You woke up today, made it to work, and received the same news as yesterday – the landscape of your business has changed. You need to adjust your schedule because something unexpected happened, and you are secretly fretting (or freaking out) about the challenges you fear in achieving your biggest business goal. Welcome to a day in the life of an executive.
This is the new normal. You show up to work only to find out that the context you are working in has changed. Again. And you need to adjust. Again. And you have to do it with fewer resources, AGAIN. It feels offensive because it’s like coming home to find out that your college roommates have re-arranged your stuff (or moved you out). Only this time, it’s not a prank. Your workspace, routine and success space have been invaded, and you feel out of control.
As modern people we live in a dichotomy of sorts; we often think they function best when we can predict our environment. Yet, we also love spontaneity and innately desire challenges and change in order to grow.
Avoiding change is like avoiding going to the bathroom. It’s extremely uncomfortable, unnatural, builds up unnecessary pressure, and in the end, you’ll wish you had co-operated a lot sooner because it is inevitable.
The top leaders and businesses embrace change. They’re agile, flexible, adaptable and resilient. They face adversity, pressure, paradoxes and major setbacks and somehow find a way to survive. The lego-firewalk I do each morning through my kid’s bedroom reminds me of how LEGO survived repeated setbacks (and moms who threaten daily to boycott the maker of the death pieces that hide across our floors).
If the only constant is change, then how do you manage the changing and competing priorities at work and still be successful? Let’s take a closer look at three key changes most leaders’ today face in working with internal teams and external partners or stakeholders – and what you can do to leverage these challenges into opportunities.
You are finally headed home after a long day to see your family, and your assistant catches you at the elevator to take an urgent call. You are sweating profusely in a meeting with poor air circulation, but you dare not take off your jacket because of the inappropriate underarm sweat spots. You’ve been invited to two different fundraiser galas for important clients, on the same night, in different cities. Or maybe you are torn between exercising your right to vote in the upcoming elections, while being underwhelmed by your options. Sound familiar?
Competing priorities come in small, medium and large sizes. Be thankful for the small ones, they are your warm up to the guaranteed-to-be-in-your-future larger ones.
The important thing to remember here is that priorities compete only when you can’t see how they are linked or how they can work together synergistically. The moment you see the connections, the two competing priorities actually become part of the same mission. This requires an open mind, willingness and ingenuity.
Let’s use the Gala example from above. You’ve been invited to attend fundraising galas in two different cities by two different and very important clients or partners, on the same evening. Not attending could hurt your business relationships and could affect future investments or sponsorship contributions to your organization. Both are important events and appear to be competing, since they occur on the same evening and in different cities.
To step back and consider the potential connections of these two apparent competing priorities, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What specifically are the two priorities that appear competing?
- How would completing priority a help you complete priority b?
- How would completing priority b help you complete priority a?
- How might you accomplish both priorities?
It’s important to ask yourself these questions as they appear in the order above. Jumping right to question #4 won’t likely provide any insight. You are less likely to see how you can do both, if you don’t fundamentally understand how they are related first.
In some cases, you may discover that you’re focusing on the wrong priority. For example, is attending the Gala the highest priority, or is it making an important relationship deposit with your client or partner? If it’s the latter, there are endless ways you can make investments in your relationship above and beyond attending this particular Gala. Sometimes your perceptions of competing priorities are real, and sometimes a shift in perception avoids the issue all together.
Have you ever tried to feed a toddler? Think of your grandchildren, nieces/nephews, your own kids, or the neighbours kids. If you’ve never had the pleasure, find one, be brave, and ask them, “What would you like to eat for breakfast?” Then start making it and see how long it takes for them to change their mind, or for them to decide they actually aren’t hungry and would rather go and play. Or maybe eat again. Or maybe watch TV. Or maybe eat again.
People; both adults and toddlers alike, are constantly changing their minds, perceptions and opinions. What is most important to us in any given moment changes as we accumulate new information and experiences, and adapt our decision-making criteria.
It’s unrealistic then to expect that your priorities or the priorities of your board, shareholders, funders, stakeholders and partners will never change. Let go of the expectations that priorities (for you or anyone else) should stay the same any longer than is relevant, or necessary.
When priorities start to change, ask yourself these three questions:
- When my partners change their priorities, what are the advantages to me and my business?
- What are the advantages of the new priority they’ve chosen?
- How might this new priority help us accomplish the old priority we were focused on?
Once you embrace the principle that priorities change, you will naturally start to ask how you can adapt to these changes. How do I manage myself when I keep changing my mind? How do I manage my partners when they keep changing their minds?
The most important tool that will help you here is to determine your decision-making criteria. Identifying something as a priority is only possible if it is more important in reference to something else. We give our priorities meaning and importance. Your job then, is to make the criteria explicit and be able to communicate it with others, to be able to explain why something is so important to you (or why it’s more important than something else).
When your partners change their mind about what is most important to them, here are a few questions you can ask for greater insight into their decision making criteria:
- Why is this new priority important?
- What changed and created this new priority?
- Could we accomplish your new priority, by also completing the old priority?
The answers to these questions will help you better understand the new information or experiences that your partners have accumulated, which created their new decision-making criteria that was used to determine the new priority.
You can serve people most by helping them meet their highest priorities. It’s one of the foundational criteria for a successful partnership. Trying to convince people to focus on something that isn’t of value or importance is a waste of your time and energy. Think of how easy (or not) it is to get you to focus your attention away from something that is of great value and importance to you. Learn to anticipate changes in priorities; both for yourself and your partners, and discover ways you can work with the priorities that are put in front of you, instead of trying to redirect them.
- Priorities compete only when you can’t see how they are linked or can work synergistically.
- You might be focusing on something that isn’t the real underlying priority.
- Let go of the expectations that priorities (for you or anyone) should stay the same any longer than is relevant or necessary.
- You can serve people most by helping them meet their highest priorities, instead of trying to change their minds.
Whatever is most important or valued gets attention, organization and energy. It’s what we’re willing to fight for most and what we’ll be most dedicated to. Learning to align priorities, so they work synergistically, is the best way to overcome frustrations and leverage the true potential inside your team, partners and organizations.
- Posted by Enette Pauzé
- On October 6, 2016