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Articles > Positioning Systems Newsletter # 75 11-27-07 “Priorities – Right Things Right”

Managing multiple priorities seems to be something that my manager’s and I face all the time. How do I decide which areas to work on and get everything moving forward collectively to accomplish what needs to get done?

This is a very appropriate time to be addressing this question as we look toward the New Year. The coaching company I have just become certified with Gazelles Inc, founder, Verne Harnish, author of the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, states the answer to this question much better than I can, “The company that has too many priorities has no priorities.” 

You can break this down into two segments. First what are your company priorities and secondly what are you and your staff’s individual priorities? Absent company priorities you and your people will flounder. Verne is also quoted, “As goes the senior seats go so goes the company.” So the question is what have you as the senior seat, the leader of your business, done to set the priorities for your business?  
The first rule should be for you to establish the priorities for your business and then your staff should organize their priorities under these principles for their priorities. Verne suggests businesses create a One Page Strategic Plan for organizing their business, providing each person in the company with a set of accountabilities to help determine how the business will achieve a pre set of priorities and quarterly themes.
You may be thinking, I have so many priorities, how do I decide which to choose.   Yet in most cases it’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we simply don’t do it.
You should feel good if you’re struggling with priorities because you are in good company. You may have heard the story of one of the earliest management consultants Ivy Lee approaching then CEO Charles Schwab, of Bethlehem Steel Company, and announcing, “ With our services, you’ll know how to manage better.” Schwab became indignant, “What we need around here is not more knowing, but more doing! If you’ll pep us up to do the things we already know we ought to do, I’ll gladly pay you anything you ask.”  
Lee promised he could help Schwab get Bethlehem Steel to produce 50% more simply by having Schwab write down and prioritize his six most important tasks to complete in the next business day. He then told him to take the list out of his pocket and begin on number one, reviewing it every 15 minutes to make sure he stayed on task, and moving on to the next only after he had finished the first priority. He told him not to be concerned with work on any of the others or getting more than one, two or three done in a day because he’d be working on the most important ones first, the others could wait. He then told Schwab to share this approach with his executives, judge its value and send him a check for its value.
Schwab eventually sent Lee a check for $25K, which was considered an extraordinary amount of money in those days, and with it a note that it was the most profitable lesson he’d ever learned. 
This is the power of focus. Perhaps that’s why so many owners get upset when we begin working on vision. They want to get things done, NOW!   With the Rockefeller Habits we recognize the power of vision, yet we also realize that in your business it’s about 1% Vision and 99% alignment. Get everyone working in the same direction and you and your business suddenly have the power to move mountains.
Ask yourself right now, what do I need to be doing today to keep this company moving toward its plans at the speed the market demands? Determine your top 5 priorities and then your top 1. If you have a management team it is helpful to hold a monthly or quarterly meeting to review or help determine what those top 5 are and what the top 1 of 5 is. Of course if you don’t have a vision for where you want your business to be, it is critical to put that in place as well. 
In order to get your priorities right you need to have a foundational understanding of your business. The Right Things Right Model that we will send you if you email us, illustrates the fundamental decisions, relationships and functions of a business. There are two sides to this model, the Right Things, and Things Right. The Right Things side requires bold leadership able to make a few key decisions about strategy and direction, while the Things Right side requires capable management that can maintain healthy disciplines and habits. Do you know which side of your business requires your attention? Which is your priority, the Right Things or Things Right? Do you know what are the right things, or are you and your people struggling to get things right? 
Priority decisions in the next twelve months may well determine the success or failure or your business endeavor. You may feel it’s complicated to determine what to focus on, but in many cases your top priority is often the one that hurts the most. If Tiger Woods had to spend a year relearning how to swing his clubs it probably isn’t too much to admit that we all need a little help and coaching at times to improve our game.
Ask for the help you need to determine your priorities, but most important make a New Year’s Resolution to discover your top 5 priorities for next year and then your top one of five. If you need help with prioritizing and kick starting your year consider our 6 +1 Get Your Year in Gear Program to launch 2008 in the direction of your dreams.

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