Making strategic decisions

You don’t have to choose between excellent options. Instead, you can analyze how each choice works and what the likely benefits would be -- and then opt for the one that can achieve the benefits of all the others.

How do you decide between two or more excellent choices?

One of my friends says to do it all because you never know which idea will work.

Good advice. Yet what happens when resources -- time, money or energy -- are not sufficient to do it all with excellence? Is giving every good alternative a shot always the best approach?

One path forward is to put all the resources into one choice so that the benefits of the choice, plus the benefits of all the other options, are attained. This approach, called “doubling-down,” is not as simple as deciding between the alternatives.

One has to carefully study all of the choices and clearly articulate how each choice works and what the likely benefits would be. The analysis includes determining if an option has the potential of achieving the benefits of all the other good choices. Doubling-down focuses as much on the results as it does on the choice.

For example, I recently talked with ministry leaders who design and deliver events in partnership with other Christian ministries. Imagine a 21st-century version of a Billy Graham Crusade in which many churches and other ministries partner to host a high-attendance event.

This global ministry has decided that its events need to have a deeper impact on those who attend and the surrounding community. In considering strategy, its leaders determined that they could have a deeper impact by helping their partners strengthen event follow-up or by refining their teachers’ presentations.

Both strategies have merit, and each is fairly straightforward to execute. To strengthen the work of partners, all the parties would need to determine follow-up actions, assign responsibility and report the results. Improving the teaching requires coaching on performance, including length of presentation, visuals and the like. For example, turn a typical class lecture into a TED talk.

Implementing each of these strategic choices requires a distinctly different skill set. It is likely the person responsible for improving follow-up would not be able to help the speakers. Essentially doing a world class effort at both would require twice as many resources as making a choice between the two.

I have often felt the pressure at this point. Our ministry could do an excellent job at one of several strategies if we would decide. But we don’t decide. We allow each strategy to develop independently. We don’t have enough people or money to invest in everything, so we let various committees or departments do the best they can with the resources they can gather.

Because these sorts of decisions are so important, I have come to realize it is best to pause at the point of decision. Before pursuing everything with equal energy or choosing only one option, I have learned to take the time to “fall in love” with each choice, to understand what is involved in each choice and what would result from doing it well.

In Roger Martin’s work on integrative thinking, he outlines this approach. Explore the good alternatives deeply and without reservation. Write down the benefits of each choice.

With all the benefits in mind, the leaders can make a choice.

For my colleagues in ministry, doubling-down might mean putting all of the resources into improving the presentations. Coach the speaker to use a colorful metaphor and explore its implications. Hire a graphic artist to design slides or art work that would bring the metaphor to life. Identify just the right film clip or music that would enhance the main points. Write a study guide for use in discussion groups or identify books for additional study. In every case, make the resources available online for easy distribution.

With attention to every detail, including tracking of specific measurable impact, it is possible that the improvement of the presentations might provide the resources needed by Christian ministries to do follow-up -- thus achieving the outcomes of the other strategy by doubling-down on the presentations.

Doubling-down is not the right move for every situation. But when resources are tight, it might be a great move if you keep the all the desired results in mind.