Spring Cleaning — Focus on Your Priorities

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabeth_donoghue/ Creative Commons license

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabeth_donoghue/ Creative Commons license

It’s that time again. Spring is here. Easter has come and gone. Now it’s time for spring cleaning in your business. No, I’m not talking about those piles of paperwork or spare parts. I’m talking about the priorities that have piled up. They’re diffusing your energy and distracting you.

Let’s assume for the moment that at some point you had a clear plan with two or three top priorities. Members of your organization knew what to do, where to focus their energy. There was a consistency and coherence that provided energy for execution.

Then something came up that you hadn’t planned on. It was important; it provided a unique marketing opportunity or a potential for extraordinary collaboration or… This process is natural and in fact, desirable. It sets the stage for what Henry Mintzberg referred to as “emergent strategy.” An emergent strategy results from the interaction of the organization with its environment instead of from the mind of the strategist. It’s a sign that your strategy is alive, not a dead document. The problem is that your laser-like coherent execution may become a flurry of disconnected actions. Before this goes too far, it’s time for spring cleaning!

Years ago at Vignette, Ross Garber (co-founder) was fond of reminding people that there can only be one most important thing. Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important.

Before you begin your spring cleaning, ask yourself — what is the most important thing for our team to accomplish in this timeframe? Keep working with that question until you have one and only one answer. Whether you manage an organization of ten thousand, a team of ten, or just yourself, there can only be One Most Important Thing. Let’s call it your O-MIT. Each unit or person within the organization will be addressing some aspect of the O-MIT and will have its own O-MIT. But any given unit or person has only one O-MIT. It gives your organization focus and allows you to accomplish more with your resources

Once you have your O-MIT, the problem is much like what you face when you decide to clean out your garage or closets. First, there are things that should be thrown out, given away, or sold. Then you’ve got to organize the things you want to keep.

Begin your sorting process by taking an honest inventory of all the things your organization is working on. Get your team together and create a comprehensive list. Don’t let anyone skate by with “But that will be finished next month.” Or “It’s only a couple of hours of her time each week.” Each of these project or priorities is either supporting your O-MIT or is a distraction from your O-MIT.

For the distractions, look carefully at the resources they pull away from the O-MIT. If you redeployed those resources, would you achieve the O-MIT more quickly or with more certainty of success? If your answer is “yes,” consider eliminating that project.

When you’ve cleaned out the projects that aren’t crucial to success, organize what remains. Identify two or three key goals in support of your O-MIT. Group the projects or tasks under those goals. If there are “strays” that don’t fit under a goal, consider eliminating those. Are they really crucial or are they distractions? 

This spring cleaning process is essential to successful execution. It’s natural that your plan evolves as you seize opportunities and respond to changes in the market. The question is not whether that will happen but how you will manage it. Spring cleaning with an O-MIT at the core allows your plan to be emergent and yet continually regain its focus.