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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Prioritization - What is That?

As I continue my posts about interpersonal skills, one area that I have used my interpersonal skills as of late, is in the area of prioritization.  You want to talk about having to be a strong communicator, negotiator, influencer and facilitator.  My goodness!  Prioritization is not black and white.  It's definitely not black and white if you are working with a lot of different partners, who also have processes in place, where they have a pipeline of work they have to prioritize.  Prioritization has always been an interesting topic to me because it is really based off of someone else's perspective.  Even if you have created a process of prioritization that is based on calculations, it is still someone's perspective on how that calculation should work.  As I work with clients a popular question that comes up is, "how do you get everyone to agree on work to be done?"  I will be totally honest, I don't have a direct answer to these question as I experience these challenges every day as well.  Everyone situation is different because the players are different.  Depending on the players may determine the approach you take.  However, I can provide some guidance on some things to keep in mind as you go through this process called prioritization.

  • Communication is Key - I don't care what type of methodology you use, or the environment you are in, if you cannot communicate you will not get anything accomplished.  What I find interesting is that most people thing they communicate well when in actually they don't and and there is opportunity for improvement.  It's not just what you say, but how you say it.  The tone you set to conduct this prioritization will determine the responses, and engagement, you will receive from the audience throughout the process.  I would recommend that you don't come off like a dictator.  I will give you an example of something I have experienced in my career, as I have sat in many meetings, where items needed to be prioritized.  I was in a situation where I worked in a matrixed environment.  For those who may not be familiar with a matrixes environment, I reported directly into one leadership chain in the organization, but was a dotted line to another one that I needed to work closely with.  The leadership chain I was reporting into had prioritized some process work that needed to be done.  However, in the matrix environment I was a dotted line into, they also had a huge initiative they were leading where my team was needed to conduct some work as well.  The approach that was taken by this other group was to come in, advise me that their initiative was the highest priority and advise that is where the focus should be.  That didn't work too well for me for a few reasons:
    • Issue #1 - This individual did not even take time to understand the current environment being new to the organization.  Nor did they take time to understand why the work was prioritized the way it currently was.
    • Issue #2 - The individual pretty much came in and told me what I needed to do (really this was a bully approach).  This never works.  It definitely doesn't work for me, especially if you want me to partner with you.
    • Issue #3 - This individual did not listen to my concerns on why these priorities could be not only conflicting, but impact how work would get done, because the same resources were being leveraged.
    • End result- The communication approach totally turned me off and it ended up becoming a battle of wills.  I have to admit I do like a challenge so I was not giving in very easily, and frankly, didn't give in at all.  Actually, if I must be totally honest, I still would not want to work with this person regardless of how much skill is present.   The entire situation and approach turned me off.  Unfortunately, this happens all the time and one of the reasons getting anything prioritized is an act of congress.  Be very deliberate, and thoughtful, in your tone and approach as that can make all the difference in the world.  The goal is that when you leave the meeting that everyone agrees on the priorities established.

  • Agreed Upon Prioritization Criteria -  It is imperative that everyone agrees on the ranking criteria.  As well as have clear definitions on what that criteria means.  Prioritization may not be just "high, medium and low".  There may be other reasons where you may need to use a numerical ranking system, or different levels of category.  The most important thing is to define the criteria and ensure everyone agrees with it. Try to be as specific as you can when you define the criteria as well.  
    • For example, what does "high" really mean? You may define the category of "high" as: 
      • Significant legal, operational and reputational risk to the company (i.e. will result in litigation if not remedied immediately, will cause significant operational risk and/or could potentially hit the media in a negative light).  
      • High volume of occurrence (95% of negatively impacted accounts).  
      • High negative customer experience (90% or more of customers are impacted).  
    • You need to get down to potentially quantifiable criteria to give everyone the same perspective. Then you need to determine how everyone will come to agreement on the correct priority (i.e. what type of voting system do you use or decision system).
  • Ensure All Needed Stakeholders Are At The Table - One mistake that is made is prioritization in a vacuum.  If you know that there are other areas of the business you will need to get the work done, engage them.  Other partners have a pipeline of work as well, so you may as well have that conversation upfront to get realistic time frames in place as you try to prioritize.  Also, you may need to incorporate their prioritization perspective in the criteria as well.  There may be other categories that need to be taken into consideration based on the work that is performed.  Don't get irritated or annoyed because business partners are introducing new criteria.  It's better to take that into consideration upfront than deal with the drama later.  Everyone needs to have a voice, whether you agree with that voice or not.  You just need to ensure you have a strong facilitator to keep everyone on task to reach the ultimate goal of prioritizing work that everyone feels comfortable with.
  • Take Emotions Out of It - To be frank it's not about how you feel so get over that, and yourself, before you walk into the room.  It's all about getting work prioritized so you and your team can focus.  Get rid of the ego and ulterior motives.  There is no room for that and it provides no value whatsoever.  Nobody really cares about them anyway and it's a total waste of energy.  Walk into this conversation knowing you may have to make some compromises.  Definitely give your perspective and share concerns, but don't be driven by emotions  This is truly not personal so don't make it that way.  If everything you want doesn't happen, get over it.  Trust me your stress level will go down and you will be a happier employee.  Plus everyone around you will be happier too.  :-).  
  • Revisit Your Prioritization - Once you have your prioritization list it doesn't stop there.  As you know, change is constant, therefore, priorities will change and shift.  Come up with a frequency on when you revisit your prioritization list. The priorities may have to change over time so this first blush doesn't mean the work is done.

Don't get me wrong, I'm by no means saying this work is easy.  It's not and it's been a constant challenge in my career.  It's hard to identify everyone who needs to be involved, let alone determining criteria.  However if you don't, it causes pain throughout the entire process.  It causes bottlenecks to where work cannot get done. The conversations are hard, but crucial and critical.  They need to happen.  We need to spend more time communicating upfront before we jump into doing all this work.  I'm still working through how to make this process less painful and I'm learning everyday.  I'm open to any other best practises out there as well so please share.

Happy prioritization!!! :-)


Paula A Bell Consulting, LLC
Twitter: BAMartialArtist