Balancing Priorities and Customer Demands

Kelly Ann McKnight

Q: Can you provide some examples of an effective leadership role in an environment of competing priorities and continuously growing customer demands?

A: What a great topic!

First, let's list some of the challenges most leaders face when trying to balance priorities and increasingly demanding customers.

  1. In many organizations we have more than one line of business and often prefer to focus on what's "hot" or new, rather than what is tried and true. However, by taking our eye off the ball in our core business, we risk creating another fireball issue.
  2. Leaders are faced with a constant barrage of new issues (e.g., financial, technological, HR). They pop up every day. Knowing how each of these will affect our organization and what to do about them is a huge challenge.
  3. Customers don't know or care that you are struggling with internal issues. They just know that either their needs are or are not being met. Their expectations are increasing all the time and they expect you to deliver flawless products and services 24/7/365! They expect you to bring them the next and newest product or service before they know they need it.

Let's face it. This leadership gig is exhausting!

So what can we do? Well, I would suggest we start with EMPOWERMENT, INNOVATION and CHEERLEADING

EMPOWERMENT

Let's stop thinking that this is our problem alone. As leaders we need to share our concerns and problems in a way that allows others to jump in and help solve them. The better we get at empowering our people, the closer we bring the problems to a place where they can be solved. We need to push planning down a level and let our front line folks get involved. When we do that, we have fully involved the people who are the first to know what is coming and who have the solutions at their finger tips. Instead of saying, "If I was in charge I would fix this problem" they say "If I don't fix this problem, we are not going to reach our service goals." When it comes to managing all the different priorities in the business we can leave each issue, problem or part of the business in the hands of a capable team. The day-to-day operations will be taken care of by self-managed teams. In terms of anticipating new issues and being ready to take advantage of new opportunities, these teams will be best able to recognize these and plan for them. You can relax if these teams report to you so that you are not responsible for finding all the issues and opportunities, only for creating an environment where others will. You need to enable the people around you.

INNOVATION

If you want to know about customer demands and ensure you are on top of the latest trends, just ask the folks who work alongside the customers. They know what is going on. If their plans involve feeding information about new products and services into the organization, they will do it. Suddenly you are a market leader just by listening to your front line people.

Your role as a leader is to create the environment where this can happen. You can breathe a sigh of relief when you do not have to create the next great innovation. You do, however, have an important role to play in making this happen. You are the one who will help to create the environment where others can innovate. You do this by making sure that it is okay to take risks, to try new things and to learn from mistakes. Watch how you react when you hear about a new product or service failure. Do you ask, "What can we learn from this?" Do you make people feel safe when they are trying new things? This is all about the practice of "Challenging the Process."

CHEERLEADING

Depending on your personality, this might be the toughest job of all, but it is a crucial role for leaders. It combines "Inspire a Shared Vision" and "Encourage the Heart" and requires that we support the empowered, innovative team by shouting out the team cheer and telling them how great they are. Let's face it, you want them to innovate in such a way that they score a touchdown as often as possible. You want them to find the energy to get back up after a rough go and keep trying. It's your job to cheer them on and keep them going.

So it seems like our favorite Five Practices have a great fit with the never ending grind of competing priorities and increasing customer demands. If we lead well, we can create an environment where these issues can be tackled by many talented people and solved by the great teams we support as they drive forward.

Kelly Ann McKnight, a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge Workshop, is principal of Stone Ridge Consulting and an associate of The Performance Group where she focuses on bringing innovative training and coaching tools in leadership and management development, behavioral profiling, and team building to her clients. She can be reached at www.stoneridgeconsulting.ca.

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