Thursday, January 09, 2014

Leadership A-Z - P is for Priorities

Today’s leadership a-z journey brings us to the letter P for priorities. Prioritization is a critical skill set for
Strategic Issues Map - photo Britton
leaders in today’s business context of ongoing change, and doing more with less.

Priority comes from the Latin root of “ prioritas”,“prior” or former. It can be defined as “ a thing that is regarded as more important than another.”

Throughout each business day we are prioritizing on individual and collective/team levels. In today’s post, I wanted to share with you four prioritization tools you may find useful in your own work and also in  working with others.

Tool #1 - The Urgent/Important Matrix. 

Made famous by Steven Covey and his work, the Urgent/Important Matrix gets us to think about what is really important and urgent in our work. Where are we spending our time? Are we focusing on things that are in the crisis zone of urgent and important, or are we able to be proactive and spend a bulk of our time in the not-urgent and important area of planning, building business relationships. Many professionals may find themselves getting bogged down with the urgent and not important tasks - things like meetings that are not relevant, email, reporting. And of course, the final part of the matrix is the land of the “time suckers” spending time in the not- urgent and not important tasks. Some of the topics in the “time sucker” category include excessive time on social media etc. 

Activity: Think back to where you have spent your time over the last week. What quadrant are you spending the bulk of your time in? What’s the impact of this?

Resource: Steven Covey - Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Prioritization Tool # 2 - Prioritization Matrix
As I was looking around the web for some different prioritization tools I came across a great one from and Nick Martin called the Prioritization Matrix. Here is a link to the site.

Using post it notes, it gets teams to identify all of the priorities they have, then rate them regarding their impact and do-ability. From there each task gets plotted on a large piece of paper which everyone can see. 

What I like about reading this activity is the fact that it also is very visual, and stimulates dialogue amongst the team members themselves. An important part of the prioritization process for teams is about sharing information, and also busting assumptions that might be held. This seems to have the potential to be a great structure for facilitating that conversation.

Prioritization Tool # 3 - 80/20 Rule
The Pareto principle, most commonly known as the 80/20 rule is also another useful framework to have in mind when you are considering prioritization. The 80/20 rule asserts that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our activities. 

Teams can benefit from undertaking some analysis of where they are getting the bulk of their impact (whether it is sales, key relationships, customer service etc). Getting clear on these will help us to prioritize them in the larger scheme of things.

Tool #4 - Strategic Issues Mapping
One of my favorite strategic prioritization tools I bring in with some of the work I do with teams and organizations is Strategic Issues Mapping. This too is an exercise to stimulate identification of issues, conversation and sharing across a team. 

Strategic issues mapping (see photo) can be done on multiple levels. You can start by putting the issue in the center of the circle, and having each team member brainstorm and write down all the issues/topics/challenges they can think of related to that topic. Depending on the topic, you may want to label the surrounding circles according to short term, medium term and long term issues OR it may make more sense to label the issues according to impact - local, national, international. One at a time, have people place their post its in the relevant area. From this you may have dozens of issues. 

Depending on time you can work through all issues, working circle by circle. As one of the starting points of these more focused explorations of each circle, I hand out colored dots to each participant and get them to dot the top 2, 3 or more from their own perspective. This provides the team with a snapshot of where the collective sees the priorities, which can then feed into more dialogue,planning, and action.

These are only four prioritization tools out of a myriad of possibilities. What prioritization tools and methods have you used and would recommend to others? As always, please feel free to comment below.

With best wishes,

Jennifer Britton, MES, CPT, PCC
Potentials Realized  - Leadership and Team Development | Coaching |  Retreats
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