Basically, whenever a problem or issue occurs that calls for determining what course of action is best to deal with it or when a person confronts alternative courses of action and needs to determine which is the best (or better) to take.
    Author and Philosopher Wilfred A. Peterson says, “Decision is the courageous facing of issues, knowing that if they are not faced, problems will remain forever unanswered.” --Bethel, p. 149
  2. Life consists of a steady stream of problems or alternatives clamoring for choices to be made. Some of these may appear to be “no brainers.” For example, the outside temperature is forty below zero. Should I wear an overcoat? Most alternatives are not that simple to choose between, however.

    Even what appear to be very minor decisions, such as whether to order a salad or not in a cafeteria line, cause some people to undergo a “panic attack”--and the persons behind them in the line to grow ever more irritated. A single choice of food may be no big deal. However, a pattern of choices can lead to good health or disaster. When confronted with alternative courses of action, each should be taken seriously; although, in many cases the importance of the choice does not warrant a full-blown, formal, conscious decision-making process.

  3. Determine If This Decision Really Needs To Be Made--Keep in mind that a decision to make no decision is actually a decision. Failure to acknowledge and deal with a problem likely will cause it only to become worse. However, sometimes a problem is best left unattended. No one can solve all the problems of life. Some problems may just take care of themselves.

  4. When confronted by a number of decisions, prioritize--Determine which ones are more important. Unfortunately, often those that appear most urgent are not the most important. Some refer to this as the “tyranny of the urgent.” You can find yourself so mired in minor but urgent decisions that you never get to the major ones. Also, most of us have a tendency to put off tough choices in favor of easy ones, and this contributes to majoring on minors in decision-making. Of course, procrastination also plays a role for many . . . putting off until tomorrow what you could do today.

    How do you determine which decisions ought to be tackled? Which are the really important ones in a mix of decisions? That is tough to answer and depends on many factors. However, if a person has his or her overall values and goals clearly in mind (a personal or organizational mission and value statement will help), then those decisions are most important that either serve to greatly advance or horribly hinder reaching those goals or abiding by those values.

    Isn't it ironic that early in the decision-making process you are called on to make a decision about which decision to deal with? But that's the way it is.

  5. Understand the Nature of the Decision--Once the decision-making is in the appropriate hands, the next step is for the person or group to determine what the nature of the decision really is. For example, is this a “whether” decision--should various courses of action be examined?; or a “which” decision--which of several possibilities should be chosen? A case in point would be a person dealing with marriage possibilities. One decision would be a “whether” decision--whether to marry. Or it might be a “which” decision (or in this case “whom”)--of various persons, which one is the “right” one?
  6. You can make a well-considered, well-thought-out decision, but if you've started from the wrong place--with the wrong decision problem--you won't have made the smart choice. The way you state your problem frames your decision. It determines the alternatives you consider and the way you evaluate them. Posing the right problem drives everything else. [Hammond, p. 15]

As much as possible, frame the nature of the decision in a positive way. Look at the decision more as an opportunity than a problem (even though it may be a problem!). By wording the decision in a positive way, the outcome is likely to be more positive and more readily accepted.

Step Four

Identify the Person or Persons Who Should Make the Decision--Even if you assess that a decision needs to be made, you are not necessarily the person to make it. If not you, then who? Who is responsible for this decision? That depends on the nature of the decision. If it is a decision that calls for individual rather than group decision-making, these questions might help: Who is most qualified to deal with this matter? Who has the time available to deal with it? Who has the biggest stake in the correct decision? If you are not the best person to deal with the decision, you will need to determine how to enlist the appropriate decision maker.

Usually the person who is most responsible or who will be the most efficient in implementing the decision ought to be the decision maker. In other words, those closest to the problem likely will be the choice to deal with it. But this is not always true. Sometimes a person may be so involved in the problem that he/she cannot deal with it objectively.

Keep these factors in mind: “Upward delegation” often exists in an organization; persons in a structure may try to pass the decision-making buck back to the person who assigned it to them. A “gung ho” member of an organization may take on decisions that he or she is not really equipped to deal with--either because that is his or her nature or because he or she desires to please or make a name for himself or herself.

If the decision calls for group action, then someone must determine which group. In an organization, the structure of the organization may well determine the group. For example, in a church if a staff member is causing serious problems and the pastor or staff leader has been unable to resolve the matter, then the personnel or some appropriate standing committee likely is the appropriate group to decide what to do. If no group is the routine choice, then the leader of the organization must make the decision as to the group to deal with the decision.

Decisions! Decisions! Even before you get to the actual process of dealing with a specific decision, there are decisions to make--like who is to be involved.

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 © 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership