Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Ongoing lockdowns and restrictions have introduced a new set of challenges that organisations are grappling with.

In the face of this uncertainty a common response is to try and do it all. But as discussed in Harvard Business Review, the trap of taking on too many projects is that it often reduces productivity, undermines quality, and can result in burnout for individuals and teams.

In our turnaround and transformation work with clients across many industries, we have found that concentrating effort and resources on a small number of priorities creates most of the benefit. As a side-effect, management and their teams have greater clarity of the expectations, and in turn are more willing to be held accountable for delivering agreed outcomes.

Effective prioritisation

Many organisations have clear stated priorities, and these are often documented in an overarching strategy, or in the annual operating plans of each division. Telstra’s recent T25 growth strategy announcement is a good example of this, outlining four ‘pillars’ (priorities) that the organisation will focus on over the next three years.
One way that we assess an organisations prioritisation is to understand how these documented priorities are translated into actual organisational effort:
  • Individual view: What percentage of your time is spent delivering organisational priorities?
  • Organisation view: What percentage of our total organisational effort is related to our priorities?
 Our experience suggests many organisations struggle to align effort and priorities. More often, people and teams are attempting to juggle multiple tasks of varying urgency and importance. At an organisational level, this can create a sense of inertia or a lack of direction.
Effective prioritisation results in a higher percentage of people’s time spent delivering the tasks that matter. Across an organisation, it concentrates organisational resources on strategically essential projects.
From our experience, below are three ways that management teams can improve their organisation’s prioritisation.

1. Minimum effective dose

One term that we use to help teams think about prioritisation is the idea of a ‘minimum effective dose’: is enough effort being applied to achieve a desired outcome? If individuals or teams are administering less than the minimum effective dose, potential benefits may not be realised. For each of your organisation’s priorities, consider the minimum effective dose, and if this isn’t being met, either increase the effort required, or reallocate that effort to another priority.
In practice

Our team applied the concept of ‘minimum effective dose’ when working with a client to renegotiate a number of large contracts. Faced with over a dozen expiring contracts, some worth in excess of $100m each year, it was identified that the minimum effective dose wasn’t being met to maximise value and minimise exposure. Reallocating effort and providing interim surge capacity ensured greater preparation and planning was undertaken to drive evidence-based decisions. For one large contract this resulted in a $50m cash saving in the first 2 years.

2. Simplify

 A significant amount of time and effort may be spent across too many ‘priorities’, which actually means there are no priorities. To increase organisational prioritisation, teams and individuals must be empowered to focus effort on their most important tasks, and this also means empowering teams to stop the tasks that are not.
In practice

An approach we used for a back-office function that was overwhelmed and in turn not operating effectively, was to evaluate the most time-consuming tasks against both organisational requirement and transformation priorities. Tasks that were non-essential or not contributing to priorities were either stopped or deprioritised, significantly improving output development time.

3. Measure and manage

 Perhaps the most important component of translating documented priorities into organisational effort is to measure and manage performance in a structured way. Aligning your reporting and governance processes to organisational priorities allows teams to be held accountable, and for faster escalation of issues that require resolution.
In practice

During turnarounds and transformations, we often streamline reporting to focus attention on the metrics that will drive organisational outcomes. For a healthcare client, we simplified an 87-page monthly management report to a single A3 page of key performance indicators across people, patient, and financial outcomes. This dramatically improved usability and allowed us to focus effort on the most important indicators to the transformation.

Key factors to effective prioritisation

When developing or executing your next transformation, ask the following:
  1. Are we applying the ‘minimum effective dose’ of effort to achieve our desired outcomes?
  2. Have we empowered our teams to simplify, and stop tasks that are not aligned to our priorities?
  3. Do we have the right reporting and governance in place to hold ourselves accountable?
 Our experience is that prioritisation is often overlooked. It is not a periodic exercise, but rather a continuous process for individuals, teams, and entire organisations to align day-to-day effort with what is most important.