It’s planning time again. Many organizations are heads down, working on getting their acts together for next year.

This year, there isn’t as much confidence in simply winging it as there was last year. Little if any of the grandiose growth that was supposed to happen in ’08 has occurred. Combine that with an unstable economic outlook for ’09 and there’s recognition that getting it wrong next year could have serious, if not fatal consequences (although in true Canadian fashion, all the CFO’s I know are silently/not-so-silently high-fiving themselves on the decline of the Canadian dollar. That, more than anything is going to save a few jobs this year).

There’s one fundamental issue every organization I know seems to struggle with. Defining, the small number of priorities that will actually make a difference in the year ahead.

Nothing stymies success like taking on the world of things that could possibly be done. First, tackling everything just about guarantees that nothing gets done. Second, when everybody is doing everything, accountability is impossible. Third, by tackling everything the high leverage activities remain invisible, under-resourced and untapped.

Figuring out the 3 things that WILL make a difference next year, not the 57 that COULD, isn’t difficult. I try to keep the following things in mind.

  • Perfection isn’t necessary. If I’m close to picking the right 3 priorities, I will have have a much greater impact on the business by executing them well than burying the perfect priority under 56 others.
  • Leverage, leverage, leverage. I call them super-priorities. Do them well and they will suck up 2/3rds of all the other cool stuff that could have been done. There’s always priorities that have leverage way beyond what they look like on the surface.
  • Why? What is the overall goal I’m trying to achieve? Growth? Profitability? Market place recognition? Everything else needs to tie directly, and neatly back to that goal. If it doesn’t and if the question ‘why?’ can’t be answered simply in about 6 words, then the priority isn’t a priority, it’s a make work project. Guaranteed it won’t get done.

Clarfiying the key priorities works because it ensures they get resourced and managed. People can be held accountable. Progress can be measured. Simplicity, not complexity is a fundamental key to success.