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

Step Five

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:

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)

Step Six

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 process.
    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.

  4. 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 information firsthand.

  5. 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.

  6. 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