Prioritizing in Tumultuous Times
How to Decide - Prosono’s Priority to Action Framework
In times of stress and tumult, we have found that leaders of organizations ask themselves three types of questions when considering the best course of action (i.e. their strategy):
- Priority to Action: Where do I begin? What priorities need attention right now?
- Strategy Pivot: I know what to do right now, but what do I do in the coming few weeks or months?
- Strategy Refresh: I know what to do now and in the medium term, but how do I confirm it is right? Does our strategy still hold water?
Given that much of our community is trying to answer, "Where do I begin?”, Prosono is sharing our Priority to Action Framework to help. In the coming weeks we will share our Pivot and Refresh frameworks.
The Priority to Action Framework is a 5-step process that helps you decide what is important and what actions to take to keep your organization moving forward. The five steps are simple, but meaningful in times such as now.
In Step 1, “Setup Meeting”, it is important for organizational leaders to create space for listening, rather than immediately advocating for specific solutions. In a recent working session, our client was eager to begin the meeting by running through an already generated list of possible solutions to their current challenge. It was good stuff, and some ideas rose to the top as preferred solutions. However, the group quickly realized that, outside of individual “gut feelings,” they had no way of evaluating the merits of the proposed ideas and arriving at a decision.
To facilitate the decision-making process, we asked our client to “Define the Factors” that are important to their organization (Step 2). Prosono defines a "factor" as something you, as a leader, either value or believe may be impacted one way or another by the tough decisions you will be making. Some examples of “factors” could be your mission, board, employees, shareholders/funders, programs/services/products, cash on hand, commitment to COVID-19 public health obedience, customer service, surrounding community, industry, culture, morale, etc.). This activity seems simple on the surface, but often people need to be challenged to be concise, and to minimize generalities in describing their “factors.”
For example, our client believed "people we serve" was a factor to consider. When pushed, they discovered that “people we serve” was three distinct factors: current participants, future participants, and past participants. Each of the new factors presented a unique consideration, as they have different, and sometimes competing needs. This clear and deliberate factor identification continued into their full stakeholder list - vendors, customers, donors, partners, and employees. By the end of this step the group had generated a list of nearly 20 factors worth considering in this moment.
Step three, “Prioritize”, is the hardest part for anyone, as it requires honesty and grace from us as leaders. Organizations must figure out what to act on that is within their control. No one can take a step forward when they are carrying the full weight of the world. The Priority to Action Framework uses a forced ranking approach to prioritize among competing factors.
The first factors our client considered were “mission” and “funders.” After a robust discussion, the group concluded that “mission” should be ranked above “funders”. This decision was not a judgement of anyone who advocated for either factor. A mission is what attracts vital funding, and funding is what allows an organization to achieve its mission – both factors are important. The forced ranking simply recognized that, in the present moment, “mission” is what mattered more for our client.
The rich discussion continued with pacing, thinking hard, and pushing one another’s thinking. One great example revolved around the factor “program re-launch.” When the “re-launch” was forced ranked against the "funders” factor, the group realized that they had a new factor they had not yet articulated: "cash". By adding "cash", and keeping "funders", the group realized that they would keep “mission” above “cash” (we would use our cash reserve before changing our mission) but would rank “cash” above “funders” and “program re-launch” (we would sacrifice future funding and a new program before we let our cash reserve drop).
By forcing themselves to be honest with what is most important to them right now, the client created new factors and ultimately de-prioritized some of the factors they had initially ranked higher in importance. The discussion ended with the team aligned on the top 6 factors in order of importance for their decisions and actions moving forward. Most importantly, as the CEO stated, "I know what we are going to say and why". It was powerful.
The next steps of the framework move much quicker. “Develop a Diagnosis” (Step 4) is defining the key challenge/opportunity/issue of each prioritized factor. To diagnose, we recommend asking this set of questions FOR EACH FACTOR:
- What is the most pressing issue regarding this factor that we need to address? What is preventing us from addressing this issue?
- (Optional) According to its priority, we have adequately addressed this factor when this statement is true: “________”. (e.g. if your factor is “cash”, your statement could be “We have 4 months of runway with our current cash on hand.”)
Diagnosing requires deliberate focus on the root issue, not the symptoms. During the client session it was about realizing we did not know enough about the current state of each prioritized factor - cash on hand, vendor contract language, etc.
Once the diagnosis for each factor was identified, “Create Actions and Accountability” (Step 5) were easily outlined and assigned an owner, timeline, and meeting cadence. In the client’s case, a key action included having an accurate read on “cash on hand” by end of week with ownership assigned to the CFO.
As you can tell, the Priority to Action Framework is designed to help us when we do not know how to take a step, because we do not know if we should be walking, running, jumping, or flying. COVID-19 has put many of us in that position for the first time. By taking the time to identify the most important factors impacting your organization and the actions required to address those factors, leaders can begin to identify an effective strategy in a moment of great uncertainty.
Please download the template to use. If you need a facilitator, email us and one of our expert Prosonoans will facilitate a 90-minute session with you and your team.
Download our Free Template HERE