How Can Priority Be Plural?

When did priority become priorities? How can multiple things be “most important?”

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.”

~ Greg McKeown Essentialism

If everything is important (or a priority) then nothing is important. In our culture work one of the universal challenges we’ve helped leaders address is multiple priorities because there is not one well-understood definition of how they win. What does each person need to do to contribute to the overall success (strategy) of the organization?

Simon Collinson, professor of international business and innovation at Warwick Business School found that the largest 200 global companies are losing an estimated 10.2 percent of their profit (EBITDA) as a result of harmful complexity in their business. Complexity comes from rules, processes, systems, hierarchy…all the things that build up over time and periodically need culled.

Tips to reduce complexity and get clear on your PRIORITY:

  • Get Crystal Clear about Success: whether you call this purpose, success definition or strategy, do you and everyone around you know what winning looks like? At an organizational level it is essential that everyone throughout the organization understands how you win and their role in making that happen.
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  • Get Rid of Stupid: Many activities, reports and goals are orbiting your organizational planet without connection to the current priority. They are left over from a past priority and are taking resources away from what matters now.  We hold on to things, to habits, to beliefs, to people, to processes, to ideas and to activities that don’t contribute to success. Stupid means lacking in common sense. Use common sense and get rid of what is no longer contributing to accomplishing the priority. Stop the stupid!
  • Get Doggedly Determined to Remain Focused on Success: You are smart enough to know what to start doing. Are you smart enough to know what to stop doing? As you add new, you must eliminate old. More and more and more creates confusion and complexity. The role of a leader is to help their followers maintain a clear and consistent focus on what really matters. Continuously reassess as things are added and determine what can be eliminated that is not needed to achieve the priority.

Whether it’s in your life or your organization, what is your priority? Define success and eliminate everything that doesn’t contribute to it. Good is the enemy of great because it’s easier to settle into a routine of doing what we’ve always done and getting reasonably good results. Good enough is transformed into greatness through aligned focus on a priority.

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