If Everything Is A Priority, Nothing Really Is

I facilitated a workshop session recently that required attendees to link our discussion to the organisation’s strategic objectives. The results were interesting.

Only a handful of participants were able to tell me what the four key strategic priorities for their organisation were.

Does this surprise you? If so, it probably shouldn’t. The evidence tells us that very few of our staff – managers included – know, and consciously apply big picture strategic objectives in their work. Which isn’t good news for making strategy a reality. It’s hard to walk the talk when you can’t remember what the talk is.

Strategy is not something we do and put in a box. It’s one of those things where the habit is the result. Making trade-offs between important, meaningful choices to propel ourselves forward is bloody hard work – and without clarity about the criteria to make those trade-offs, it’s almost impossible.

Prioritisation takes place every day, in every organisation. But if these priorities are not set, modelled and reinforced at the highest levels, the buck gets passed on. Judgement calls get pushed down the chain for staff to make. Aside from being unfair, this means that trade-offs aren't driven by strategic priorities. They're driven by capacity, capability and a whole host of unpredictable external factors.

My thoughts: organisations should worry less about selecting the wrong priorities, and more about failing to prioritise and make it stick. When we don't walk the strategy talk and provide clear direction, we set ourselves up to fail. If everything is treated as a priority, then nothing really is.

How To...  Make Strategic Priorities Meaningful

  • Get people involved in priority development – this creates skin in the game

  • Integrate strategic priorities into operational and strategic decision making – think report templates, business cases, project plans, budgets

  • Lead by example – make strategic priorities and trade-offs a visible part of your own leadership and decision-making.

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