PRIORITIES – THE KEY TO ACHIEVING AN IMPOSSIBLE AMOUNT OF WORK
I ask every CEO group I present to “How many of you have enough time to do everything you need to?” In several hundred presentations to date, no one has ever said they do have enough time. The only two answers are: to delegate more (see my October 2007 newsletter), and/or set and stick to clear priorities.
Every executive has some kind of prioritization system, usually either some paper-based methodology or a computer or PDA-based system. Any of these systems will work, so systems aren’t the issue. The real issue is discipline; having the courage not to allow others to add things to your priority list.
THE THREE SINS OF PRIORITIES
- Setting an unrealistic number of priorities. Recently I asked a CEO group about their priorities and how many each person had, and one CEO looked in his PDA and said he had 192 items on his priority list. I don’t have to know anything more to know that these cannot possibly be “priorities.” As someone once said, “If everything is important, nothing is.” Most of us can handle a maximum of 5 true priorities at a time and often 3 are better, especially if they are really important ones.
- Setting priorities that are really “keep the lights on” issues. Priorities should be just that; those items that are most critical to the company and/or CEO in moving the company forward. Some things, like preparing the budget in Q4 are “keep the lights on” (unless it is the first time the company has done one). Typical company and CEO priorities have to do with executing the strategic plan and moving the company from good to great. These are really the most important things to focus on.
- Allowing others to hijack our priority list. Once we have set our priorities, nothing should ever get added unless something comes off, i.e. an item is completed or the new item is more important than one of the current items on our priority list. Too often, someone mentions a problem to us and our reaction is to make a note to look into the issue, when what we should say is “That does sound like a problem; what are you going to do to resolve it?” No one gets to add things to my priority list!
As CEOs, we can never allow others to hijack our priority list. If we do, how in the world can we remain focused on the true priorities of the organization and the things we must focus on to make them happen? I am often asked by CEOs what are the most important duties or priorities for a CEO, and I always had the following four in each of the companies that I led:
- Set the direction for the company
- Get the right people in place and develop them
- Make sure my executives had the resources they needed to get their jobs done
- Help remove obstacles that were preventing them from doing what they were being paid to do
For a brief whitepaper on Priorities which you can download for your team, click on: