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Disciplined Prioritization:
2022’s No.1 Skill Remains Essential in ’23

From leadership in a pandemic to leadership in a time of market uncertainty and slowing growth – 2022 had it all! But what was the No. 1 Leadership Skill of the year?

Well, it is a skill that is essential at a time of scarce resources but something that organizations have long struggled with. Our vote for the No. 1 Leadership Skill of 2022 is ‘Disciplined Prioritization’. 

Disciplined Prioritization

The name says it all: It is an approach to business planning and, in particular setting priorities that involves greater discipline & rigor.

In 2022, ‘Disciplined Prioritization’ emerged as an essential part of the senior leader’s strategy toolkit. In 2022, it was key to managing scarce resources consolidation & efficiency drives & adapting to changing business & market needs.

In 2022, Disciplined Prioritization proved an essential strategy at a time of growing uncertainty and slowing growth. However, it is a skill leaders will need well into the future.

A New Set of Challenges

In 2022 leaders emerged from the global pandemic to find themselves faced with an entirely new set of challenges. Once again, leaders were going to be put to the test.

Early in the year there was the Ukrainian invasion with its implications for energy and food markets. But, economic uncertainty grew quarter by quarter.  By quarter four expectations of slow-down or recession were widespread. The post-pandemic euphoria had been short-lived.

To capitalize on uncertainty and prepare for leaner times ahead leaders had to display new skills in 2022.  Those developed in 2021 (such as running a remote team) would not be enough.

In 2022, leaders needed to respond to a dramatically different business environment and equip their organizations for the prospect of leaner times ahead.

Leadership at a time of Uncertainty

Challenging times provided leaders with the opportunity to demonstrate, as well as to learn new skills. Among the skills required by leaders in 2022 included:

  • Maintaining calm in a crisis (for many that is the opposite to Elon Musk) and staying focused despite increasing uncertainty
  • Revising revenue forecasts and managing shareholder expectations
  • Ensuring the sustainability of performance, including
  • Re-aligning scarce resources to reflect changing business needs and priorities
  • Revising the strategy (midway through the strategic cycle) – deciding what ambitious goals, priorities and initiatives are to be kept, what to revise and what to scrap
  • Meeting the need for increased speed and agility, as well as collaboration and innovation at a time of accelerating change and uncertainty.

All of the above have one thing in common – a new and more rigorous approach to prioritization. In 2022, unbridled ambition gave way to strategies that embraced resource scarcity to make real choices and necessary tradeoffs. The time had come for ‘disciplined prioritization’.

For many leaders, the above challenges were compounded by the realities of post-pandemic ways of working. Rightly, or wrongly, concerns about productivity and performance were projected onto remote working, hybrid working and the number 1 buzzword of 2022 ‘Quiet Quitting’. More on that at the end of this article.

Prioritization Re-vamped!

Prioritization is a skill that organizations have struggled with, even in the good times. Indeed, it could be seen as the weakest link when it comes to planning, resource allocation and strategy.

Getting better at prioritization became essential in 2022 as resource scarcity demanded clear choices about ambitious strategies. With growing uncertainty and slowing growth it was time to put the reins on boundless ambition. With lots of priorities, projects and initiatives competing for scarce resources, consolidation moved to the top of the agenda.

‘Disciplined prioritization’ enabled leaders to ‘focus with a new intensity‘ (people, resources, attention and so on) on those priorities, strategies and initiatives that will most directly impact on success. ‘Disciplined Prioritization’ is actually a bundle of skills

‘Disciplined Prioritization’ is an essential part of the senior leader’s strategy toolkit – key to effective resource allocation, strategic portfolio management and bridging the gap between strategy and execution. That makes it is a ‘muscle’ that all leaders need to develop for the long haul.

Meta (formerly Facebook) announced plans for ‘disciplined prioritization and work with a high level of intensity to reach goals’ (July 2022)1.

The Runners-Up – Other Vital Skills of 2022

2020 was the year of ‘Post Pandemic Leadership’ – that alone (with the prospect of downturn) would have made it challenging enough for leaders.

The high point of 2022 was the return to the office. But, for most leaders, the return to the office hasn’t been a return to normal. Organizations are still searching for the hybrid model that works best.

Many leaders are struggling to balance their own desire to get people back into the office, with their staff’s desire to retain WFH flexibility.

Mislabelled ‘Performance Paranoia‘, leaders have also been wresting with genuine concerns regarding levels of engagement, productivity and effectiveness of remote and hybrid working. They have been adopting strategies of varying levels of sophistication to counteract ‘quiet quitting’ and rebuilding organizational culture (from tracking productivity to fuelling engagement). In the process, they have revealed their true philosophy as leaders.

However, the debate about post-pandemic ways of working will continue into 2023, with endless buzz-words such as: Performance Paranoia, Performance Theatre, Quiet Quitting, The Great Resignation and The Great Disengagement.

  1. ‘Visibly frustrated’ Mark Zuckerberg responds to staff questions about extra vacation days’, by Johanna Chisholm of the UK Independent newspaper on Thursday 28 July 2022.  Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/tech/mark-zuckerberg-meeting-vacation-annoyed-b2133661.html  []

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