The Value in Setting Priorities

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

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.

Conclusion

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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How to Run a Meeting that Achieves Results (and doesn’t suck)

Have you ever sat through a meeting that didn’t seem to follow any specific agenda nor really accomplish anything? Or sat in a long meeting that discussed various topics, but by the end of it, no one had a good idea if a decision was truly made?

meeting

I’ve sat in my fair share of terrible meetings and have undoubtedly run meetings that were equally bad. A few years ago, I got involved with a Readiness meeting, which covered just about every topic under the sun. The meeting lasted over two hours due to the sheer breadth of topics we tried to cover in one meeting. The topics ranged from personnel actions, awards, evaluations, physical security, investigations, certification statistics, logistics, communication, maintenance and medical issues. It was terrible.

Nothing seemed to get accomplished in the meeting. The same issues were discussed week after week with no resolution. The really bad news was that I was in charge of the meeting. On the flipside, the good news was that since I was in charge of the meeting, I could do something about it. Instead of tweaking the current meeting, we decided to revamp the entire thing.

What makes most meetings suck?

The following reasons were taken from a survey of readers and highlight the usual suspects:

  • Meetings with no agenda. These meetings tend to meander aimlessly from topic to topic.
  • Having too many meetings. These allow for no work to be done during the workday.
  • Meetings that try to cover too many topics. These meetings tend to be marathon sessions, by the end of which all participants’ eyes are glazed over and mentally smoked.
  • Lack decisions. Some meetings turn into long conversations about nothing that will surely be repeated since no decision was made.
  • Meetings being run by a leader who can’t keep the conversation on track.
  • Or my personal favorite is the meeting that is really a series of updates from various individuals that could have been more effectively accomplished in an email, on a project list, or separate one-on-one meetings. This is much worse when there are 30 people in the meeting.

Lack of focus, lack of clear decisions, and lack of accountability are key factors to poor meetings. This article will show you how to add focus, clarity, and accountability to your meeting that will achieve results.

Guidelines to Achieve Results

If your meetings follow the guidelines below, you can avoid being guilty of holding terrible meetings. Good meetings require intentionality and preparation in order to be effective.

Purpose

  • Determine the purpose of meeting first.
    • Why are we bringing everyone together?
    • What are the objectives?
  • Once the purpose of the meeting is known you can develop the agenda.

Agenda

  • The agenda provides focus to the meeting.
  • The agenda should be published prior to the meeting in order to ensure people are prepared.

Accountability

  • If topics are brought up that are not on the agenda, anyone in the meeting, regardless of rank or position, had the duty to call it out as an accountability tool to keep the meeting on track. Once called out, that topic will have to be discussed in another venue or time.
  • Sometimes we need to use meetings as a forum for public accountability. This isn’t meant to use meetings to embarrass people or throw them under a bus in public. In order to understand the root cause of an issue, you sometimes need to get different sides of the story at the same time from all participants to avoid chasing your tail. Meetings can be used as a forum for public accountability.

Preparation

  • Send out a reminder a couple days out before the meeting. The reminder should include the purpose of meeting and agenda.
  • If people aren’t aware of the meeting’s purpose, are caught off guard, or aren’t armed with the agenda, then you might end up repeating the same conversations in meeting after meeting.

During the Meeting

  • Take notes during the meeting that include:
    • Key Highlights
    • Decisions made
    • Due-outs – Ensure that a date is established for each deadline. If no deadline is assigned, then plan on the deadline being the next scheduled meeting.
  • Review decisions made and due outs (with deadlines) at the end of the meeting to ensure everyone has clarity.

After the Meeting

Send out notes within 15 minutes of the meeting’s conclusion that include decisions made and deadlines.

Conclusion

Once we followed the steps above, we quickly noticed that our meetings started to mean something and things were getting done. People understood the purpose of the meeting, we kept ourselves accountable to each other and focused on the agenda. Our meetings were noticeably achieving results and we found ourselves making progress instead of rehashing old business. It’s amazing what results a meeting can achieve with a little focus, clarity, and accountability.

 

Question: How have you made your meetings more effective?

 

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How to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed Due to Task-Saturation

5 Steps to Break the Cycle

Have you ever felt overwhelmed and task-saturated by the sheer volume of information and to-do items at work? Does your organization seem to struggle to make headway in any single direction? If so, this article can help you fight through being overwhelmed by focusing on what is important.

 

Overwhelmed individuals and teams

Upon taking on an Executive Officer position of a battalion (500-800 people), I immediately felt overwhelmed. It was immediately clear that the unit was in a perpetual struggle to try to keep its head above water. We were constantly reacting to daily emergencies and seemed to be running in several different directions simultaneously. At first we tried to put in more hours to stay ahead of the work. During my first week on the job, I noticed soldiers starting to lay out equipment at 6pm! They would not be going home for at least a couple more hours.  It felt like we were losing ground each day.  Something had to change.

Lots of Activity with Little Progress

As an organization, we had some significant problems in many different areas ranging from administrative actions, logistics and maintenance. Not only did we struggle to make progress in these areas, but we were failing in a few as well. As we tried to uncover the root causes of the organization’s issues, we discovered a pattern that repeated itself. Once we started to work deliberately through one systemic issue, an emergency would come up in another area. While solving the second issue, inevitably, a third issue came up and our focus would change yet again. We were overwhelmed with the number of emergencies that popped up which made us extremely reactive and prevented us from getting after the root problems.  Furthermore, we were tripping over our shoe laces and couldn’t seem to get on our feet.

In hindsight, the pattern described above reflected a lack of focus.  We had to find a way to break out of this overwhelming cycle of reacting to emergencies in order to truly improve the organization.

Focusing on Everything Equates to Focusing on Nothing

The scenario described above demonstrates how attempting to react to urgent rather than important issues becomes problematic.[1] We tried to tackle nearly 100 different tasks a day, but we could truly only improve a few at any one time, realistically.

In an attempt to stop the madness, I listed out all of the areas of effort that were under my personal responsibility. The list consisted of 72 different items that ranged from administrative actions to logistics to the Family Readiness Group. Looking at the giant white board filled with 72 items, left little wonder as to why we felt overwhelmed. I knew there was no way any one could focus on 72 items simultaneously, nor would the organization be able to make any real headway in any one direction if we tried to juggle too much. If you try to focus on everything, then you really focus on nothing.

Simple Plan towards a Solution

Once we took the following five steps, we were able to make tremendous gains in problem areas:

  1. Identify the root cause of an issue rather than address the symptom
  2. Prioritize all tasks or areas of responsibility,
  3. Focus on those top priorities; choose the important over the urgent
  4. Temporarily assume risk on non-priority tasks in order to truly focus
  5. Ask your boss to provide top cover to shield your organization

Root cause

The danger to responding to an issue immediately off the cuff is that you are only addressing the problem at a superficial level. It takes some time, persistence, and curiosity to get to the root cause. When our organization struggled with vehicle maintenance, the issue initially seemed to be lack of compliance by subordinates, but proved to be a lack of institutional knowledge of processes when we looked beneath the surface.

Prioritization and Focus 

It was my opinion that we would be better off to focus on a few key items and make significant improvement in a few areas, than try to tackle almost everything with imperceptible change. I showed the list of 72 areas to my boss and highlighted 5 areas that I thought we should focus on. I selected the 5 areas that would most impact the organization. Admittedly, choosing 5 areas to focus on was an arbitrary number, but it was starting point to try to make real gains in the unit.

Top cover and assuming risk

Further I asked my boss for top cover to assume risk on the other 67 items. He approved the Top 5 list and agreed to provide top cover and demonstrate patience on the other areas. I wrote the top 5 on a 3×5 index card that I kept in my pocket. I warned my boss that if he gave me another task outside the scope of the Top 5 areas, that I would pull out the 3×5 card and ask him which of the Top 5 to deprioritize. He agreed to the plan.

Of the top 5 items we decided to focus on, the organization realistically gained traction in only three areas at any one time. Once we made sustained progress in the top 3 areas, we shifted focus to areas 4 and 5 on the list.

Conclusion

While the organization started off in disarray and struggled with executing routine things routinely, we were able to fix the culture by becoming intentional with our time and focus. Once we prioritized our responsibilities, focused on a select few, while consciously assuming risk in other areas, were we able to make significant progress in problem areas. Our organization went from being one of the worst in administrative actions, logistics, and maintenance to surpassing other battalions in the brigade and winning a Department of the Army level award.

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways are you and your organization overwhelmed?
  • What solutions have you found successful to avoid feeling overwhelmed?

Please take a minute to comment on the questions above.

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[1] Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Welcome to Developing Your Team

Welcome to Developing Your Team.com! This site is intended to serve you, as organizational leaders. If you are a leader in any type of organization, then this site is for you.

Developing Your Team.com will focus on professional development, explore challenges facing leaders today, and will provide fellow leaders with insights and a simple plan to achieve two objectives:

  1. Provide focus to their organization
  2. Develop their team

The goal of Developing Your Team.com is to enable readers to lead with clarity and confidence.

This site may help you if:

  • If you have ever felt as though you and your organization is task-saturated and overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work ahead.
  • You and your organization are pulled in multiple directions in a constant battle with too many “important” or top priority issues
  • You struggle with carving out time to develop your team.

Developing Your Team.com will:

  • Explore organizational leadership challenges,
  • Uncover simple yet effective ideas to overcome those challenges
  • Serve as a forum for leaders to discuss leadership and professional development

The site will strive to publish posts on a weekly basis in order to provide you with relevant content and foster discussion. This site is intended to be a dialogue not a monologue, so please provide comments and feedback.

Keep an eye out for the first article to be posted with the next week! In the mean time, please let us know what you currently struggle with as a leader.

Question:

  • What challenges do you face as an organizational leader that you would like this site to address?
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