Decision-Making: Process and Tools
Step Five - “State the Guiding Objectives
and Priorities” and
Step Six - “Gather Decision-Making Information” (SL#39)
by Wm. M. Pinson, Jr., Th.D. with Lloyd Elder, Th.D.
adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 10 - Decision-Making
State the Objectives or the Priorities
That Will Guide the Decision-Making Process--Clearly stating
objectives means thinking through what you really want to accomplish
by this decision; that is, what is vital and of ultimate importance. The objectives
or goals should be in keeping with your basic values, such as love for God
and neighbor and seeking first the Kingdom of God. Thus, if a stated objective
is selfish and serves only to advance your own desires, it is out of line
and needs to be reworked.
Case of buying a house.
Consider objectives that might be listed for the purchase of a home, for example.
A person might list an objective such as “luxurious enough to establish
status and success.” This objective will determine many other factors,
such as what facts are sought about houses and neighborhood. However, do these
objectives fit with basic values for a follower of Christ? Another person
might list as an objective in deciding about a house to purchase: “Overall
cost leaves adequate funds for contributions to Christian charity.”
With this objective, a different set of facts will be gathered concerning
houses, neighborhood, and financing. (Develop your own case.)
In stating objectives, beware of confusing the ends or goals
with means to the end. For example, a worship committee in a church assigned
the task of deciding what sort of worship service the church should provide
might state as an objective: “Have pleasing music.” However, this
is not a valid objective but rather a means to a valid objective. Valid
objectives might include:
Maintain participation of older persons who contribute
to the ministry of the church.
Attract unsaved young adults as disciples and members.
Maintain participation of present members and attract new
These objectives (ends) will help determine what is “pleasing
music” (means to an end); but also seek to honor God.
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a
slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. --1 Cor. 9:19 (NIV)
Identify the Boundary Conditions
of the Decision--Boundary conditions set the limits for
a decision. Peter Drucker writes: “What are the objectives the decision
has to reach? What are the minimum goals it has to attain? What are the
conditions it has to satisfy? In science these are known as boundary conditions.
A decision, to be effective, needs to satisfy the boundary conditions. It
needs to be adequate to the purpose” (Drucker, The Effective Executive,
p. 130). He also states that clear boundary conditions indicate what is
essential and what is not, what can be compromised and what cannot.
Sometimes the boundaries are set by official, often legal, documents. A
decision by a congregation, for example, ought to be within the boundaries
of the church's constitution and bylaws. Or boundaries may be set by certain
constraints, such as available resources. A committee in a church responsible
for deciding what literature the church will use for Bible study will have
boundaries set, such as funds available for literature.
Acknowledging boundaries saves a person or a group a great deal of time
and energy that would otherwise be spent in considering alternatives that
are not possible. Of course, the boundaries should be real and actually
fixed. Otherwise, the decision-making process will be limited, and creative
alternatives may go unexplored.
Obtain Opinions About Possible Options
or Alternatives--Don't start with a search for “facts”
until various opinions or alternative courses of action have been spelled
out. A common mistake in decision-making is to initiate a fact search before
those involved have had an opportunity to think creatively and freely about
possible options. The stating of alternatives or options will be informed,
of course, by the boundaries and objectives, but they will not be constrained
by so-called facts. The discussion on group decision-making in articles
to be posted will explore in more depth the possible ways to surface these
various options and alternatives.
Gather the Facts That Relate to the
Decision--If care has been given to the previous steps,
the gathering of facts will be focused and limited. On the other hand, if
a person or group has not understood the nature of the decision--clearly
stated objectives--and identified boundaries, countless hours may be spent
gathering needless, even useless, factual material. The facts ought to relate
to the actual problem and objectives within the boundaries of the decision
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he
not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money
to complete it? --Luke 14:28 (NIV)
Make certain that the information gathered is actually true
or factual. Do not rely on hearsay or rumor. The best way to obtain facts
is to personally observe a situation. Abraham Lincoln endeavored
to discover for himself facts about the war effort when he was President.
He spent much of his time away from his office personally visiting battlefields
and government officials.
Effective executives in the modern business world follow
a similar strategy, sometimes referred to as management by walking
around. However, just being out and about does not guarantee the
gathering of accurate facts for decision-making. A person must develop good
listening and observing skills in order to be effective in gathering
And what if it is not possible to observe “facts”
firsthand? Then a person or group must rely on reputable sources
of information. Lincoln, for example, sent trusted aids to gather
factual information. Sources should be carefully checked for their reputation
in providing accurate information. Just because an item is found in print
or on a Web page does not insure its accuracy. Consider the source.
Avoid overstudy and overgathering
of information. Beware of spending too much time on fact
finding. Endeavor to get only what is essential. Some persons or groups
are prone to continue to collect data far beyond what is needed. Why? Sometimes
it is a form of procrastination: to keep gathering information is to avoid
having to make a decision. Sometimes it is being too cautious: piles of
information may not ensure a better decision, but it indicates that the
person or group has not been lax in the effort.
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For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership