Setting priorities is important not just for yourself, but for your team and individuals in that team. It is often said that by pleasing everyone, you please no one. I’ll get into that later. For now, consider the importance of prioritization when it comes to running an efficient team.

While the perfect organization can achieve a just-in-time approach to task management, it is often hard for most businesses to achieve. Job responsibilities can be diverse and interactions between different stakeholders can cause confusion and frustration for individuals. Often conflict arises when employees must cope with multiple tasks from different sources. They receive requests from all over and are expected to complete tasks within certain deadlines. However, these deadlines vary and often the person who is directly managing that employee is clueless as to what has been requested of them.

This is where priorities come in. Priorities allow individuals to manage their work efficiently and with certainty that they aren’t going to be reprimanded later for not completing tasks in a sufficient time.

Your Organization’s Priorities

When creating priorities, it should come from the top. A centralized strategy and plan dictates the ultimate priorities. This allows an organization to run as a single unit, predict its output, make corrections along the way, and reset priorities if needed to achieve its desired results. Of course, the determination of priorities must incorporate feedback from the bottom of the organization for it to be effective.

If your organization does not have high-level priorities set, it should work hard towards defining what the most important tasks and projects are. Often the CEO or president will set top-level priorities with feedback from each department head. Without such priorities set, each department can descend in chaos as they battle incoming workloads and manage their small resources.

In planning the organizational priorities, there must be careful thought into how each priority effects the organizations resources and where potential conflict can occur.

Setting priorities for the company is no easy task and it should be set into stone. The mission and vision must be steady as a rock, but priorities should become flexible. Managers should be reminded that companies evolve over time and learn along the way. Constantly changing priorities can be frustrating, especially for those at the bottom of the organization. That is why the top must take active involvement and use feedback to make changes.

Your Department Priorities

KPIs often determine departmental priorities, but, it is important to realize that some KPIs are more important than others and at different stages of company growth. Let’s look at a tech startup as an example. During its conception, marketing and product development have high priorities. During the start of product use, marketing and customer service gain more priority. When the product has fully launched and an active user base is present, marketing, sales, customer service and even PR can have high priority KPIs.

These KPIs are set at the organizational level, however, often the resources provided to each department will fluctuate and in some cases be insufficient for completing goals. To further complicate the issue, departments will often start to create information silos and impede the flow of information from department to department which will create issues and more work to do. Then what can a department do if they are held accountable for certain KPIs?

One thing that they can do is forget about the overall goals of the company and focus solely on their own performance. This way they will get credit for being a “high performing department” at the expense of resources that could be used elsewhere. Of course, following this protocol will be harmful to the company. It shouldn’t come as a surprise though that this is a very common issue that plagues companies all over.

The correct way to determine priorities is to accurately weigh a department’s goals with that of the company. The best department manager will be able to set realistic goals that bring value to the organization and minimizes a negative impact towards other departments. If the department was a person, it would be best as a team player instead of a ball-hog.

Your Team Priorities

Teams tend to work more efficiently because they are able to share resources and communicate much better. Unfortunately, not every team has a list of priorities to organize their work around. Much of this has to do with information silos within their own department, other departments and the company as a whole.

Transparency is not usually high on the list of many companies. Because of this, teams can work tirelessly as their own organization changes priorities around them. The effect is that people feel cheated that they wasted effort on priorities that have changed without them even knowing it.

Team priorities need to align with the company’s for maximum efficiency in an organization.

Not every team manager will be thinking along the same lines in their own bubble. Department heads must play a vital role in ensuring priorities are set straight.

Individual Priorities

Individual priorities are often the hardest to select. Every role, team, and department has their own priorities. Regardless, priorities must be set. Bottlenecks will develop if this doesn’t happen.

Setting individual priorities will need the involvement of all key stakeholders and subject matter experts. In fact, the easiest way to set priorities at the beginning is through job benchmarking. This process allows everyone familiar with the individual’s role to chime in and decide what is required. This includes the team, the manager, the department, and any other teams that interact with that individual.

The direct manager should make a careful note during the process to ensure that new candidates are onboarded correctly and shown their priorities.

Of course, priorities evolve over time, but, the first steps are critical.

Conflict of Priorities

If the world was perfect, there would be not conflicts. Of course, we know this is never the case. Conflicts of priorities, like conflicts of interests, are often revealed when it’s too late. Meetings, wasted time and frustration result.

For many, this is a typical day in the office. Ensuring that conflicts don’t happen requires a lot of dedication and evaluation. Priorities must be transparent, not only for the individual and team, but for the organization. A lot of software these days track tasks and have set priorities and schedules.

Also, having a gatekeeper for task delegation might be necessary for some teams that deal with tasks that are all high priority. Product and project managers often have the capability to facilitate this but other teams in logistical, operational and supporting roles have a more finite list of repetitive tasks. Team managers should fill this role.

You organization must make prioritizing a priority. If your team is having trouble prioritizing tasks make sure to bring up the issue as soon as possible.