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  • Writer's pictureEndring

The Overwhelmed Leadership Team: Escaping the Queue Quagmire

Updated: May 19, 2023

Leadership isn't for the faint of heart. It involves juggling multiple tasks, making critical decisions, and often feeling like you're being pulled in a million different directions.

It's like constantly standing in the queue of a perpetually busy coffee shop, where the orders never stop and the line never shortens.

One of the most pressing challenges faced by leadership teams today is prioritizing initiatives. There's a prevailing tendency to say 'yes' to everything, resulting in a towering to-do list that would make even the most seasoned leadership team quake in their boots.

However, this approach isn't merely unsustainable—it's a symptom of a deeper problem.

The problem here isn't enthusiasm or ambition—it's the lack of strategic clarity and alignment.

When a leadership team (and their organization) lacks a clear strategy, they lose sight of the bigger picture. Employees are being asked to work on so many things and might not understand how their work fits into the grand scheme of things, and more often than not, they're not even sure what that grand scheme is.

So, the organization ends up with a surplus of priorities being planned and executed at the same time, a deficit of alignment, and an abundance of confusion.

Saying 'No' to Say 'Yes' to Success

So, how do you escape this queue quagmire?

The key lies in a crystal clear strategy, leadership alignment and effective prioritization. But what do we do if we say we already have a strategy, and we are half way through the year?

The next 4 steps are going to help you get a handle on how you start to say more “NOs”:

1. Re-evaluate Your Strategy

It’s time to pull out your strategy and objectively evaluate it.

Is it focused on the right set of problems and opportunities?

While it may seem basic, it helps to re-visit the actual problem you are trying to solve and opportunities you're trying to take advantage of. If you are taking on too much, it could be that your team isn't fully aligned on what - and who - you are targeting your efforts against.

Does it have a clear, overarching aspirational goal? Is the goal specific enough and inspiring?

A good aspirational goal is big, hairy and audacious - and clear. It needs to tie to your purpose, but not just be a statement of your purpose. It needs to describe a future state, for the organization and its customers, with some idea of when it should be accomplished. If this isn't clear, it's hard to see what your strategy is making progress against.

Does it clearly outline the decisions you have made about where and how you are going to accomplish it? Does it help people in your organization make decisions?

We have seen a lot of strategies that are purely statements of goals. Goals like “improving operational efficiency”, “increasing customer satisfaction”, “driving profitable growth” are great - but in many ways they are the objectives for all organizations.

What is lacking is clarity on the big decisions you’ve made: What are you looking to make more efficient, and how? What customer experiences will you target to improve satisfaction? What are the key markets, customer segments, or product strategies you will focus on to drive the profit?

If your strategy is lacking these key elements, it’s time for a refresh. Spend the time to discuss this with your team and make sure everyone gets to have their voice heard - and facilitate agreement (not necessarily consensus).

Because a strategy needs to help people make decisions. Not just your leadership team, but every team leader and team member.

Pro Tip: You also need to walk away from this work with actual outcomes that need to be achieved over the next 12 to 24 months - for each area of your strategy. These outcomes, when you get alignment on them, really help to clarify and align people on the real intent of your strategic areas of focus.

2. Examine The Inventory

Now it’s time to pull together a list of everything (and we mean everything) that the leadership team has “green-lit” and that people in the organization are working towards.

One-by-one you must take a look at each initiative. You have to be clear on what it does, what outcomes it will contribute to the organization, and how it ties to the 12-24 month outcomes you articulated.

And you need to be able to clearly explain how it contributes to the strategy and the achievement of the aspirational goal.

After this initial analysis, you should be able to put each initiative into one of three buckets: “Hell Yeah!”, “Meh”, and “Absolutely Not”.

Everything that lands in the last two buckets is automatically shelved for this exercise. We are only looking for “Hell Yeah” priorities and initiatives that are going to have significant impact on the achievement of your strategy.

Pro Tip: Beware the hiding spot that is ‘Business As Usual’ (BAU). A lot of times this is where the bulk of people’s time is spent, and it often is a hiding place for initiatives (especially longer-term ones). There could also be many unnecessary things that your people are doing “because we’ve always done it this way.” It might be necessary to dig into this and do a ‘Start, Stop, Continue’ exercise to cull low value work.

3. (Re)Prioritize

Remember the impact vs. effort matrix? It's time to dust it off.

This handy tool can help you evaluate each initiative based on the impact it will have and the effort it will take. Those with high impact and low effort should be prioritized, while those with low impact and high effort might need to be reconsidered or deferred.

You need to pull your team together and, with the Strategy in full view, facilitate a discussion where you are mapping each initiative against one of the four quadrants.

You’ll walk away from this exercise with a prioritized backlog of initiatives, starting with initiatives that will have the strongest impact on your strategy with the least effort (”Quick Wins”).

Pro Tip: You should be having a time-boxed, structured, and collaborative discussion with the leadership team for this exercise, otherwise this can go on forever. Make sure you have someone in the room who can act as a decider in gridlock situations to move the process forward. If need be, have a ‘parking lot’ for items that need more data (but use it only for exceptional circumstances!)

4. Experiment!

But what do you do with initiatives in the other quadrants? Don't shy away from experimentation.

There might be an opportunity to take some of these initiatives and apply a Lean Start-up lens, creating a ‘Minimum Viable Product’, making the initiatives more manageable to help your teams focus and reduce the overwhelm.

In the process you will be testing that your assumptions and hypotheses - about how this initiative will contribute to the strategy - are true.

If the experiment works out, you’ll be getting tested and improved initiatives out the door quicker, and you can green-light a full scaling. If it doesn’t, you park it and move on to the next priority.

Pro Tip: A good experiment should be no more than 3 months (ideally shorter), should have minimal cost, should not rely on making wholesale changes to entrenched business processes or big systems, and should be targeted at a small representative scope of people.

In Summary

Next time you feel like you have too many priorities and initiatives on the go, and are unsure of how it contributes to what the organization needs to strategically accomplish, it’s time to do a RESET.

Here are the 4 steps that will help you get a better grip on what you and the team are working on:

  1. Re-evaluate Your Strategy

  2. Examine The Inventory

  3. (Re)Prioritize

  4. Experiment

If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to subscribe and/or reach out to us.

Thanks for reading. See you again next week!

We hope you enjoyed this newsletter. Whenever you're ready, there are more ways we can help you:

  1. Run a Strategy Sprint with your leadership team to re-evaluate and refresh your strategy.

  2. Help you define your target culture and build a plan to shift it.

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