Competing Priorities – Re-pack

Competing Priorities – Re-pack April 29, 2010

Here are some of the most frequently expressed complaints we’re hearing from organizations across industries:  “We don’t have time – my team is exhausted.” “I just worked around the clock to complete this project to only receive a quick thank you from my boss – in almost the same breath, he gives me a new ‘important’ assignment.”  “There’s never any downtime anymore – who has time to be strategic?”

In the 24/7 environment we live in, scheduling down time is tough. On the organizational level, the pressure to perform magnifies this tendency and many are ensnarled in the competing priorities they’ve set up. A case in point is an organization that wanted to improve its focus by developing a more comprehensive strategic plan. The planning process itself went well – some innovative ideas on the direction with a finalized strategy and organizational scorecard to track progress. When it came to execution of the plan, the current priorities in motion were significantly misaligned with the new agreed upon strategy and there seemed to be “no time” to shore them up.

In the example above, the best way to engage everyone in the plan would be to ask, “What should we stop doing so that we can start doing what’s really critical?”  So many organizations are reluctant to let go of old priorities that the new ones simply get layered on top like wall paper in an old house leaving people confused and weighed down.  A colleague of mine, Dick Leider together with David Shapiro wrote a book entitled, Repacking Your Bags for the Rest of Your Life; in it, the authors talk about the importance of taking outmoded things out of your pack to make room for new ones in your personal and work life. The point is that the longer we live, the more we accumulate and a new direction is harder if not impossible if we insist on carrying artifacts from the past as well as the new tools needed to go forward. This same analogy is true for companies. What’s in your organization’s pack and what can you eliminate to lighten your load and be more focused?

Is it time to re-pack?

If you answer “yes” to five or more of the following questions, you need to re-assess your priorities and start by stopping some things:

  1. Are projects and activities beginning too quickly resulting in wasted time and effort?
  2. Are critical things getting put on the back burner because too many other activities are watering down your focus?
  3. Are you assessing whether or not new projects or activities support the vision and strategy?
  4. Is there a tendency to continually drive the organization to the limits of its capacity?
  5. Do employees complain that they can’t see an end to the pace in sight?
  6. Does your management team and best employees feel guilty about leaving work early for a good reason?
  7. Do people complain that there are so many meetings that they don’t have time to get work done?
  8. Is saying “no” for a good reason seen as unacceptable in your organization?
  9. Is staying busy and busyness in general valued?
  10. Are people punished for criticizing “sacred cows”?