‘Priorities are like scouts badges’ said the business unit head. ‘They are a badge of honor with ambitious executives collecting as many of them as possible’ she added.
This surprising observation came in response to data (from Pitstop AnalyticsTM) showing that clarity and alignment regarding priorities was:
For the leader this data was a call to action. For her, it suggested that people may be out of aligned (and thus pulling in different directions) for up to 4 months of the year (i.e. up to 34% of the time)!
‘How did we get here?’ she pondered. ‘How did we end up with a proliferation of priorities and a culture where everything is important?’ she wondered. Then, after a moment of reflection she continued:
‘Most executives are given priorities from above in the organizational hierarchy. These priorities are a:
‘New priorities get added, but it is rare that any are removed. Thus, the list gets longer and longer. That is how you end up with a proliferation of projects and initiatives competing for scarce resources. It is not unusual for some executives and their teams to have up to 30 priorities’.
‘Priorities can become a part of a person’s professional identity. For example, she/he is the person heading up x or y priority. Moreover, people’s performance will be evaluated based on how the priorities are advanced. All this means that people are going to pursue the priorities they are given unquestioningly. They are likely zealously defend them if they come under threat’.
‘So, although everybody knows the danger of too many priorities, it is difficult to say ‘no’’. ‘Priorities are typically not optional. People cannot say ‘no’ or ‘not yet’. Those priorities that drive performance or optimize efficiency are certainly not optional given slowing growth and increased market uncertainty’.
‘The implication is that we end up with a proliferation of priorities competing for scarce time and resources. The implication is that resources are being dissipated – spread thinly across a long list of priorities, rather than being focused on where it matters most or can have the greatest impact.’
‘People are being pulled in different directions. A proliferation of priorities distracts from what really matters – the real priorities – those that are most connected to business needs and success’.
‘The organization ends up trying to do everything at once, rather than sequencing and timing the work on priorities. This can result in false starts and bottlenecks.’
‘The amount of time and energy that people have for their work is finite. With every new priority added people are nudged further towards burnout. Moreover, giving the busyness of the day today find themselves working on strategic priorities are happening ’at the side of the desk’. They are struggling to find an occasional hour found here and there to spend on ‘what should matter most’.
‘There is a tendency to rush headlong into a new priority, with a resulting deficit in terms of planning or forethought. There is often a reluctance to ask too many questions or to apply too much scrutiny. That might kill something off before it even gets started. Moreover, it could also be misinterpreted as negativity or a lack of enthusiasm’.
‘Executives typically don’t get to ask or explore:
‘Asking too many questions could generate doubt and uncertainty. It could result in lots of committee meetings, presentations, feasibility studies, business case preparation and so on. Why would you willingly bring that on yourself?’ she added in a playful tone. ‘Slow down to speed up is a difficult message to hear’ she added.
‘We have to operate in an environment of at least 80% clarity and alignment in respect of priorities’ said the leader. ‘Otherwise, there is too much waste – we are not pulling together in the same direction’.
‘In short, we need a more disciplined approach to prioritization‘ the leader added in conclusion.
There needs to be a way of deciding how priorities are set. Also, how they are reviewed and importantly how they are retired.
Here are some of the principles adopted: