Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke

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Priority Management

Volume: June 2008

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com

Susan works for a fast-paced, quality-oriented organization. Changes in strategy and procedure are commonplace. She is a terrific professional: hard-working, intelligent, and articulate. She cares about the eight people she leads, and is committed to providing solid results for her department and the overall organization. There is one problem, however. Susan often leads her team in one direction, while the organization is moving in a slightly different direction. This befuddles Susan to no end. Especially since she is a good listener and places proper focus on goals. So what is going on here? What is creating a disconnect between the excellence that Susan seeks and the average performance that she and her team deliver? 

The answer lies in the fact that there is substantial lag-time between the declaration of changes in organizational priorities and those changes being communicated to Susan. This dynamic is unfortunately commonplace. For example, Susan’s organization began the year with five key initiatives or outcomes in focus. By the end of the first quarter, due to changes in the marketplace (i.e., competition, regulation, opportunity, etc.), five new initiatives or outcomes gained priority. As a result, Susan is fervently leading her team with yesterday’s playbook. Keep in mind that Susan’s boss is not intentionally keeping her in the dark. He is simply overwhelmed with his own tasks, goals, and organizational changes. What Susan, and more importantly, her boss need is a tool to manage shifting organizational priorities. They need a Priority Communication Tool.        

A Priority Communication Tool (PCT) is a model that enables leaders to communicate top organizational priorities in an effective way and on a regular basis. Often times, a company’s top priorities are the same from month-to-month. Other times, however, particularly during periods of rapid change, priorities can frequently shift. Even though top leaders believe they have effectively communicated new priorities, a PCT ensures that a clear message regarding the changes has been delivered. It should be noted that the number of items listed on the PCT may vary from 5 to 25, or more. What is important is that mission critical items are listed, and items that are no longer a top priority are deleted. In a moment a sample PCT will be shown. First, let’s examine some types of PCTs.  

Types of Priority Models

Depending upon the size and structure of your organization, it may make sense to create several PCTs. Some of the areas deserving of PCT include the following:

  • Organization – in order to communicate broad corporate initiatives
  • Division – in order to couple corporate vision with division goals
  • Region (geographic or market segment) – in order to embrace corporate initiatives with expected regional outcomes
  • Department – to keep a focus on the organization, while accomplishing tasks
  • Work-group – to maintain a connection to a broader vision, while executing duties
  • Product line – to embrace corporate initiatives and match product line accomplishments with them
  • Job Function – to maintain a corporate-team member connection 

Sample Priority Communication Tool 

Priority*

Level**

Comments

1. Increase sales by 20% for the year

1

This continues to be the company’s top priority.

2. Implement new customer service strategy

1

Effective next quarter this is a number 1 priority.

3. Discontinue old customer service model

5

At the end of this quarter we abandon this strategy.

4. HR streamline initiative

2

This will be ongoing for the remainder of the year.

5. Team member development initiative

2

This is ongoing via a series of podcasts and online streaming video training.

* A priority may be a task, a corporate initiative, a change in philosophy, etc.

** The level may be shown as a number or shown by color. The following guide is offered for your consideration:

            Mission Critical: 1 or green

            Important: 2 or blue

            On Hold: 3 or yellow

            Low: 4 or orange 

            Deleted: 5 or red

Frequency of Communication

Some of the determining factors regarding the frequency of distributing the Priority Communication Tool are:

  • The amount of change your organization is experiencing / anticipating
  • Your team’s needs
  • Your team’s normal communication channels and frequency of communication 

Means of Communication

It is up to the leader to decide the best method to communicate the model:

  • Email
  • Verbal (at meetings)
  • Memo (paper or electronic)
  • As part of a formal report
  • All of the above

Let us return to the saga of Susan and her boss for a moment. A model similar to the one described above was shared with Susan’s boss. He embraced it. After all, he was frustrated too and was delighted to receive a tool that could enhance communication and understanding. The time frame he chose for distribution was weekly. Soon Susan and her team were receiving updates that kept their heads spinning. As a result, Susan’s department engaged in strategic brainstorming and action planning. They reorganized the structure and flow of information within their department in order to better fit with the direction of the organization. At the end of the day, Susan and her team felt a part of something meaningful, as opposed to sitting on the outside of chaos, looking in. 

Bottom Line: If you desire a nimble organization filled with agile team members, create crystal clarity regarding targeted priorities. Restate your team’s top priorities on a regular basis. Remember: reinforcement keeps corporate and individual priorities in focus with all team members.

Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and communication consultant, executive coach, and business planner. His book, Leadership Simplified, as well as audios and video are available at the Productivity Store of www.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug speak at your next event, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at 941-776-1121. 

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