Shifting Business Priorities: The Nature of the Beast

on November 14, 2017

I recently accompanied two of our stellar salespeople to a meeting with a prospective client. It’s always valuable to hear firsthand about the business priorities, challenges, and opportunities facing different organizations. While there are certainly differences from one organization to the next, the reality is that there are tons of similarities, regardless of industry or size of organization. That’s why The Canyon, which has been around for years, still resonates.

During the meeting, we asked the leaders in the room to list two things they see as significant opportunities for their business and two things they believe the organization is doing well. This was a shortened version of an alignment method Root uses called Wall of Reality and Wall of Greatness.

After much consideration, each leader provided their list and discussion ensued. One comment we kept hearing was, “We feel like we’re doing all of the right things/we and our people are working really hard, yet it doesn’t feel like we’re making progress.”

This is a very common feeling among leadership teams. But one other thing stood out to me in that discussion, probably because it’s something those of us in marketing can relate to—we have too many priorities. Oh, yes! Now you’re speaking my language, people! But I wasn’t supposed to be talking much in this meeting, so I kept my musing to myself…until now.

Too Many Business Priorities, Too Little Time

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you?

  • The CEO of your company stands up and says, “We need to do X by the end of the year. If we do that, we will have had a successful year.” Based on that guidance, you and your team go forth with a focus and start down the path. Three months later, the CEO says, “I just came back from this conference. Read this article and I think if we do Y, it’ll be a game changer. New priorities!”
  • You just put the finishing touches on a complete brand overhaul based on the acquisition your company just went through 6 months ago. You have a clear idea of the new messaging. You understand how products are going to be marketed. You have a great product roadmap you’re starting to show to the combined customer base. And then…guess what you hear from the C-suite, “Great news! We’re going to buy another company and it’s going to double our size. Stop what you’re working on—we’re starting over. New priorities!”
  • It’s the beginning of the budget year, you’ve got a clear strategy and direction. You said to your boss, “We have a limited budget, we have to get really clear on our priorities so we can maximize that spend and get the most bang for our buck.” Your boss agrees! Cool. We’re aligned. Until that phone call, where under Priorities 1 & 3, there are three more sub-priorities (did I just make-up that word?) that require additional resources and support? Uh, what? So what are we giving up to do those things that I agree are really important? More, but equally important priorities. Yeah! (This may or may not have been a recent conversation I had.)

I’m sure you could relate to one (or all!) of these scenarios, and the frustrations we feel when we have to plan for new business priorities. This isn’t a ding against leaders of the business. It’s hard when everyone has a goal and wants to do all the right things for the business. And it’s hard when you can see that all of the tactics you could be using, but can’t afford, would probably support positive results.

Me, Oh, My. What Do We Do Now?

If you thought I was going to give you the answer to successfully juggling your shifting business priorities, I’m sorry. I don’t have it. Because there will always be shifts:

  • External market conditions like new regulations, a shifting economy, a competitor disrupting the market.
  • Internal shifts such as M&A, changes in leadership, a product that didn’t launch on time.

Shifts are pretty much the one thing you can depend on in business!

What we say to clients and try to practice ourselves is this:

Give the business, and everyone on the leadership team, a crystal-clear understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and align on the priorities that will get us there.

Easy to Say, Hard to Do.

It also requires a lot of ongoing conversations and course corrections—meaning that we must look back at those business priorities we outlined at the beginning of the year. Do they still hold true? If not, what will we stop doing so we can focus on what we think we need to do now?

This is a conversation I have regularly with my team and with my boss. We may or may not have just had it yesterday. So, I know as well as anyone that it’s freakin’ hard to say, “No, we’re not going to do that anymore.” Because you worked really hard on creating that first set of priorities! And with the priority shift, you now have to shift, too. The lesson I’ve learned is that it’s all about trade-offs. What do we give up so that we can do something new, and is everyone okay with that trade-off?

Focus on the Good Things

What was interesting about the conversation I heard leaders having at our potential client meeting was that it’s difficult not to get down on yourself when you don’t feel like you’re making progress, or when you feel like you’re trying to support a wide variety of goals and priorities. You have to focus on what’s going well. Because even struggling organizations have a lot of good things, and this organization had a Wall of Greatness they could celebrate.

By having the discussion with the broader leadership team, it raised awareness of the challenge of shifting priorities. I’m hopeful that, after we left the room, the conversation continued as these leaders plan their 2018 strategy. I also hope that they can get clear and aligned on the top three or four priorities everyone in that room can own and support. Doing these things makes subsequent conversations about new priorities easier. “If you want us to do H, I, and J priorities, then we need to revisit the A, B, and C priorities we established at the beginning of the year. What are we willing to give up?”

Are You Chasing the Next Priority?

I’m curious: Does this resonate with you? How do you and your organization tackle ever-shifting business priorities? And equally important, how does your leadership team ensure that the company understands that great things are happening, even though they may feel resentful about having to make changes to a strategy they had already put in place?

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