Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When priorities are lacking

A chess player in a simultaneous display. His real competitor is not among his opponents. His attention drops. What is he doing here?

Busy, busy, busy. With what? And why?
This is the condition of people, groups and whole organizations without clear priorities. Why don’t people have clear priorities? There are so many causes that it is a wonder that some people do have them.
  1. There is no time to think through priorities. This is a recursive one, a vicious circle in itself.
  2. Having no time is an excuse not to think through priorities. Whenever it seems frightening to face the facts.
  3. Incompetent bosses give all the time conflicting demands or come with ever new priorities. Often they suffer under bosses like themselves. As competent people don’t stay under such circumstances, only the incompetent, the indifferent and the anxious people stay.
  4. Lack of delegation means that bosses run from one incident to the next one. When extinguishing one fire, another flames up already. Some people wait almost ion purpose for crises to develop, because they don’t have an inkling what to do if there is no crisis. Crises may give people the idea they are important, needed. And they may give them the probably mistaken belief they are alive.
  5. Some people have a body that is not suitable for a sitting life. They need to move, even physically, so they arrange for working conditions that make it necessary to move around.
  6. Many people have a time-span that is too short for their job. They are busy pulling plants up to make them grow faster.
  7. If you are very busy, people are discouraged from asking disturbing questions like what the effectiveness or the efficiency is of what you are doing. Or even worse: what the purpose is what you are doing.
  8. Increasing performance with present capability is more difficult, less tangible and slower than cutting costs. That can be calculated easily, if you don’t think too much ahead. Decreasing capability gives a lot of stress: fear to be the next to become redundant, more work to do, getting less support, anger about arbitrariness, blindness and injustice.
  9. When everybody is running around, the few people who are calm and concentrated are envied and should be entrusted with extra work. It is unfair. They should be snowed under as soon as possible.
  10. Priorities don’t help without posteriorities: not doing the nonessential. That requires courage - and judgment. Bureaucracies don’t like those. Not making mistakes is safer than trying to accomplish the worthwhile.
So what can we do about all this? How can we establish priorities in the middle of a priorities graveyard?
  1. By establishing priorities group-wise, not individually, by the people responsible and directly involved.
  2. By concentrating on the one or two priorities that dwarf all others: core issue analysis.
  3. By giving the core priorities evocative labels that stick.

In my experience this rarely takes more than three days. One day to make the longlist, one day to boil the longlist down to the core issues, and one day for the strategy of dealing with those issues and farming them out to the right people. The first and the third day can be done by a sample of the people involved. The second day has to involve as many key people involved in the area under consideration as possible, including the ones that are actually going to execute the work involved.
This is an investment in collective mind power that will increase effective mind power amply, often incredibly.
One or two outsiders, like consultants, are usually needed to ensure a fresh perspective on worn-out issues.

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