Sales enablement best practices, #3 – How to NOT prioritize

This week, I am tackling one of the absolute best leadership principles that I know – which also happens to apply to sales enablement QUITE nicely.

The topic is prioritization.

And – wow – talk about a hot mess.

Sales enablement, as a whole, will always have a gigantic list of “to do’s” waiting to be worked on. But, as with ANY strategic endeavor, there is a very short list of what should actually be done now.

Why is this?

Let me give you three very important reasons.

First, consider the Pareto Principle – 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. In other words, on that gigantic list of “to do’s” (like update the CRM, fix onboarding, get new marketing automation, train the team on new skills, get managers to coach more, etc.), there are only a few things that will actually drive the bulk of the outcome you are looking for. Yes, it may “all be important” – but the reality is that it is not all equally important.

And yet, this is the trap that we have all experienced in our hyper-busy, non-stop, do-it-all lives. We deceive ourselves (and our team mates) into believing that everything should stay on the “priority” list until we can get to it. Sure, we tell ourselves that some priorities are more important than others, but we are often only giving lip service.

As a result, we overcommit our people/time/energy/resources to do things that will only contribute to the bottom 20% of results. And take away from the strength of the top 80% of results. This kind of thinking both creates waste and limits the potential of what we could actually do.

(Truth be told, the Pareto Principle has evolved for today’s digital age. It’s called 5/67 Thinking – but that’s another post.)

Second, consider wicked problems. Yes, that is an actual term (read about it here). The key principle that I want to focus on is this: there are problems that are so complex that introducing a solution will make the problem’s complexity WORSE.

Go back and reread that last sentence.

In our well-intentioned efforts to lead and drive execution, we accidentally inject complexity into our hyper-busy, non-stop, do-it-all lives. Think over the last couple of years and how often “other priorities” made success harder to attain. Sure, it’s easy to blame other groups/functions, but the reality is that we often don’t truly understand the complexity that we are trying to navigate ourselves and struggle to explain that well enough to our team mates. Without this insight, prioritization suffers. We attempt one step forward and wind up taking three steps backward. Our “doing too much” becomes a self-inflicted wound.

Third, consider the actual outcome we are driving toward. In a client conversation that I had today (and had the exact same discussion with a client last week, and another client the week before…), we often prioritize based on “success.” Frankly, that is a poor definition of the actual outcome.

If I want to optimize my business, I will prioritize VERY differently than if I want to transform my business. The paths are different. The disruptions are different. The use of people/time/energy/resources is different.

Unfortunately, most leaders lose track of what outcome they are actually pursuing (admit it – it’s easy for all of us to do). They simply want “success.” But when the disruption of a transformational initiative (like fundamentally changing customer interactions) starts to create disruption for an optimization initiative (like sales forecasting), we get a conflict in priorities. The resulting confusion, complaints, and turf wars end up generating local mini-strategies. Just to get around the bigger business strategy that is suddenly unclear.

And if you live in a siloed organization… look out.

Now, are there other ways to define the actual outcome? Sure. But I find that getting clarity on optimization versus transformation is the fastest, most efficient way to create clarity and build alignment – and get everyone prioritizing better.

With all of that said, here is the bottom line. I hope you can see the title of this blog explained – how to NOT prioritize.

  • Don’t treat every priority as valuable. They all have different impacts – and if they don’t fit in the small percentage of what really matters…
  • Don’t ignore the complexity of the problem(s) you are trying to solve. Instead of trying to fix the whole problem, just make it better than it was yesterday.
  • Don’t leave the prime outcome(s) open to interpretation. Give very clear definition to the overall impact you want: to optimize or to transform.

Let’s close with a mirror moment: How well do you prioritize? What do you do well, what do you do poorly, and what could you do to get better?

I mua. Onward and upward.

By Tim Ohai

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