Prioritising: 12 elements to prioritising wisely


Leaders and managers often talk about prioritising. But there is one thing nearly all of our clients have in common at present. They are at the very limits of their resources – physically and some even emotionally as their people disengage. Perhaps you are like them, and need to genuinely engage with prioritising – not by making everything a high priority but by choosing the 3-5 things you really must achieve and abandoning the rest!

For so long we have all been ‘doing more with less’ and then ‘working smarter not harder’ – and now the latest solution seems to ‘be mindful’ …

But maybe all these solutions have something in common. The three mentioned above are ways of coping with things as they are. What I mean is, that they help us to keep the wheels turning in a similar fashion – but faster than before.

Mindfulness in its most pure form should provide a way out. It should help us see what really is happening and help us to reshape the wheels, rather than simply cope with the wheels going faster and faster. However in the two contexts I have experienced recently, mindfulness is not being used to decide to act differently. It is being used as a coping and de-stressing mechanism – so its being used in a way that is not true to its intent.

What’s really happening?

I get it! You are under pressure. You have more and more priorities that are being added to your already very long list. All the initiatives are high priorities. And none or too few are being dropped. Many I suspect are falling through the cracks. I know it’s not intended, but I think some leaders who feel pressured are just passing that pressure on.  For many at the bottom of the chain, there is no more fat or slack left. Further more, it has gotten worse than no more slack left. It has gotten to the point of some employees being burnt out.

I believe this is a failure of leadership.  There is a limit to how much a group of people are able to do. What is important?

Show leadership: make a choice and energise your people!

As you and your team come to the limit of your physical resources, I suggest that in the interests of effectiveness, you start choosing what to do – and more importantly, what not to do.

What are the three to five top priorities you can focus your attention on? This requires you to choose carefully, strategically and in a disciplined manner. It requires you to muster your courage to abandon some initiatives.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” Peter Drucker

Imagine your team re-energised because at last they can devote themselves to doing something well.  Imagine them being clear about what is most improtant and knowing what they have to do. Imagine them bringing their best selves to these important challenges or opprotunities.

Continuing to spread yourselves so thinly is self defeating. You’re probably pushing yourself and your team to the point that you are all unable to think properly.  Some are giving up and becoming very disengaged.

12 elements to prioritising and choosing wisely…

Try thinking systemically. It will help you in your selection of what to do – and what not to do.

Consider and seek those initiatives that are leverage points in the system. Working at a leverage point means you get more bang for your buck. (E.g. Think of the butterfly effect.) There are some actions we can take that are more likely to a huge difference across your team or organisation.

Donella Meadows famously produced a list of different types of leverage points in a system.

Donegal Meadows’ places to intervene in a system

In a business it may look like this

This list was made with a very large system like a nation in mind. But with a little imagination, you can think about what it would look like for your business or organisation or local council. For example,

  • level 12 – might be change in price of your goods or services, or just aiming to produce more.
  • level 11 – may be how much stock you carry.
  • level 10 – may be the process or system of creating your services or goods.
  • level 9 – may be how long before a customer’s need is satisfied.
  • level 8 – attempting to reduce fear founded in control designed to keep things on track.
  • level 7 –  taking action to gain productivity derived from a strength based approach to staff management.
  • level 6 – opening the financial books to staff.
  • level 5 – asking what behaviour is rewarded here?
  • level 4 – staff ability to choose how they organise their work and selves to achieve the purpose and outcomes.
  • level 3 – reshaping the purpose or vision.
  • level 2 – mechanistic to living system approach within the organisation.
  • level 1 – being in the moment and fully present to what is really happenings round you. Not being at the mercy of any one ideology or philosophy… this where mindfulness should get you to!

Glancing through this list, you may be able to see different opportunites for chosing your highest priority initiatives.

I wonder if your focus is usually around level 12 -9, the places of least influence? Or if you have managed to work closer to level 6 and downwards to level 1?

Let us know if you would like to discuss a ‘prioritising’ workshop for you and your team.