The Value in Setting Priorities

Do you struggle with achieving your organization’s priorities? Do you know your organization’s priorities?


I know that I have served in many organizations that either had no stated priorities or tried to make everything a priority, which in effect meant that nothing was a priority.

Why is it that many organizations have no stated priorities that are understood by their people, while other organizations (the lucky few) organizations have clear priorities that enable the organization to move in the same direction?

Why Units Lack Priorities

Some commanders never set their priorities in the first place. There may be several reasons for this.

  • Awareness-Some leaders don’t realize their organization needs priorities to work more effectively.
  • Confusion-Some leaders may not know which areas are most important within their organization.
  • FOMO-Others don’t want to set priorities for because they want to be able to do it all. Being able to do everything is generally a fallacy and may be a symptom of fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Flexibility-Some leaders don’t set priorities because they want to maintain organizational flexibility and don’t want to be pinned down to a specific direction.

Impact of Not Having Priorities

Organizations that lack priorities typically manage to get by on day-to-day activities, however, this comes at a cost.  Lack of clarity and a common sight picture within the organization typically translates into confusion and friction within organizations.  Friction occurs as different parts of the organization are moving in different directions based on their interpretation of what is important to the greater organization.

Secret Priorities-Some leaders set priorities but don’t effectively communicate them to others. This is usually based on the assumption that everyone “knows” what is important.  If a leader were to query his most senior leaders, it is a variance in understanding will be present. The impact of not communicating your priorities relentlessly to your organization are the same as not having priorities in the first place.

There is a way you avoid confusion and friction within your organization: setting and communicating priorities.

How a #1 Priority Can Help

As a squadron operations officer for a cavalry squadron, I noticed that our unit did a poor job of communication in the early days.  Since the unit had rarely performed its traditional mission since its inception years earlier, it was weak at one of our core competencies.  Two of our three troops did not know how to use their High Frequency or Satellite radios.  Our squadron communications section had trouble learning how to use our advanced radios.

We struggled with improving our communications as we were fighting our way through numerous training events and projects. We soon welcomed a new commander who provided us with a one-page document that captured his vision for the unit along with its priorities.  The one-page format was not the typical 5-page commander’s philosophy.  The document contained a few simple priorities.  Of these few priorities, the number one priority was communications.

Once the new commander issued his priorities and subsequently repeatedly communicated them to the squadron, we knew what was important to our boss and the organization’s future.   The organization set forth to work hard at mastering the basics of multiple communications systems.

At first “emergencies” and other urgent issues kept grabbing our attention.  Each time this happened, our commander reminded us that our top priority was mastering communications. This reminder allowed us to refocus on what was important to him.  He gave us permission to assume risk on things that were less important.

After just a few months, the squadron transformed from a unit that only knew how to operate one type of radio system, to an organization capable of communicating with three different types of radios and three different types of data systems, including the ability to transmit photos in near-real time to the rest of the Brigade.

Value in Having Priorities

Your #1 priority’s greatest value is that it is most likely to be achieved. After all, it’s the top priority and should be accomplished before any other issue or priority.

There are many benefits to having numbered priorities, but the following are the ones that drive change in your organization.

  • Clarity. Having a #1 priority makes it clear to everyone on the team of what is important. There is nothing more important than the #1 priority (as long as you only have one #1 priority).
  • Collective effort. Having a #1 priority gives everyone in your organization the same goal at the same time. This allows various parts of your organization to simultaneously work on what’s most important. For our squadron, this meant that our mounted troops, dismounted troops, the communication section, and squadron headquarters all strived to master all our forms of communication.
  • Speed-Organizations with priorities understood by all allow your unit to be in sync, which means it gains efficiencies and moves faster.  Moving at a faster pace, in unison, will make your organization more effective in the long run.
  • Flexibility-Despite a common belief that holding priorities pins leaders down, maintaining priorities can actually improve flexibility within your organization or unit. The fact that your organization is moving faster together, means that it can also rapidly change direction.  Effective communication is key to quickly pivoting priorities.


Some leaders don’t set priorities for their organizations to avoid getting fixed to them. Others believe that priorities aren’t needed because everything in the unit is fine. These leaders are potentially missing out on gaining synergy from an organization that pulls together towards a common goal.  Setting and effectively communicating your priorities to your organization can bring clarity, unify collective efforts and increase your organization’s speed and flexibility. These benefits will no doubt improve your organization’s effectiveness.


Question: How have priorities helped your organization?


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