Managing competing priorities

‘Trusting that there is a next step is the first step to figuring out what the next step is’

Jennifer Williams

We are working in times of great uncertainty and all commentators are suggesting we better get used to it. We have probably never been so challenged, personally and professionally.

Predicting what is going to happen next week seems like long term planning! As leaders, our effectiveness in prioritising our own time and balancing the competing demands of today and the future will ultimately determine whether we can succeed in re-imagining our vision.

Use the learning

Keep asking yourself where can you add most value and trust your team to share some of the decision making. Who would’ve believed businesses all over the world could switch their business models so swiftly and still be productive? Decisions that were grinding their way through the bureaucratic machine got made overnight. We had to trust our teams to deliver and funnily enough they stood up to the challenge!

So take the learning from the ‘diversion’ and adapt your operating model to meet your vision.

Create Agile cross functional teams

I would suggest that you continue the delegated decision making and create cross functional teams to manage those competing priorities. An operations team to focus on the here and now and getting the business operational in the post covid environment; an insights team to assess the changing customer buying habits and make best use of your data and a futures team who are responsible for creating the action plan to get the business back on track.

‘Test and learn’

Whatever teams you create be clear about their purpose, scope, expected outputs and time horizons. The need for ‘test and learn’ methodology will be vital as the picture is constantly evolving. Make time for communication for both your internal and external customers. In a rapidly changing landscape short and frequent updates will ensure everyone stays on track in spite of the inevitable twists and turns.

People are your most important asset

Getting your operational model right for the ‘new normal’ is likely to be your key priority. However your team will be the ones to make this possible. I would suggest that the first priority is their health and well-being. Depending on their circumstances during lockdown we need to understand how each person is coping, where is their resilience, where are they on the roller coaster? Ensure there is a support system in place to help them thrive again in the months to come.

Setting the agenda

Here is a suggested checklist of actions for the post Covid-19 return:

  • Employee first – how are you and your team coping?
  • Set formal and informal communication with the internal team
  • Ensure people have clear expectations and measures (performance management still matters)
  • Check trading patterns and impact on cashflow forecasts
  • Data insights gathering on customer buying habits
  • Regular updates for operations team to adapt to changing needs and government policy
  • Set up cross functional team to work on the future plan
  • Focus on product simplicity and digital culture and engagement strategy

External support

As business leaders of SMEs it can be lonely at the top. I am sure that in this current climate where so much is unprecedented that feeling has just been amplified. Perhaps now is the time to find some support. Someone who can share some of the load. Creating a futures team that includes some independent thinking and depth of experience might just help you see the wood for the trees.

Stay safe and remember ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.’