How to Prioritize Strategic Initiatives

How to Prioritize Strategic Initiatives
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The Challenge of Strategic Clarity
Unfortunately, far too many corporate leaders struggle to create the strategic clarity required to set themselves and their teams up for success. Leaders, especially during times of change, need to be able to prioritize strategic initiatives in a way that makes sense.

What the Research Says
Our organizational alignment research found that, on average, the C-Suite believes the overall corporate strategy to be twice as clear as their direct reports. And the farther you get from the strategy retreat facilitation that happened in board room, the higher the level of strategic ambiguity.

Not surprisingly, the higher the level of uncertainty, the harder it is for individuals and teams to make decisions – especially when under pressure to make tough choices with limited resources and demanding time constraints.

The Mindset Required to Prioritize Strategic Initiatives
We know from our strategic decision making simulation data that teams often struggle to decide upon the right moves to help the business and their people to grow.

With no crystal ball to help them weigh the alternatives, leaders in fast-paced environments must do just enough forecasting, strategic scenario planning, and risk management to ensure that the long-term makes sense while delivering high impact results in the short-term.

How to Prioritize Strategic Initiatives
First, you must understand that while all high growth companies have big ambitions and increased pressures to scale faster, not all strategic initiatives are of equal value. The key is to make informed trade-offs and only a few big bets at a time.

There are three considerations that should guide your decision making. Focus on:

  1. What You’re Good At
    Don’t lose sight of what brought you success in the first place. If you get side-tracked into an area that does not take advantage of your proven strengths, you may dilute your effectiveness. Whenever possible, stick as close to your core competencies as you can.

    Because your core competency represents your key abilities to deliver unique value to your customers, it personifies your organization’s unique workplace culture and strengths.  If you do decide to move into a new or adjacent competency area, remember that how you attract, develop, engage, and retain that workforce may be different.

    When prioritizing strategic initiatives, always give more weight to paths that play to your current strengths.
  2. How You Can Add Value
    Have you clearly differentiated your business from the competition? The difference between what you bring to your customers and what your competitors bring is your key differentiator. Distinguish your offerings in terms of what you can provide your customers (i.e., which of their critical problems you can solve) that others cannot.

    When prioritizing strategic initiatives, always take a client centric view to ensure that each and every strategic investment makes sense to your key stakeholders.
  3. The Long-term Picture
    While it can be tempting to stay in fire-fighting mode during rapid growth, you will never get any breathing room unless you tackle the important and not-urgent areas at the same time.  Set aside time to scan for future trends to help identify and prioritize the possibilities. Consider what could happen that would directly affect your organization, your industry, your customers, and, finally, the general environment including social, economic, and political forces.

    There will be uncertainties around how your workforce might evolve, how customers’ needs might change, and how macro trends could change your course. But it’s your job to prioritize the possibilities to identify the most likely scenario and adjust your strategy accordingly.

    When prioritizing strategic initiatives, always balance the urgent and important.

What to Do When Things Are Falling Apart in Your Fast-Paced Environment
With highly ambitious growth goals, it can be challenging to consistently meet short-term targets while keeping people engaged over the long-term.  Most employees end up working long hours and must be able to handle high levels of complexity, rapidly changing demands, and the need to run the business while simultaneously scaling and planning for the future.

For many, employee burnout becomes a real and present danger.  If you and your team find yourself in this precarious situation it is time to stop and triage. Get your team together immediately and:

  1. List All Projects
    Identify every task, strategic initiative, and move that each individual and team is working on in the next 90 days.  For each project, define if it is required to “Run the Business” or “Scale the Business.”  Then state if each project is on target, at risk, or not started.
  2. Categorize Every Project
    Determine the level of comparative urgency and importance of every project in the eyes of your key stakeholders. 
  3. Agree Upon the Top 10
    Based upon what matters most to run and scale the business, identify the Top 10 priorities the team will focus on to create undisputed high performance in the next 90 days.  For each project, define the goals, roles, success metrics, scope, and interdependencies required for success.
  4. Communicate What You Are Letting Go Of
    Formally communicate to key stakeholders what you are doing, what you are not doing, and why.  Then execute against and measure your plan.

The Bottom Line
Your strategy should guide your decision making and facilitate individual, team, and organizational prioritization. Focus and keep things simple so that you continue to do what you do best, to add value to your customers and to stay in business for the long-term.

To learn more about how to create the strategic clarity required to better set priorities, download 7 Proven Ways to Stress Test Your Strategy Now

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