LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: PRIORITIZING YOUR WORK
In my conversations with leaders and executive teams over the past week, the hot topic has been how to balance priorities in this period of chaos and confusion. “How do we manage our time most effectively?” “How do we balance the many burning issues with service delivery?” “Is it ok for me to spend time thinking about the future when we’re in survival mode?” These questions led to three key insights, which are the focus of this blog.
Three perspectives can help you make sense of uncertainty
On a normal day, I encourage leaders and teams to think about their world through a set of ‘perspectives’, such as team leadership, operations, stakeholder management, and so on. Right now, however, I’m encouraging (and personally using) a simpler, ‘chunked-up’, set of perspectives to prioritize work; ‘immediate’ for the COVID-related issues we must all respond to; ‘core’ for the continued delivery of business operations; and ‘future’ for anything strategic, innovative or longer-term. The OCD in me also encourages colour-coding; red for immediate; green for core, and blue for future.
This approach allows you to better organize your week, get more done, monitor how you’re spending your precious time, and attend to all three perspectives in some way. It also gives you a much greater sense of control, agency and progress. If 80% of last week was red and this week it’s 70%, then you feel a sense of hope and momentum, rather than a never-ending Groundhog Day of exhaustion. You also have a more helpful way of framing the current situation and sharing that story with those you lead, so they feel a sense of hope and progress too.
If you’re not shaping the future, no one is
On a call this week, the CEO of a not for profit organization asked me whether he should be carving out some time to think about the future in the midst of this crisis. After some digging, he confessed that he wanted to, but felt guilty. Here’s the thing, if you’re a senior executive and you’re not thinking about the future right now, then no one is. That’s dangerous for your business and for those you lead.
The more time you spend reacting to this crisis, the longer you will remain trapped in this crisis. You will also likely exhaust yourself and all of those around you. At some point, the worst of this will be over. The question is, where do you want to be when that happens? Not only should you be trying to shape the future, it’s your obligation.
You can accelerate your future, right now
Machiavelli once said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” This phrase was later popularized by Winston Churchill as “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The Chinese word for crisis is comprised of two characters; one represents danger, the other represents opportunity. You see where I’m going here.
In the past month alone, I’ve observed several interesting conditions in my clients and network, including; much higher levels of collaboration across government, industry bodies, companies and unions; diminished stakeholder expectations of performance; higher levels of support from boards toward management; the accelerated adoption of new business models and the accelerated decline of old ones; much greater openness to change among associates within organizations; and a newfound courage to address the ‘elephants in the room’, kill some ‘scared cows’, and several other animal metaphors.
The more conservative world of management that we usually inhabit is, by necessity, making way for something a little more edgy, open and innovation-friendly. The pace at which we can move is also much faster. One retail organization I know delivered a new digital service to market in six weeks, start to finish; an initiative previously planned to take 18-months.
How could you use the present conditions to accelerate your future?
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