You Can't Focus on Everything
Every leader I meet talks about the prioritisation challenge or issues they face.
The pressure to prioritise is greater than ever because in changing times, doing too much is an impediment to good execution.
Problems caused by lack of prioritisation are pretty obvious, including.
- People constantly complaining that they are trying to do too much
- Things going wrong or falling through the cracks when they shouldn't
- Quality of your products and services not being good enough
Prioritisation is hard because it means making hard calls, such as.
- Not doing things that made you successful in the past, to make way for new things
- Not pursuing good ideas that people come up with because of lack of resources
- Ceasing traditional services to customers because they are no longer commercially viable
As Steve Jobs said, focus “means saying no, no, no!”
We don't like saying “no” to good people, who do good work, and have good ideas.
It is far easier to say a “bit of yes” to many things than it is to say “no” and only pursue a few things, which you commit to do well.
If you don't prioritise, by definition you are deciding to do too much.
The downstream effect of asking your people to do too much is potential lack of accountability.
It can become OK for people to do less than expected, as it was never realistic to have the expectation they could do what was expected in the first place.
A “culture of best endeavours” then emerges rather than a “culture of commitment”, and with it, a significant impact on quality of execution and business performance.
I once heard it said, “leadership is making the choice between bad and badder”. So it is with prioritisation.
If you don't make the hard call, you suffer from doing too much. If you do make the hard call, you may miss out on something you should have done.
This is why being clear about why you do what you do and what your priorities are is so important. The clearer you are about what is really important, the more you can prioritise the things that matter. The less clear you are, the more you need to worry about missing out.
As it was for Steve Jobs, who saved Apple by dramatically cutting down what Apple was doing, prioritisation is a big test of leadership.