As leaders formulate and fine tune their strategies, it is important for them to sort through and prioritize the often bewildering array of opportunities that compete for their attention. One of the biggest traps you can fall prey to is the belief that everything is Priority One. The problem with this is that if everything is Priority One, then nothing is Priority One.
When leaders view any opportunity as an opportunity worth pursuing, they can set up their organizations for continuous demands that cannot possibly be met. It is important to realize that not all opportunities are created equal. Some opportunities, like many shiny objects, may serve merely as distractions from what is most important for you to be focusing your scarce time and resources on.
Once you’ve established the mission, vision, and values for your organization, and have committed to a set of strategic goals, you can be proactive in selecting those opportunities that will best contribute to your success in both the short and long-term.
The Opportunity Board, a tool best utilized every 90 days, will help you organize your opportunities into four distinct levels of priority. The first step in creating the Board is to identify all of the potential opportunities you might pursue. These can be your own personal opportunities, your team’s opportunities, or organization-wide opportunities.
This list or inventory of opportunities that might be pursued over the next 90 days need not include your daily tasks or to-dos. Rather, you are looking for the bigger projects you might undertake in the next calendar quarter that move you and your organization closer to meeting one or more of your strategic goals.
Your opportunities might include achieving a specific level of sales; completing the development of a new product or service, or at least succeeding in achieving some specific level of progress toward that new product within the next 90 days; mentoring one of your direct reports; writing a new policy; etc.
Your list of opportunities often represents a mix of short and long-term projects. You are not just looking for opportunities that you can complete in 90 days. You are also looking for projects that need to be started in the next 90 days even if you need to continue working on them into successive 90-day periods. This is important to remember so that you don’t end up only listing low-hanging fruit on your Board. There are always going to be opportunities that will take longer than 90 days to finish, and if you exclude them from your list, you will likely never start working on them.
Once you have identified your opportunities, you can begin to sort and prioritize them, and move to a clearer understanding of where to focus the efforts and limited resources of the organization.
Here are the four levels of focus—or priority—represented on the Board. Each of the four concentric circles represents a different level of priority, as follows:
Bullseye: These opportunities align with one or more of the organization’s key strategies, and rise to the top of your list of opportunities you want to pursue in the next 90 days. When executed properly, these opportunities result in target markets being profitably served and/or projects yielding great benefit for internal and/or external customers.
In the Ballpark: These opportunities are close enough to your “bullseye” to warrant your attention and evaluation. While not necessarily in your “sweet spot”, these opportunities deserve your serious consideration once you’ve completed opportunities in the “bullseye” of your Opportunity Board.
Opportunistic Focus: These opportunities sometimes come only once in a lifetime and may trump an opportunity in the “bullseye” or “in the ballpark” sections of your Opportunity Board. Other opportunities placed in this portion of the Board are opportunities you cannot begin before securing the funding, enabling legislation, additional staffing, etc. necessary to begin the project.
Off the Board: These opportunities are actually on the Board itself, and they’re referred to as Off the Board to indicate that they are the last opportunities you might pursue while you work through the other three areas of the Board. Keep these opportunities in this fourth section of the Board so you don’t forget them. They are your “someday/maybe” opportunities.
The Opportunity Board has many uses. It can be utilized as a personal planning tool to organize your own opportunities into the various sections of the Board. It can also be utilized by a leadership team to check for alignment. If each member of a leadership team completes a Board and then presents it to the group, individuals on the team might begin to see why others are not addressing certain issues on as timely a basis as they’d like.
The above team exercise can reveal misalignment around the table with regard to priorities, giving the team the opportunity to create a collective agenda and reorient members of the team around that common set of priorities. Some organizations have even used The Opportunity Board to do annual strategic planning to help them sort through the most viable and important strategies they wish to implement.
How will you utilize The Opportunity Board to sort through and prioritize opportunities competing for your attention?
Dr. David Chinsky is the Founder of the Institute for Leadership Fitness, a celebrated speaker, and author of The Fit Leader’s Companion: A Down-to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success. After spending nearly 20 years in executive leadership positions at the Ford Motor Company, Nestle and Thomson Reuters, he now focuses on preparing leaders to achieve their highest level of professional effectiveness and leadership fitness.