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Focus On Top Five Priorities

Consultant Shane Craddock believes that CEOs, senior executives and business owners should clarify their main priorities to the end of this year.


The silly season is officially over. Holidays, ice-creams by the beach and festivals are but a distant (but very pleasant) memory.

Along with the advancement of shorter days and a drop in temperature comes the realisation that you only have four months left in the year to close out your top goals.

That's not to say that you haven't been busy over the past couple of months.  But there's no doubt about it that the business world is a 'little' more active from the 1st of September. 

So before you get caught up with the 'busy'-ness of business, it's well worth taking a step out of the noise to clarify what your main priorities are going to be to the end of this year. A small amount of thinking will reap a significant return on your time.

What Are Your Top 5?

Some of my clients get bored with me asking this question.  Yet they understand the immense value of having an answer to it. 

For example, I was meeting with a C-level executive recently and was reviewing his goals for the quarter and the remainder of 2014.  For Q3 he had 13 objectives. All of them were the same priority i.e. top priority.  So, his reality was that everything was screaming for the limited resources of his time, attention and resources. 

It doesn't matter whether you're Apple or a small business. There is always a limit to whatever resources we have at our disposal. That's why it's critical to be clear on the ones that matter most.  As the saying goes, 'If everything's a priority, then nothing is.'

Shane Cradock

Not Everything Matters Equally 

The reality is that not everything matters at the same level.  Some things do matter more. This is where Pareto's Principle (the 80/20 rule) really comes into play. So staying with our executive, after a little bit of probing we identified their top 5 priorities to the end of year. 

Yet, even then we had to deal with the most common objection i.e. what they think their boss will say if they don't achieve all of the objectives. (i.e. the 13)

Me: “Looking at all of your objectives, what are the odds of you achieving all of them?”
C: “Slim to none”
Me: “Looking at your top 5, what are the odds?”
C: “Right now, 50%.  If we focus resources in the way we're talking now, probably 90%+”
Me: “So the only question is, which approach is better for the business?”

There was only one answer.

Are You Trying To Do Everything And In The Process Slowing Down Your Success?

Our most precious resource in business and life is our attention.  

As Peter Drucker said, “Concentration is the key to economic results.  No other principles of effectiveness is violated as constantly today as the basic principle of concentration.

Which is better? Moving 100 things forward an inch or 5 things forward a mile?

That is the challenge facing businesses daily as they decide where to put their concentration.  And it's the most common problem I encounter when working with business leaders i.e. not channeling their attention where it matters most.

Imagine having an incredibly powerful laser and then diffracting it into 100 different lasers.  The immense power becomes so diluted it probably becomes useless.   The same applies to your attention.

With the potential for distraction increasing daily, primarily through technology (social media, mobile devices, instant messaging etc.) the art of prioritisation is becoming even more important - and perhaps more difficult. When a mind is constantly being distracted, interrupted and challenged is it any wonder that many lack the clarity of mind to effectively prioritise?

Managing ourselves is only one element. When it comes to managing others, the potential for waste in business is extraordinary.  Even if it's only a few hours wasted every week, depending on the size of your team, that can add up to a very significant number over a year.  If you think about it 1 hour saved a day over a year adds up to over 30 days, for one person. That's a lot of potential productivity. That's the value of prioritisation.

Basic stuff I hear you say. It is. But so is regular exercise, and that doesn't mean it's going to happen. But if it does, the positive impact on the person and the business is always immense. The same applies to taking time out to clarify your top priorities.

Is Your Business Aligned?

Back to our C-level friend.  Once we'd identified their priorities and clarified the order of importance (from 1 to 5, with 1 being the most important), the next step was to take it to the CEO to ensure alignment.

As I see it, there are 3 essential A's needed for every business - Accountability, Accurate Information and Alignment.

This applies to businesses of all size. Alignment is all about communication. 

Have you done an alignment check on your goals? That means with your boss, your direct reports and your stakeholders. 

I always find it fascinating to that very smart and successful people don't always ensure alignment with the people that matter most. It's like being the captain of a ship but not bothering to tell the crew, the customers or the boat's owners that you've decided to change the ship's destination. In that case it's obvious the kind of mess that will follow. It's the same in business and indeed, life.

The 3 Step Focus Process

So in short; 1. What are your top 5 priorities to the end of the year? And why?  2. What is the order of priority (1 to 5)? 3. Who do I need to 'check-in' with to ensure alignment?

Shane Cradock works with CEOs, senior executives and business owners. His playThe Waiting Room goes on tour from September 26. Details here.

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