Paine Manager’s Compass for decision-making

Paine Manager’s Compass for Decision-Making

Lynn S. Paine, a business professor at Harvard Business School, developed and presented a model for decision-making. Originally called the “Manager’s Compass,” and sometimes generally referred to as the “Moral Compass,” Pained introduced the model for guiding business executives in making decisions.

The Moral Compass consists of four parts or lenses. Paine explained that her model allows business leaders and other decision-makers to follow four frames of analysis, thus enabling them to understand the specific elements of a situation

The Four Lenses of the Paine Manager’s Compass

Lens 1: Purpose

Will the action or decision serve a worthwhile purpose? Is there clarity around ends and means? The first lens of the Manager’s Compass of Paine centers on determining and evaluating results. To be specific, the first lens involves determining whether the purpose of the action or decision will produce valuable results. Hence, doing so involves examining alternative options and identifying which one will provide the best outcome.

Lens 2: Principle

Is the action or decision consistent with relevant principles? What norms or standards, or best practices can be used to justify such? In the second lend, the decision-maker needs to demonstrate an understanding and an ability to utilize a specific standard. A standard can include a moral or ethical principle, values, social norms, best practices, codes of conduct, and legal requirement, among others.

Lens 3: People

Does the action or decision respect the legitimate claims of the people affected? Who are the stakeholders? The third lens of the Paine Manager’s Compass involves identifying relevant stakeholders and examining the impacts an action or decision has on them. The goal of doing so is to minimize their exposure or the negative effects of an action or decision, consider their rights and understand their reasons, explore alternative solutions, and/or provide a way to compensate.

Lens 4: Power

Do the business leaders and decision-makers have the power to take action or make the decision? Do they have the legitimacy, resources, and competency to do so? In the fourth lens, the decision-maker considers his or her capacity, as well as the capacity of the organization to take an action or make the decision. Essentially, the first three lenses are useless there is no authority and ability to act or decide.

A Note on the Applicability of the Manager’s Compass

The model by Paine is not only applicable to a business setting, especially in the context of making business decisions. When viewed outside its original intended application, the Manager’s Compass is a decision-making framework that provides individuals with a step-by-step guideline in making decisions or evaluation their actions regardless of the context.


  • Johnson, C. E. 2018. Organizational Ethics: A Practical Approach. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN: 1544327854
  • Paine, L. S. 2006. “A Compass for Decision Making.” In ed. T. Maak and N. Pless, Responsible Leadership. London: Routledge. ISBN: 0415355818