The Essentials of Decision Making

Jay BransfordDecision Making, Leadership Messages, Strategic Leadership0 Comments

essential

by The ALLC Core Team

We all make countless decisions every single day.  Most of those decisions require little thought or attention, because we’ve made similar decisions in the past.  But how comfortable are you in making bigger decisions, team decisions, and/or family decisions?  Decision making is about how you go about choosing the best option or course of action in a given situation AND about how well you develop buy-in and commitment to that decision along the way.  What is your track record of success?  Can you explain what approach you take for making decisions?

There are numerous methods and processes out there for making a good decision.  Today I want to focus on five key essentials for any strong decision making process.  Here they are:

  • Defining the Decision
  • Identifying Objectives
  • Evaluating Alternatives
  • Assessing Risk
  • Making a Final Decision

First things first… make sure you get people who are effected by this decision involved in the decision making process.  You need both their input and their buy-in and commitment.  Without their involvement in the process, the likelihood of the final decision achieving the results you envision is much lower.

Defining the Decision

How you define a decision can make a huge difference in identifying what options you consider.   Let’s start with a simple example.  Imagine that I describe my decision as follows:

“Choose a van to buy for my ministry.”

It is likely that you would immediately start to envision all the possible kinds of vans in the world, including big, small, old and new ones.  You would quickly get an idea of what options to consider choosing among.  But what if I changed my decision statement to this:

“Choose a vehicle to buy for my ministry.”

How would this decision statement affect the options you consider?  Obviously, you would not only think of vans, but you might also think of buses or trucks or station wagons, etc.  Now what if my decision statement was this:

“Choose the best way to transport the people involved with our ministry.”

Now your list of options would be opened up even further, right?  You might think about using public transportation, hiring a van and driver, or even using bicycles.  The way you define your decision has a big impact on what kinds of options you consider.  Sometimes it makes the most sense to define your decision very specifically, like in our first example above. But at other times it is more helpful to broaden your decision statement.  Make sure you are conscious of the way you describe your decision statement and that it describes the boundaries you really need and want to set for the decision.

Identifying Objectives

What is it that you really are wanting to achieve by making this decision?  Often times people focus in on just one main objective when making a final decision, but in reality there are usually a number of factors that need to be considered.  Let’s look at our decision statement above to “Choose a van to buy for our ministry.”  Here are some of the possible objectives or outcomes that might be important when making this decision:

  • Cost between $10,000 and $15,000 USD
  • Can carry at least 12 people
  • Automatic transmission
  • Fuel costs are as low as possible
  • Reliable
  • Cheap and easy to maintain

It is important to list out all of the objectives of the decision.  If you don’t, you may find that some of the objectives will get forgotten or overlooked.  For example, it is easy to get so excited about a van that only costs $8,000 that you forget to even consider whether it is reliable and easy to maintain.  It can also be helpful to look at the relative importance of each of your objectives.  Often there will be one or two objectives that are much more important than the others, and you want to make sure you take that into consideration.

Evaluating Alternatives

One of the most common mistakes people make in decision making is to make their list of choices too narrow.  Sometimes people only consider one option and the decision becomes a ‘yes or no’ choice.  See the article called “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”.  It is important to consider as many valid choices as possible.  Don’t take the easy road of only considering the first option that comes your way.  Keep searching for other options to compare against.  As you begin to list more choices, you may even find that you can begin to combine some of the choices into a new and even better option.

As you create your list of choices, you can begin to evaluate each option against the objectives you identified.  And once you’ve evaluated how well each option achieves your stated objectives, you can then compare the choices to see which one seems to best meet your overall needs.  It helps to write all of this down, even in a spreadsheet.  That way you can visually see how well each choice lives up to your objectives and how the various choices compare to one another.  In case you’re thinking, “That sounds like it would take too long,” think again.  The few minutes it will take you to write this information down is NOTHING in comparison to the long term value you’ll get from making a better decision.

Example of choosing a van:

Objectives/Wants

Relative Importance

Choice A

Choice B

Choice C

Low Cost

8

$8,000 $10,000 $12,000
Carry 12 People

10

10 12 13
Automatic Transmission

6

Yes No Yes
Cheap Fuel

3

20mpg 25mpg 30mpg
Reliable

8

15 yrs old 10 yrs old 8 yrs old
Cheap to Maintain

6

Yes Yes Yes
Assessing Risk

Do you feel like you’re ready to make a decision now?  Wait!  First make sure that you thought about risks.  Start with the option that seems to look like the best choice.  What are the dangers, downsides, and/or risks of this option?  Be honest.  Virtually every option should have its own unique downsides or risks.  Then, simply ask yourself if you are willing to accept those negative things and/or if there is something you could do to minimize them.  If after considering the risks you still feel comfortable with your first choice, then keep moving forward with it.  But if you’re not so sure, then look at the risks of your second ranked choice and then see how it compares to the first.  Are we done yet?  Not quite…

Making a Final Decision

Now before you go ahead and make that final decision, take one more opportunity to pause.  Who have you gotten involved with the decision making process?  Have all the stakeholders had a chance to give input?  Have you considered the input of any experts or outside resources?  Is your team (or spouse) in agreement with the final choice you’re considering?  What is God saying?  Above all else, make sure that you and the rest of the decision makers feel a peace about the final decision.   Don’t let your process make the final decision for you.  If you use a ranking system for your objectives, score your choices, and add up a total score for each option, don’t feel like the final score is what makes the decision for you.  You and your decision making team are the ones who get to make the final decision, with God’s input and direction.  Consider your overall analysis, including the input and feelings of your team, the risks, and whatever you feel God may be saying, and then make a final decision.

APPLICATON CHALLENGE:  If you really want to improve your decision making, apply these principles to the very next decision you make – no matter how big or small it is.  Once you use these principles enough times, they will become a habit and the quality of your decision making will most certainly improve.