Action expresses priorities. ― Mahatma Gandhi
I recently read an article called, The Prioritization Conundrum by OneThirdMore that opened with this quote from a leader.
The human cost of our failure to prioritize is already large and could be disastrous. The pressure on me, my colleagues, and my team is extreme. I am sure many of us are thinking actively about whether it is all worth it. I know I am. I fear that a number of good people will leave. Worse still, there are already signs that it’s costing some of us our health…
It’s an epidemic. It’s the same in every sector, industry and size of organization. Its strangling results. My real fear though, is that it’s damaging leaders’ health – in ways that a week or two on holiday every few months is no longer able to fix.
Time for reflection
Take a few moments to jot down your number one priority at work and your number one priority outside of work. Write a few sentences or bullets regarding how you have spent your time contributing overtly and successfully to these priorities.
- If your actions have not aligned with your priorities, why not?
- Do your priorities need to change or do your actions need to change?
What is being done about this inability to prioritize effectively in today’s fast-moving, virtual world of business? The usual. Sorting through and consolidating umbrella priorities is one approach but tends to add more priorities on top of existing ones. The personal time management approach is still popular but it doesn’t address organizational interdependencies. Many leaders today talk about what they need to stop doing or the elimination approach, but very rarely do priorities get officially deprioritized. The one I encounter most frequently is the strategy approach where key leaders decide what is most important and everything then shifts to align with those strategies, at times piling on even more priorities.
Can you relate?
Heading into the holiday season and the end of a calendar year, particularly one as full of uncertainty and unforeseen circumstances as 2020, can be a difficult time for leaders to prioritize. As family priorities grow this time of year, work priorities often also feel layered and many leaders know that by trying to do so much, they are achieving less.
What can be done to prioritize more effectively?
All of the above. Strategy is key. It is crucial to sort and consider what is most important with everything else that is happening. Eliminating or delaying certain priorities is also effective and important. But nothing is more important than the human dimension. This from the OneThirdMore article:
The human dimension is central to cracking open the problem. Every organization I have worked in has its rate of progress limited by the inability of a small group of key people to take on any more work. This usually includes most of the top team and a handful of senior people outside of it.
These people are at the crossroads where strategy and implementation come together. They are the ones who can turn ideas into action as fast as they can process the work. These are the remarkable senior leaders of today and I know firsthand, they are talented, motivated, and productive. Because of this, they are also so dedicated that they keep accepting work, even when it compromises what is already on their plate. They can’t truly prioritize alone, and getting these key leaders together to look at their capacity through the lens of the organizational agenda, is where growth and sustainable movement forward are possible.
I often write about problem-solving, vision work, and strategy and how central the human dimension is to this organizational work. The same is true with prioritization. I wrote about this extensively in “The Starfish and the Spider” in relationship to leadership siloes. Here are some ways to support key groups of senior leaders in their success to prioritize so that the organization around them can benefit from their momentum. The effects are truly exponential:
1. Look at workloads of individual team members instead of looking at strategy. Have each team member capture the biggest things they are facing in their own area (or silo).
2. Have each leader share their list with the others until everyone understands the current activity happening in each area as it relates to the overall business strategy.
3. Once leaders understand the whole of what the business is facing, it is time they go back to their list and revisit their scope, move work, delegate, eliminate, move people, defer. This process takes time and sometimes multiple iterations before the lists look credible and possible to achieve.
4. I encourage leaders to hold their peers accountable if a list seems too lofty and to help them find ways to chop and change and outsource.
The most magical thing happens in these rooms. There is a moment, after so much back and forth and difficult conversations, where individuals let go of personal priorities in service of shared, achievable priorities that span the organization and support the bigger picture in a sustainable growth-oriented way. When it happens, it feels like a foundation is finally poured and there is solid ground to stand on.
Once, we built structures entirely from the most durable substances we knew: granite block, for instance. The results are still around today to admire, but we don’t often emulate them, because quarrying, cutting, transporting, and fitting stone require a patience we no longer possess. -Alan Weisman
This digging, quarrying, cutting, and transporting is time well spent. Leaders leave these sessions with a new energy that comes only from the type of support that can be found in the human dimension. It can’t be programmed or found in the cloud. It can’t be purchased or downloaded. It can only come from time spent caring about what another is facing, even when immense pressure is being applied to execute, and then finding a way forward together. Now that is worth prioritizing!
Please contact me if you would like me to send you a PowerPoint module that outlines this process for you to use with your leadership team. I’m also available if you would like to talk about how I can facilitate this process for your senior leaders.