As a business owner, you’ll know that time – along with money, people and all the other resources we need when working towards our goals – is precious, right? The time we spend on projects will help to shape our future success, and the time we spend on our business will help it to grow. So why don’t we prioritise what we (and our people) are spending our time on as thoroughly as we prioritise spending?

I believe the answer lies in a couple of areas. The first is often a reluctance to take risks. When we prioritise, we are saying “this is the what you should focus on, above all else” but our inner doubters often ask “what if we are wrong?  What if “all else” holds the key to success instead?” This nervousness can lead us to take the “shotgun approach” and that we end up convincing ourselves that keeping all options open is the best course of action. This leads us to spin many plates, but none of them that well. It also breeds confusion – confusion in our people and confusion in the market as to what you stand for, what you offer and what you are good at.

I think the second reason is because it takes thought and effort to do so. Prioritisation is made possible by already having a strategy and plan in place, which in turn provide your rationale for what you choose to focus on; but these demand that time be committed to their own creation. Sure, without a strategy or plan in place you may continue to roll on and make money, but growth rarely happens without intention. Remind me, what are the odds on winning the lottery again?  (1 in 45,057,474 apparently – but only if you actually buy a ticket)

I’m going to build on the benefits of having a strategy and plan in place and why that’s vital for growth.

Most businesses would like to be more agile; be quicker to react to opportunities and threats, perhaps anticipating and responding before they have to react in the first place.  If that’s your ambition, then I’d argue that prioritisation (and clear communication of it) is essential. This was wonderfully framed when I interviewed the head of the major Manchester-based digital agency Return on Digital, Guy Levine. The theme we were discussing was how do you stay agile as you grow.  When I asked him for his one piece of killer advice for the audience to take away he said:

Make sure everyone knows your plan and priorities, and the part they play in them. They will be faced with choices every hour of every day and if they know the priorities then they’re more likely to make the right decision.

I think Guy has a great point here. Be fanatical about prioritising and communicating. Just doing that isn’t enough though: you have to be understood as well. How do you know you’ve been heard and that every member of the team each knows what they can do to support every one of your priorities?

You also need to be good at recruitment, so that you have the right people, in the right seats so they already understand the priority, want it as well, and have the capacity to help achieve it.

Finally, you need to be empowering teams to make that decision, trusting them to get it right or if not, to learn and then not repeat it.  Guy has all of these characteristics, which is why he doesn’t see the everyday stuff being passed up the line for approval and that’s how he keeps up the business momentum and agility.

It’s no coincidence that prioritisation is an essential element of OKRs. If you would like to find out more about how OKRs could help drive growth in your business, then let’s talk.

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