AME members and volunteers often share with me that they feel like they’re on a burning platform and faced with several competing priorities. I’ve heard this more frequently in the past 18 months as many of our member organizations find their bearings and chart a path forward on persistently unstable ground.
This week I found myself repeating the phrase, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” in conversations and emails. I mentioned this to an AME home team member as that staffer struggled to prioritize a to-do list. I said it in a conversation with passionate volunteers who recognize that while AME delivers incredible value to the lean, continuous improvement community, AME, itself, also — and always! — has room for improvement. That phrase also echoed in my own head as I bounced from meeting to meeting this week to discuss the AME International Conference, our Health Care Lean Summit, the incredible work being done to update the AME Lean Sensei, and our strategic initiatives to help our members.
As you navigate competing priorities, it’s important to keep your organization or your team’s mission in mind. Before you consider key result areas (KRAs), key performance indicators (KPIs), and return on investment (ROI), you must first consider what priorities align to your mission. That is your North Star. Being mindful of your mission helps you see the big picture of why your organization or team exists, and why those who count on you — your customers, those in other departments, your employees — have come to you in the first place.
Next, you must consider the difference between what’s important and what’s urgent. There is a distinction. Consider what projects, tactics and strategies you might undertake to make the biggest impact and provide the greatest ROI. You might know that one area of your processes needs to be reengineered so you can adjust for supply chain interruptions, a shifting workforce or some other disruptive factor. As you approach this project, think about how you might break it up into segments to give you the incremental successes that eventually lead to a better outcome. When you complete your first step — likely some form of root cause analysis — celebrate the completion of that step. Pat your teammates on the back, take a deep breath and move on to the next step.
An often-overlooked step in the prioritizing process is communicating these priorities to others so they understand what you’re working on and where this path leads. Even the best of us skips this step occasionally — after all, if you feel like you’re on a burning platform, you’re often trying to cut out as many steps as possible. But skipping the communication step can slow you down in the long run. Plus, others might have another take on your priorities, and their constructive feedback might help you reevaluate your priorities or reinforce your thinking.
Along the way, be kind to yourself and be kind to others. It’s easy to get discouraged when things don’t progress as smoothly or as timely as you would like. When you get discouraged, it’s easy to get knocked off course and to start putting out fires instead of focusing on the long-game and your strategic priorities. I’m sure you’ve heard it time and again at AME events, but the firefighter mentality is not sustainable nor is it ultimately productive. You must remember to keep your eye on the North Star and stick to the priorities that are most important and impactful.
Continuous improvement isn’t a sprint. It is an ultramarathon with no finish line. Remember your North Star, take care of the important, communicate with others about your priorities, celebrate the incremental accomplishments, and don’t let the urgent stop you from doing the important.
As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.