Rationalizing Team Activities
Reorganizing Priorities in Changing Times
Imagine this scenario: Your team has been working on a project for months. When you started, the project's high cost was justified, because the expected sales resulting from its completion would more than pay for it.
However, that was before the economic downturn.
Now, your sales projections are lower, and your boss is pushing you to reduce costs. After all, there's little chance the company will reach the sales figures you had originally expected. On the other hand, if you stop the project now, all the work your team has done thus far will be wasted.
What should you do? Should you keep going, and try to finish the project quicker to keep costs down, or should you stop everything, and move on to something else?
In today's difficult economy, it may be hard to identify which projects and tasks should take priority over others. This new business environment can greatly impact your team, especially if the consequences of this change aren't managed correctly and sensitively.
So, how do you know which projects and activities will make the most difference, and how do you help your team deal with changing priorities and new assignments? This article focuses on those questions. We'll review the steps needed to identify how this new environment will impact your team's priorities, and we'll show you what you can do to manage the consequences, and move forward.
How to Reprioritize Your Activities
Follow these steps to reassess your team's work and priorities:
Brainstorm Current Activities
Make a list of everything your team is currently working on. This helps you identify exactly which projects and activities you need to address.
Where projects are large, break them down into different sub-projects. What you're looking for here are parts of these projects that can be eliminated, or where the scope can be reduced to cut costs.
Aim to make the list as comprehensive as possible. Include information such as people assigned to each task, deadlines, budgets, and expected outcomes.
At this stage, it may be wise not to involve the entire team in this process, given the fact that the eventual outcome may mean cancelling or de-prioritizing projects - or even because the situation may change before you've come to an agreed way of proceeding.
Identify the Company's Top Priorities
The decision you make regarding rationalizing your team's activities will depend very much on what the company wants you to do.
Projects generally need to be delivered on spec, on time, and on budget. It could be that the most important deliverable now is to stay within budget – or to achieve certain corporate objectives sooner.
For example, last year, your organization may have wanted to implement new projects, or launch new products, as fast as possible to stay ahead of the competition. This year, however, staying within budget, and providing top-notch customer service to your current client base, might be the most important considerations. Alternatively, you may have to shave significant costs off the agreed budget, so you can deliver to a much tighter and leaner schedule.
It's a good idea to have an idea of what you would do when your bosses ask you to cut costs, or to reduce headcount – or even to develop a strategy for preserving cash while the recession bites. Bear in mind, however, that what you initially plan for may have to be adapted to suit changing organizational objectives.
If your company has identified a new list of priorities for the future, make sure you know what those are. Write them down, because you'll use them in the next step.
You now have two lists: current projects and activities, and current company priorities. Next, it's time for you to analyze where these two lists align – and where they don't match up.
For example, let's say one of your teams is focusing on in-depth market research. Last year, this project aligned with the company's top priorities, because the research allowed the company to stay ahead of the competition. This year, however, product development might be less important, so you may need to stop this project. Or, it could be that you need to focus more on outbound sales calls, to maximize potential leads and bring in extra revenue, rather than rely on inbound inquiries.
If you'd like more information on analyzing current costs versus future benefits, see Cost/Benefit Analysis.
When you've got a good idea of how you will reprioritize your team's activities to fit more closely the current business environment, how do you move forward? How do you handle the consequences that are sure to result from these changes?
- Be a strong and courageous leader – Tricky times are likely to put your leadership abilities to the test. Your people won't want to see you looking worried or overwhelmed by the task ahead. They will want you to set an example and stay calm, even when you're faced with stressful, difficult decisions.
Tell your team – Start by making sure everyone knows about these new changes and priorities. Tell them straight, and allow opportunities for them to question how the changes will affect them.
Unfortunately, chances are high that a few team members will offer resistance. Some people simply don't like to change unless they absolutely have to. Getting them to agree with these new priorities might be a challenge, especially if they're forced to discontinue a project in which they've invested a lot of time and effort.
As a result, their motivation and productivity levels may be lower, and it may be difficult for them to adapt to new ways of working. For more on team motivation during tough economic conditions, see Managing During a Downturn.
- Solicit support from your 'influencers' –One way to get people to go along with you is to make sure that your team's biggest influencer accepts and supports the new changes and priorities. You know who your big influencers are – the people who are most liked and respected by other team members. Once these leaders are on your side, you'll probably have an easier time motivating others.
Reorganize after redundancies – You might also have to deal with the reality of layoffs, if this is what the organization requires. See Delivering Bad News for tips on how to handle redundancy situations with grace and dignity.
If you lose some of your team members, then it's likely that everyone will need to reorganize. You'll have fewer people to do the work, so you can't expect everything to get done like before.
To help you do this reorganization, eliminate work that isn't crucial. Prioritize the tasks that were done by those who were laid off. Delegate where possible: for example, negotiate with your boss or your team's clients to pass on some of the work your team was expected to do before the layoffs.
It may be that you were 'over-staffed' in some areas, and the opportunity to reorganize your team, and the way everyone operates, may lead to further efficiencies. Or some people may appreciate the challenge of taking on work that former colleagues used to do.
Tell your team members that they matter – Morale might be low if you do have to lay people off, but remind your team that this change in priorities will help the company survive and succeed in this economic downturn. Their work really does make a difference, and they're still there for a reason.
If there is a positive side to this, then it may be that restructuring allows people to use their latent skills and talents – thus permitting team members to play to their strengths.
When the company environment changes, your team's priorities and focus are likely to change along with it. Make a list of current projects that align with the company's new goals, and eliminate projects or sub-projects that are no longer relevant. Identify ways you can re-distribute some of your workload, especially if you've had to reduce headcount.
A downturn in the economy may call for some tough decisions, which you'll have to make if you're going to ensure your company's profitability and survival. This will put a lot of pressure on your team, in many different ways. Handling the management and communication of those changes is likely to test you as a leader. However, you may come out stronger as a result, and be well positioned – both personally and professionally – to take advantage when the economy once again returns to health.