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Prioritizing During Growth: A Framework for Decision-Making

One take on "keeping your eye on the prize"

Companies have endless lists of competing priorities, especially while they’re in a startup or growth phase. When Charitybuzz and Prizeo came together under the Charity Network umbrella in 2016, we had lofty goals. And we had lots of them. We quickly realized if we tried to tackle everything at once, our outcomes would be shallow all around. So our challenge emerged: how do we create a framework for decision-making within our business that will help us all prioritize those activities moving us in the right direction?

For us, the solution really came down to fine-tuning our company goals and empowering individual employees to work toward those goals each day.

Identify your company goals

The whole point of prioritizing like this is to move efficiently toward success. What success looks like is different across every entity, but, regardless of what that vision is, it needs to be well defined up front. In most cases, this takes the form of company goals. Are you working to diversify revenue streams? Increase market share? Improve customer service?

What we learned over the past few years of acquisitions and growth is that goals should be broad enough to drive the company forward, yet specific enough to inform every single member of your team’s day-to-day activities. Big enough to have a fundamental impact on the business, but specific enough that people don’t just ignore them.

Company goals should serve as the north star for employees’ daily work. The right goals can be attached to every single role and function within the company. Which can be easier said than done. One way we tackled the challenge is by putting every proposed goal through the filter of: “if each employee strives toward accomplishing these goals, will this business work?” If that’s a yes, great, do it. If not, time to go back to the drawing board. Then think about every single department, function or even individual person in the company. Does success in that role help achieve the broader company goals? The exercise of going through person by person ensures the goals can apply for every employee.

Put goals front and center

If we’re expecting employees to work with these goals front-of-mind each day, as executives, we need to be intentional and consistent about communicating them. Share in staff meetings, in planning documents, through your intranet, in portals like ADP and in one-on-one conversations.

Why is this universal buy-in important? For one, it empowers employees. If each person is able to prioritize against the same goals, as a manager, I can trust we are all pushing forward in the right direction. This set-up yields benefits for employees at all levels — managers do not have to continuously check-in and, most importantly, the team is empowered to think for themselves and work entrepreneurially. All of this leads to becoming a more efficient organization. At Charity Network, we are building this type of “intrapreneurial” team. One that treats the job like it’s their own business, hustling, thinking on their feet. We need people who figure things out and, in some cases, find their own way to accomplish things, all while heeding the company goals, of course.

Adhering to clearly communicated goals also makes people feel heard — there’s no secretive black box of decision-making. Transparency is vital for morale (which begets productivity), employee retention, and recruiting, especially in a small company.

Prioritize

We have our goals. We have our team buy-in. Now we use those components to help us prioritize. Realistically, businesses ebb and flow, with both expected and unexpected opportunities that can require pivots in focus. So how do we decide if an idea is worth pursuing?

Does this proposed action help us achieve three, two, one or zero of our goals? Simply, the higher the number, the higher the priority level. For us, our goals are interconnected, so in many instances, ideas checked multiple boxes, which creates even more clarity around priorities.

In a healthy, engaged company, there’s no shortage of great ideas. This approach tells us what we should be doing first, but it in no way means the “zero check-box” ideas are not great. Dozens of promising, strategic ideas will inevitably be surfaced and fall at the bottom of the priority list through this type of process. Some of those ideas could make perfect sense for the business 12 months in the future and we wouldn’t want to lose track of those opportunities.

Assess results

So in the end, did we accomplish our company goals? Is the process of evaluating business opportunities and ideas more streamlined? Are people at all levels of the organization empowered to make decisions based on this goals-based framework?

It’s okay if some of these answers are no. That just means it’s time to evolve. With any internal process, change is inevitable and should be welcomed.

By continuing to pass everything through the lens of “does this help achieve company goals?,” you can almost guarantee your organization will remain focused.

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