The Art of Balancing Priorities for High Performance Outcomes

We’ve heard the term balance a lot since the pandemic started, mainly in the context of our personal lives. Balance is also an essential skill for leaders to ensure their organisations and teams achieve the best possible results. 

The reality is that, just as in our personal lives, balancing corporate priorities is difficult. Leaders frequently feel the need to make either/or decisions, selecting one corporate priority over another. But most leaders have more than one business objective and are required to meet them all. It’s tough. 

Not “either/or”, but “and” – changing the mindset 

I like to use the metaphor of spinning plates for operational leadership. If you’re not constantly monitoring each plate and the poles they spin on, a plate could fall and smash. Think of each of these spinning plates as a key business outcome. As a leader, you’re responsible for helping your team achieve every outcome. So, just like a plate spinner at the circus, you need a strategy to apply consistent and equal energy to each outcome to ensure none of them are dropped. 

The impact of choosing the wrong priority, or of dropping one (or more) business objectives, can be significant for your reputation, resource and business outcomes. The danger is that you may not feel this in the short-term, but a neglected priority will almost certainly have an amplifying effect over the medium to long term.  

It could also mean you, or your team, work longer hours to catch up. This brings risks of mistakes or rework. That, in turn, can have a negative impact on staff morale. They’re exhausted, confused, insecure and uncertain about their roles. 

So why do why leaders so often find themselves making those trade-offs in selecting priorities? There’s a lot of reasons. 

If an organisation doesn’t have a holistic and balanced operating framework with supporting governance and oversight, there’s a high risk of unbalanced focus on different aspects of the business. 

Some leaders find they’re more comfortable with, or have more experience in, one or two of their objectives and have an unconscious bias, seeing those comfort objectives as ‘more important’ than others.  And some leaders think they need to know everything or don’t know how to delegate and collaborate within their teams to fill those gaps. Or their teams may lack the diversity of skills and capability needed to deliver on all the priorities, and this can unduly influence one outcome over another. 

Here’s an example. I joined an organisation which had been through a major change with the introduction of quality and compliance as a new regulatory requirement. The impact was that staff were fearful of making mistakes, morale dropped and both revenue and customer satisfaction declined. 

Realising we needed to change, my leadership team altered our perspective to view all aspects of the organisation being related to and influencing each other. We designed an operating framework that gave equal attention and support to each of those elements. 

As a result, my function became the highest performing business unit on every measure. In addition, my organisation had the highest compliments to complaints ratio and a significant improvement in employee engagement year on year. 

We all know that achieving every business objective requires energy and resources. They can’t be left to the last minute – it takes consistent effort over the year. Furthermore, your customers and colleagues expect balance because they rely on us to be there when they need us to be, not when we want to be there for them. 

Balancing those priorities also means you’re consistent. Your team, colleagues and customers will always respond more positively to consistency and when they know where they stand.  

It takes much less energy and stress to maintain balance between your objectives. Think about all the energy it takes to restart an abandoned or neglected initiative. 

Breaking through 

So, how do leaders move from making “either/or” choices about business priorities to having an inclusive “and” mentality?   

One approach that has been effective for me is to develop operating framework and cadence with my leadership team that dedicates time to each objective on a consistent and equal basis. This allows us to spend quantity time without sacrificing quality and feeling pressured by other priorities. 

A potential framework could look something like this: 

Week 1: People success – coaching effectiveness, training completion, talent management, succession planning, health and safety results, reward and recognition, etc. 

Week 2:  Operational performance – review previous month and year-to-date performance (financials, KPIs, compliance/quality) against strategic objectives. 

Week 3:  Customer experience – deep dive into 1-2 customer episodes from the “outside in”. Compare actual vs desired performance and capture actions to address gaps. 

Week 4: Change management and continuous improvement – focus on strategies/activities to support the organisation be prepared, adapt and improve. 

Week 5 (when appropriate): review/reflection, planning & alignment. 

Regular monitoring and early intervention beat remediation. The results will speak for themselves. 

Let’s talk about how I can design an operating framework for your team so that you don’t drop any plates.  

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