Multiple priorities are a necessity in today’s complex organizations. Coupled objectives keep a system in balance. If the only goal is getting a product to market quickly, for example, you might sacrifice quality or employee well-being in service of that one goal. And there truly is the genius of the AND, as Patagonia beautifully exemplifies in their profit through purpose culture.
All too often, however, multiple priorities become competing priorities. Rather than compounding results, they compound overwhelm. If everything is a priority, as the saying goes, then nothing is.
Ultimately, priorities exist to do one thing: drive trade-off decisions. They reflect the explicit choices you have made about what matters, where to play, and how to win. When they are working, they are the filter through which you make decisions about budgets, plans, resource allocation, and goals. They help every employee choose where to invest their time, focus, and energy.
Are your priorities driving aligned and intentional choices? If not, “even over” statements are a powerful way to declare what matters most.
Consider this scenario: You are a fast-growing company that differentiates itself through exceptional customer service. Your priorities include:
- Develop new hires so they can provide outstanding service
- Increase profit margins
In a business-as-usual context, you’ve been able to do both simultaneously. Now imagine you’ve just hired a new cohort of customer service employees. At the same time, the corporation’s discounting strategy has led to higher call volume at less revenue. Now what? Should you put the new employees on the phones sooner by cutting their training short and risk a decline in customer experience? Or should you ask the tenured people to work overtime, which will eat into your margins?
You can solve this through an even over statement. For example:
- For this quarter, we prioritize employee development even over margin targets
- For this quarter, we prioritize margin targets even over employee development
Notice that both are good—one prioritizes differentiation and the other prioritizes margin. Either statement is valid and could be the right trade-off for your organization. They don’t mean a trade-off is necessary, but give guidance when a trade-off is genuinely required.
Effective even over statements have two characteristics:
- Both sides of the statement are positive and viable options
- they are time-bound
Other examples include:
- In this long-range plan, we value environmental sustainability even over margin growth
- This fiscal year, we prioritize increasing diversity even over headcount growth targets
If you don’t see enough movement on your key priorities or you’re getting feedback that your employees are overwhelmed, try this:
- Review the list of your priorities
- For any that might require trade-offs, decide on the even over statement that applies for a designated time period
- Communicate those choices to managers
You will always have multiple priorities. Even over statements can help your team navigate them creatively and sustainably, building a resilient foundation in a world of constant change.