Setting Priorities: A Journey and a Destination

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Six Things Leaders Must Do

Every leader wants their strategy to be a raging success, right? And they all know how to make that happen, obviously – that’s why they’re the leaders.

Not exactly. For any initiative to be a success, there needs to be a plan with clear priorities for everyone involved. This is the most important thing before rolling out any major change. The problem is, most leaders are just plain awful at this part. In fact, we know at least 64% of them are bad at it – because they say they have too many conflicting priorities themselves to sort priorities for everyone else. (Harvard Business Review) (Pssst… terrible excuse.)

Simply put, a plan and agreed-upon priorities are the only things that can take you through the change journey and across that strategic “finish line” you’re after. Keep these six things in mind when prioritizing for your business:

1 Alignment means having a clear picture.

Do people in your company know what the strategy says? Or do they really know what those words mean? Big difference! For example, everyone may agree you need to enter a new market, but no one really knows what that looks like or what each department needs to do to make it happen. Without alignment on what the challenge is and how to solve it, you can’t align on priorities or the definition of success.

What to do: Get everyone on the same page – define your guiding light, or your “north star.” Be open to pushback and work together to create the vision that best supports your company. Once you’re aligned on the direction of the organization, the rest is easier.

2 Prioritize what propels you forward.

By definition, not everything makes it onto a priority list. In the priority-setting process, no one wants theirs cut. People end up becoming myopic – seeing only what they and their department will be responsible for delivering. But losing sight of the big picture endangers the team’s ability to achieve the goal you’re prioritizing for to begin with!

What to do: Everyone must “own the whole” before anyone owns their piece. Owners of low or omitted priorities need to understand the logic behind the decision – the “why.” First, be clear about what’s mission-critical for the enterprise, then drill down, showing everyone how they’re helping achieve what’s most important.

3 Create the right pace and sequence.

Not all priorities are created equal. Figuring out what’s important and what each priority will deliver for the business is critical and can be done by minding two things: the pace and sequence of priorities so everyone can digest them, and balancing near-term and long-term priorities.

What to do: Divide your priorities according to these three themes for true success:

  1. Run your business better today.
  2. Build capability for tomorrow. This includes expenses paid for by implementing no. 1.
  3. Make bets on growth for the future. These are promising revenue growth paths that show solid near-, mid-, and long-term growth opportunities.

4 Communicate so priorities resonate.

Leaders often unveil strategies and priorities in buzzword-heavy corporate-speak. While that may work in the boardroom, it’s goes over poorly with the troops. If people can’t connect their roles to what you’re saying the company needs, they will automatically disconnect.

What to do: Be clear. Speak simply. Make sure your people “understand what it looks like” to do things differently. Use your managers here – they can link their teams to company priorities in a realistic, meaningful way, making priorities accessible and understandable in the context of daily work activities.

5 Set process milestones.

Some people understand the rhetoric behind priorities but give up when the desired end result isn’t achieved right away. Sure, everyone wants immediate gratification, but be real.

What to do: Set “in-process” milestones so people can tell if they are on or off track. Encourage them to course-correct as needed. Communicate to reinforce your belief in the team’s collective ability to achieve the goal with these milestones and metrics. Use examples and praise people who actively contribute to accomplishing a priority, so others can model their behavior.

6 Celebrate early wins and quickly scale to other areas.

Regardless of how hard you try, many people will still sit back and wait for someone else to go first. Creating momentum by celebrating early wins in the change process will help everyone bring their energy and dedication to drive success in other areas of the business.

What to do: Establish a mindset of challenging the status quo, running a rapid experiment, and capturing what you learn from successes and failures as a way to accelerate executing on your priorities.

When it comes to executing on any strategy, most leaders know they’re in for a challenge. They just don’t always know what that really means. Prioritizing issues and tasks in support of the overall goal is a sure way to get where you’re going with everyone on board. Just remember, as you blaze new trails toward your goal, keep an eye on your guiding light; remember why you’re doing this in the first place. Some days are harder than others when making change. Checking in with your purpose, communicating openly, and celebrating milestones and wins along the way make it about the journey, too, not just the destination.

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