Defining your objectives; set and reset your priorities

If your goals are your aims, what should your priorities be? Ram Charan explores just this in the following extract from his latest book, The High-Potential Leader

Most hipos (high-potential leaders) want to be comprehensive – to do everything that’s important and do it well – but their time and concentration soon get diluted. You will be far more effective if you narrow your priorities to the few that will have the greatest impact on your business.

Determining these is the result of having clear goals, knowing the realities of your business and making a judgment about what matters most. It is a mental activity that you hone with practice.

Goals vs. priorities

Make a clear distinction between goals and priorities. For me, a goal is a crystal-clear description of what you want to achieve. Sometimes you’ll set the goals yourself, sometimes they’ll be set for you. Either way you need total clarity about what needs to be achieved.

The best goals, meaning those that produce a healthy outcome for the business, have several components, all of which can be achieved at the same time. A narrow, singular goal such as boosting sales or reducing costs by a certain percentage can do a lot of damage by encouraging people to cut corners or sacrifice the long term for the sake of meeting the target.

Priorities are basically the actions you take to achieve your goals. You have to decide which ones matter most. Use your knowledge of external and internal realities to decide… Think about priorities in a time frame: What do you have to accomplish this quarter, this year, and three years out? To be sure you’re not sacrificing your medium- and long-term goals translate them into specific actions that will be taken now. That is, what do you have to do in the short term to build the long term?

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Setting priorities

Setting priorities is an iterative process. Think about what you need to do and group the tasks so they can be assigned to the individuals who can make them happen. Keep culling the list until it is a small number of tasks that will have a big impact on your ability to achieve the goals. Ultimately, you will want a set of three to five what I call laser-sharp dominant priorities. Arriving at these, keeping intense focus on them, and driving them relentlessly is key to execution.

What about your boss’s priorities? To some extent, other people’s priorities will be a fact of life for you, even if you’re a manager reporting to a VP or a CEO reporting to the board. But it’s still up to you to ensure that you are focusing your time on what you think is most important. Some urgent things need to be dealt with and may change your agenda but, if that’s the norm rather than the exception every time you open your e-mail, you will become far less effective than your hipos counterparts. You have to learn how to say no to some things that are demanding your attention (or at least to fend them off for the moment) in order to accomplish the most important priorities on your own list.

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