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Welcome to the December 2009 issue of Alignment Solutions! We have two exciting announcements this month:

            • Our free interview series on how to set priorities so your organization can operate effectively will be available by the end of December! Over a dozen experts in setting and implementing priorities are part of the series called Deft Decisions in Chaotic Conditions: How Experts Create Order from Turmoil. Three of these experts are clinical psychologists who offer tips on how we can change our behaviors to ensure success in achieving our priorities. For a preview of the psychologists' suggestions, please see this month's Personal Solutions article. The entire series of 30-minute interviews will be available on my web site by the end of December.

            • Coming in March 2010! You can have Pat Lynch as a mentor AND become part of a worldwide community of entrepreneurs. Pat is certified in Alan Weiss's Mentor Mastery™ Program. She has been mentored by, and personally trained with, Dr. Alan Weiss for over three and a half years, and is one of fewer than two dozen people globally approved to mentor at this level. In addition to having access to the vast experience you see on Pat's web site, you will be admitted to Alan Weiss's Private Roster Mentor Program Community, which enables you to continue to work personally with Pat while engaging in experiences with colleagues worldwide, including a 24/7 private forum, monthly newsletter, annual Mentor Summits, mastermind groups, and a host of other opportunities. You can click here to learn about the Private Roster Mentor Program. Substantially accelerate your personal and professional growth by working with Pat in a customized, personalized relationship, while gaining access to a vibrant global community of over 700 entrepreneurs. This personal/global combination is a unique mentoring experience that is only available through Pat Lynch.

Our new article series called Research News You Can Use selects findings of academic research that are applicable in the workplace, and suggests how you might implement them in your organization.

December Topic: The Value of Setting Workplace Priorities

Premise: Supervisors who identify and communicate clear organizational priorities create an environment in which certain employees are motivated to perform at higher levels than they do when such priorities are not identified. Learn how to influence employee performance by creating this type of environment.

This month's theme is "how to allocate scarce resources." Many organizations are at a loss as to how to set priorities and move forward effectively in the aftermath of devastating budget cuts, furloughs, and/or layoffs. Their leaders literally do not know where to begin. Our articles this month offer specific suggestions to help get things moving again productively, regardless of your current situation.

The Feature Article, "Guidelines for Allocating Scarce Resources," offers a framework for making decisions about how to allocate scarce resources so that the organization is able to achieve its mission. It defines two key concepts, critical functions and critical skills, and explains why addressing them is essential to organizational success.

In "What Do We Do Now?: How to Make Decisions Within the Constraints Imposed by Resource Scarcity," the Business Solutions section identifies two sets of decision-making options in crisis conditions, analyzes the possible alternatives available under each set, and makes recommendations for successful implementation of the outcomes.

In the Personal Solutions section, "Take Their Advice: Psychologists' Tips for Setting and Implementing Priorities" provides experts' insights and suggestions for improving skills related to setting and implementing priorities and goals.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com and my blog at www.OptimizeBusinessResults.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

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Guidelines for Allocating Scarce Resources

Scarce resources are a fact of business life. In the wake of devastating budget cuts, furloughs, and/or layoffs, however, "normal" levels of scarcity have been exacerbated. The question for many organizations has become, "How do we move forward from here most effectively?"

When asked to help clients answer that question, I recommend that they begin by identifying some crucial information that will guide their subsequent actions and decisions.

  1. Clearly define the organization's primary mission.

    Given current circumstances, the existing mission may have to change. For example, during times of greater resource availability, some organizations expanded or stretched their initial mission by offering products or services that are "nice to have," or they increased the level of service offered from basic to premium. Now is the time to evaluate the organization's primary mission, articulating specifically what it is and what level of service will be provided, for at least the short-term.
  2. Identify the functions that are critical to the organization's ability to achieve its mission.

    Critical functions are those without which the organization would be unable to achieve its mission, or those whose loss would quickly and substantially impede a major work flow. Here's a question that helps separate functions that are critical from those that are non-critical: "Will the organization be able to achieve its primary mission if this function is not staffed?"

    Note: a function that may be critical to one organization may be merely important to another - i.e., it adds value but doesn't prevent achievement of the mission. For example, customer service might be a critical function for an airline that promises passengers an "exceptional travel experience," but it probably is not a critical function for an airline that promises to get passengers from point A to point B safely and at low cost.
  3. Identify the skills that are critical to the successful functioning of the organization.

    Critical skills are rare, unique, or in short supply; they have no acceptable substitutes in the short-run; and they are necessary for the achievement of the organization's mission. Unlike critical functions, critical skills are dynamic, varying with environmental factors such as labor market conditions and changes in technology.

    Often skills become critical due to temporary imbalances between supply and demand in the labor market. However, once those forces are back in balance, the skills no longer are critical - even when the functions they support remain critical. For example, in the 1990s, many technology-related skills were in short supply, so people with those skills were able to command large salaries. However, as others began acquiring the necessary training and expertise, the skills lost their "critical" status. As a result, salaries for these jobs no longer carried a premium.
  4. Direct available resources toward staffing the critical functions and obtaining the critical skills.

    Leaders must focus relentlessly on the organization's mission, and the functions and skills necessary to achieve it, if the organization is to survive in the short-term and thrive in the long-term. This requires making tough decisions, saying "no" to people, and using the mission as the ultimate criterion - i.e., evaluating the extent to which each program, decision, function, job, policy, and system supports the primary mission. Only those that contribute directly to the mission should be retained or added.

To illustrate the above concepts a little more clearly, let's consider a fire department whose mission is to save lives and preserve property. Most people would agree that critical functions are putting out fires and providing emergency medical care to accident victims. However, other critical functions include communication, vehicle maintenance, and payroll. Here's why: without learning of the incidents and dispatching the appropriate people and equipment, without vehicles that operate safely when needed, and without paying those who provide the services, the fire department could not achieve its primary mission. Non-critical functions for the department may include getting cats out of trees and transporting people to hospitals who are not seriously ill and/or can use alternative means of getting there.

Some skills are critical for the fire department by virtue of the fact that specialized knowledge or expertise is necessary (e.g., dealing with hazardous materials, providing appropriate medical care). Other skills are critical because they are not readily available in the relevant labor market in the short-run (e.g., maintaining mission-critical computer systems, repairing vehicles).

Resources will remain uncommonly scarce in the near-term. What steps are you taking to ensure you allocate them in ways that allow your organization to achieve its mission?

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What Do We Do Now?: How to Make Decisions Within the Constraints Imposed by Resource Scarcity

In a previous article, From Chaos to Calm: The Experts' Guide to Setting Priorities, we identified seven guidelines for setting priorities as identified by a variety of experts. These guidelines are intended to help leaders establish an on-going process for setting priorities so that people know clearly what they should do at all times. However, this information is of limited use to organizations whose leaders have not taken the time to develop processes for setting priorities. What options do they have when extreme shortages of critical resources require them to set or re-define their boundaries?

Given the need to make decisions about how to curtail their operations immediately, leaders have two options that can help them in the short-run: (1) increase inputs or (2) decrease outputs. Within each of these options, there are several alternatives, some of which will be more viable than others depending on the given situation. Let's look at each set of options in turn, and examine their feasibility.

Increase Inputs

Here are four ways to increase inputs:

  1. Delegate
  2. Outsource
  3. Work more hours
  4. Increase efficiency

Alternatives #1-3 presume the availability of resources such as people (i.e., those to whom you can delegate things) and money (e.g., paying others to do the work, paying overtime). Organizations that are short of those resources are unlikely to be in a position to select those choices. Although some employers may argue that they could avoid paying overtime simply by having salaried staff work more hours, such a view is short-sighted: people will burn out quickly, and they will be very likely to leave the organization at the first opportunity. Thus for most organizations in crisis mode, increasing efficiency seems to be the most sustainable way to increase inputs in the face of scarce resources.

Decrease Inputs

Here are four ways to decrease inputs:

  1. Delay the promised goods or services
  2. Provide partial delivery of products or services
  3. Reduce service or performance standards
  4. Decrease the number of products or services

Although none of these alternatives may seem very palatable, in a crisis situation they may be preferable to not being able to achieve the organization's mission at all. For example, some customers may be open to a delay or partial delivery due to their own financial situations. Others may be unhappy with a delay but will accept it as an alternative to non-delivery.

Reducing service or performance standards may be a viable option for some organizations. For example, one organization I worked with recently is justifiably proud of its tradition of providing "excellent" service across the board. Given severe budget constraints, however, its leaders now are considering the possibility that customers will find "very good" or "good" service levels acceptable, at least in the short-term. This will allow the organization to re-allocate some resources or to continue to operate in the absence of others. However, for an organization whose mission focuses on providing exceptional service, this option is not feasible - unless it revises its mission statement.

Decreasing the number of products or services actually may serve the organization well in the long-term as well as in the short-term. Most likely some customers will be disappointed to find fewer choices. Considering the alternative is the inability to achieve the organization's mission at all, however, the decrease may seem like a reasonable "price" to pay. And over time, if those products and services in fact are very important to the organization's mission, they may be reinstated.

Recommendations for Successful Implementation

Here are four recommendations to help ensure that decisions about how to operate most effectively within existing constraints have the greatest positive impact::

  1. Ensure the above decisions are be the result of conscious, strategic choices based on the mission.
  2. Once set, communicate the decisions clearly and in a variety of ways to employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
  3. In most cases, radical changes will require the adjustment of stakeholders' mindsets. For example, people who have worked for years under the notion that providing anything other than excellent service are likely to find it difficult to provide anything less. Leaders must address this issue in order to ensure successful change.
  4. Recognize that the organization's mission may have to change to reflect existing circumstances. This change may be short-term or long-term.

 

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Take Their Advice:
Psychologists' Tips for Setting and Implementing Priorities

My intention when I started our free interview series Deft Decisions in Chaotic Conditions: How Experts Create Order from Turmoil was to solicit information and advice from a wide range of experts to help people learn how to set, align, and implement priorities effectively. Along the way, I began to wonder why some people seem to set and implement priorities easily while others struggle. Consequently, I identified three psychologists who graciously agreed to share their professional insights and provide some ideas about how people can improve their skills in setting and implementing priorities. Here is a sample of their comments and suggestions.

  1. Identify the things that you value (e.g., relationships, accomplishments). Our priorities are derived from our values. When we struggle to accomplish stated priorities, often it's because they are not aligned with our values.
  2. Identify goals and priorities that have personal meaning. Break them down into manageable steps so they don't seem overwhelming. Make sure the goals and priorities are specific, measurable, and achievable (overall as well as the specific steps).
  3. Partnering with someone increases the likelihood that you will implement the priorities you set.
  4. Be realistic about your talents and abilities as you identify priorities so you don't set yourself up for failure.
  5. View the inevitable glitches as challenges rather than as obstacles. Treat them as opportunities to exercise your creativity to overcome them rather than as setbacks that knock you off track.
  6. Celebrate progress toward accomplishing the priorities as well as their actual achievement.
  7. Because many people take the path of least resistance when it comes to their careers, an estimated 80% of individuals are in careers they don't like. To set and implement new career-related priorities, take a one-credit course at a community college in career counseling and testing. Allocate a small amount of time every day to do something that will take you closer to making this change.
  8. Identify the things that are holding you back from setting and/or implementing priorities. Common obstacles include a variety of fears (e.g., of failure), risk aversion, lack of self-esteem, depression, or dislike of the task.
  9. Become aware of the negative "chatter" or self-talk in your head that makes you doubt your ability to set or implement priorities. Often we establish or buy into ridiculous, illogical "rules" or beliefs that set us up for failure (e.g., "I can be perfect," "I can do anything"). Write these thoughts down and begin to identify the negative patterns so you can modify them. Cognitive behavioral therapy often is used to tear away the "must/should" tyranny that impedes individuals' progress toward goals and priorities.
  10. Ask for professional, confidential help if necessary. Students generally have access to counseling services on campus, and employers often offer employee assistance programs. Outside of school and work, assistance is available through sources like community agencies, mental health centers, and referrals by professionals.

To learn more about the insights and suggestions provided by these psychologists, you may listen to their interviews on the Business Alignment Strategies web site.

What one small step will you take today to begin to improve your skills in setting and implementing priorities?

 

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Date of Publication: December, 2009
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch