Setting priorities at work isn’t just about choosing to do one thing over another; it’s about choosing to do important things first so that you can achieve your long-term goals. Once priorities are established, they help us to stay organized and on-task.
We are personally, most familiar with individual goal-setting, choosing priorities, and making task lists. Teams and organizations need to do so as well.
Senior management spends a lot of time debating, negotiating, and planning the company’s strategies and goals. Once set, these priorities need to be clearly communicated and cascaded down throughout the organization. These seven steps will help keep you focused.
1. Align with the strategic plan
In many larger companies, you may observe the disappearing act of senior management as they go into strategic planning for the following fiscal year. This process may take several months and the output may be a two-inch binder and a series of all-employee meetings or webinars to launch. In smaller companies, it may simply require a day-long off-site meeting and result in a reasonable PowerPoint presentation to employees.
Either way, there is a thoughtful plan for growth. Strategies may include a new product launch, a merger or acquisition, or a new geographic target market. Conversely, the plan may include retiring a product, selling a division, or closing a market. Whatever the plan, it will be executed by teams of employees who need to understand the plan and align their efforts to it.
2. Write it down
Ideally, senior management will create a succinct summary of the strategic plan that can be distributed to employees. It might even be branded with a plan name or acronym. Printing these materials and hanging them around the office can help to communicate and reinforce the priorities for everyone.
There is something about the act of writing things down that gives our ideas a feeling of permanence and importance. Be as concrete and specific as you can. As you mentally create your own list of priorities, write them down. Some employees like to see their list on a paper checklist or their own small whiteboard. Keeping the list visible helps you to focus on the right tasks.
3. Set the timeline
One driver of any priority is going to be the due date. Managing the timeline is a critical component of project management. It helps to hold people accountable and organize the tasks. Is something dependent on another task or can it run concurrently? Can you estimate the amount of time required for the work? How many team members are required to accomplish this part of the project? What are the milestones leading up to the due date?
A common approach for successfully meeting your objectives is setting SMART goals. The “T” stands for time-bound. If you don’t set a deadline for a task or project, other priorities will jump in front and push it out. It becomes a “nice to have” behind the “must have” projects.
4. Meet with stakeholders
Communications of the plan and priorities should involve live meetings with key stakeholders. The written plan can provide the framework for the meetings both at launch and regular updates throughout the timeline. Senior management meeting with managers. Managers meeting with employees. Employees may even share priorities with outside vendors, partners, and agencies.
An all-employee email launch is one-sided and may leave employees unsure of the next steps. Creating a video ensures everyone receives a consistent message. If you are able to deploy the video in your learning management system, you are able to track and report on the views. Live meetings allow an open dialogue about the video, the plan, and priorities. Whether in person or via online meetings and conference calls, the dialogue is key to discussing and negotiating the individual priorities as part of the larger plan. Team members may raise unexpected issues that require further discussion with management and changes in timeline or projects.
5. Clarify activities and roles
Once the strategic plan has been launched and goals set, they must be translated into actionable items for all employees. This can be a very tactical conversation reviewing the existing project and task lists to make sure they are aligned with the new goals. There may be additional brainstorming sessions to identify new programs to meet the new goals.
As managers clarify roles with their team, they also gain commitment to focus on the priorities, to do their best to meet their goals and to stay on point. If employees don’t have clarity on the priorities, they may become distracted with that cool new project or “something shiny.” Days or weeks can be lost during the diversion.
6. Review and assess
After you have set and communicated priorities, take the time to measure progress, track results, and assess the progress. Review the milestones and timeline. Are things on track? You may need to build in some flexibility to pivot.
Have there been environmental changes that affect your plans? Did a competitor make an unexpected announcement? Has there been a higher than average amount of turnover among your employees? Has a new opportunity presented itself? Any of these factors may require you to rework the priorities of your team.
7. Timely communication
As you regularly review and assess, you also communicate.
- Reinforce the plan and objectives.
- Report on progress to date.
- Recognize success.
- Review changes.
At ej4, the leadership team takes turns recording a monthly update video. We utilize our own eLearning authoring tool to create the video and deploy via Thinkzoom, our LMS, so we can track the views (as mentioned above). Sometimes we hide a surprise quiz or challenge in the description or at the end of the video to add some engagement and fun!
We review the goals and report accomplishments from each department. With offices in Kansas City and St. Louis, MO, these updates have helped everyone stay connected and focused. In addition, we do two all-employee meetings a year, one in each location. Face-to-face time is a lot of fun and strengthens relationships. It also gives us a chance to brainstorm in larger groups and participate in team building exercises.
We have all heard the lesson of the big rocks in the mason jar. The big rocks represent your largest priorities and projects. The story teaches us that, if you make room for the large, important things, there will be room for the “small stuff,” but not vice versa.
Taking the time to set the priorities for your employees ensures they know what the big rocks are and gives them the space to fill in the small rocks, sand, and water.
Training supports this process
The Business Skills Library from ej4 offers a wide variety of courses that can support you all along the way of setting and communicating your priorities. A few examples include:
- Mission, Vision, and Values: a solid place to start with your strategic planning process.
- SMART Goals: a guide for setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
- Project Management: this series covers documenting the project charter, establishing timelines, measurement, and tracking.
- The Art of Saying No: this course will help employees push back and say no to special projects and requests that are outside the scope of their assigned priorities.
Check out more of our blog content and sample training videos below:
- Blog post: 7 Characteristics of Winning Team Dynamics
- Communication skills training videos
- Leadership training videos
- Professional productivity training videos
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 18, 2016 and has been updated for freshness and comprehensiveness.