Wednesday, April 15, 2020

COVID-19 Crisis: How to help leaders and teams ‘decide how to decide’ their priorities

We are thrilled to be supporting you with our guest bloggers.
We’ve had many posts recently about working through the pandemic, check them out here.
This week we learn how to decide priorities.

This week’s guest blogger, Dr. Laura Hauser, MCC, helps us in the COVID -19 Crisis by helping leaders and teams ‘decide how to decide’ their priorities

Here’s what she had to say…

When Luke Skywalker questions his ability to use the Force to lift his ship out of the swamp, Yoda tells him ”Do or do not. There is no try,” advising the decide prioritiesyoung Jedi to use the power of giving something his all, not just a try.

This is wise counsel during today’s novel coronavirus crisis where it may feel like you’ve been dropped into a swamp with no way out.

Now, more than ever, it’s critical to quickly help leaders and their teams focus, assign resources, and take action.

I continually hear concerns that some of the most visible and valuable casualties of this crisis are the cancellation of team development initiatives, strategic off-sites, and team meetings.

They’re asking “Now, what?” How do we decide which team development interventions including off-sites and leadership coaching courses should we focus on now, later, or not at all?

Jedi Triage – How To Decide How To Decide

Think triage, like medical professionals during a time of crisis. They use degrees of urgency to decide how to treat large numbers of casualties. Quick assessment is critical to get the patient to the right resources at the right time and place.

During the COVID-19 crisis, team leaders, coaches, and business partners (learning and development, human resources, talent managers) need to become triage experts.

It’s a critical time for you to summon your Jedi superpowers to quickly assess and focus on your team’s work and development.

Developing a simple, effective way to define criteria will help you decide how to decide while bringing your Jedi skills of timeliness, compassion, calmness, wisdom, and resources to bear.

People want to focus on the right priorities, particularly during a time of crisis. They need compassion amid their personal circumstances and clarity about their work priorities.

The Power of Urgency and Importance

Like medical first-responders, your job is to help leaders and their teams quickly assess and prioritize using two core elements: Urgency and Importance.

Urgent matters require immediate action

Think customer or technology firestorms that could severely affect the business, NOW. They require us to stop what we are doing and attend to the current situation. Ask how critical is it to run the business? What is the level of impact on strategy, people, customers, etc.?

Important matters require time for thoughtful planning and delivery

These activities have the potential to profoundly affect the well-being and success of the business but don’t need to be done now. They require thoughtful time, energy and resources.

Even though a team cannot meet f2f during this COVID-19 crisis, we can use technology like videoconferencing to bring us together and address urgent and important matters.

Jedi Triage Matrix

To help you quickly decide how to decide priorities, I developed a simple matrix. Adapt it in any way that works best for you. The elements of urgency and importance to prioritize decisions originally came from Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II, and later was popularized by Stephen Covey and others.decide priorities

Do Now = Emergencies

Important and urgent (top left): Critical to do now. Unexpected hard-to-plan-for emergencies, like consequences of the COVID-19 virus:

  • employees need computers at home to do their work and stay connected
  • customer complaints, unanticipated bottlenecks in customer supply chain and fulfillment processes
  • team members contracting the virus and families need help

Jedi tip: Too much time in this quadrant can lead to burn-out when stress levels are already off the charts. Minimize time spent here by ensuring that the issue at hand truly belongs in Q1–not just being reactive. Plan ahead–don’t wait until the last minute to address issues so that they won’t become a Q1 issue.

Do Soon = Essential

Important but not urgent (top right): These are critical activities that are not as time-sensitive and requires more time for collaboration compared to Emergencies:

  • expand team member’s capabilities to contribute to current and future business needs by learning how to coach each other, and coach their teams through crisis
  • innovate strategic initiatives for growth of the company, teams, and individuals
  • solve problems and innovate new opportunities such as how to shore up our supply chain or cybersecurity during and subsequent crisis

Jedi tip: Don’t assume that projects and tasks before the COVID-19 crisis retain the same level of importance. Help your leaders and teams assess what’s critical amidst the wicked challenges posed by the crisis. Ask what previous projects can we move to other quadrants? What new projects and tasks do we need to add?

Wait = Distractions

Low importance and urgent (bottom left): Not critical but appear important.
These activities
are productivity killers that interrupt a team member’s performance:

    • non-time sensitive requests for information
    • checking emails frequently to see if a teammate needs your help but then gets distracted clearing out unnecessary emails, checking social media posts, newsfeeds, etc.

These types of interruptions take attention away from Emergency and Essential actions and cause missed deadlines and poor quality work. Minimize time spent on distractions as much as possible.

Jedi Tip: Intentionally reduce unnecessary interruptions and distractions. Calendar specific time slots during each day for team members to check and respond to emails, texts, and phone calls so that members can concentrate on important and critical items for longer periods of time. Delegate tasks when appropriate.

Eliminate or Hold = Time Wasters

Low importance and not urgent (bottom right): don’t require focus right now, and potential long-term risks and opportunities at some future point.

  • activities and meetings no longer relevant to the team’s goals and new work environment
  • long-term future tasks, but not needed in the near future

Jedi tip: For activities still on your list, help your team assess if it’s still a priority. If it doesn’t fit into one of the other three boxes, or if it isn’t an idea to capture for future opportunities, let it go!

Stay Focused

During this time of crisis use your Jedi superpowers to triage and help yourself and others focus and decide on the right level of learning and development for the right people at the right time. Help leaders and their teams use some method of prioritization. When coaching, ask:

  • how urgent and important is this (project, task, opportunity, challenge)?
  • where can we best spend precious time and energy to support the development of individuals, leaders, and their teams that fosters enterprise-wide success?

This will help you create a reality that’s manageable and moves you and your team forward in this time of crisis.

And most importantly, remember to breathe. May the Force be with you.

Tell us what you’ve learned about how to decide priorities or what you can add to the conversation by commenting on this blog or by connecting with your colleagues on our Facebook page.

Here is some information about the author:

laura hauserDr. Laura Hauser, MCC, MCEC, works with corporate leaders (and professionals who develop leaders and teams), to help them build their capacity and courage to build healthy workplace cultures. She is an internationally-recognized thought leader and researcher in the highly specialized space of team coaching. Using the art of science, she teaches, coaches, supervises and consults in a way that expands people’s mindsets needed to excel during complex times. Laura is the developer of the Team Coaching Operating System®, an ACSTH coaching school accredited by the International Coach Federation. Contact Laura at or via her LinkedIn profile