South Africa is still reeling from our awe-inspiring Rugby World Cup Win, and now we can finally sit back, relax and reflect on our stellar win after all the elevated heart rates (well done Springboks – our heightened stress levels were most definitely worth it!)
A lot will be written about the Springboks in the weeks and months to come and how they played for something greater than themselves. Their humble, servant leadership style. Their exceptional teamwork and fierce loyalty to their teammates. And, of course, their game strategy.
For us, their ability to prioritise effectively to execute their winning strategy stands above the rest.
To select a team for the Rugby World Cup finals, playing against the All Blacks, arguably one of the world’s best, most agile teams, is perhaps one of the most high-pressured decisions for a coaching team to make. This is especially true when an entire nation’s hopes rest on the decision. But the coaching team made their decision (and a somewhat controversial one at that): a 7-1 split on the substitution bench.
For those who may not have partners who eat, sleep and breathe rugby, this strategic decision meant that Rassie and coach Nienaber prioritised a forward-dominant strategy with seven of the eight replacement players being forwards. By playing to their strengths of ‘outmuscling their opponents’, the coaching team was effectively focusing on a strategy where the Boks were able to bring on a new pack of forwards in the second half, with renewed energy, to dominate the contact area, creating pressure on the opposition, ultimately leading them to mistakes and stopping their momentum. This, coupled with a fierce defensive strategy, ultimately led the Boks to victory.
We believe, just like the Springbok coaches, that effective prioritisation to stay focused on our strategy is one of the most important principles of effective strategy execution.
In this article, we will explore the significance of prioritisation in strategy execution and highlight why organisations need to focus on the most important goals, not just the urgent ones.
Why is prioritisation important, and why now?
In the fast-paced world of business, the ability to execute a well-informed strategy can make all the difference between an organisation’s success or failure. While the importance of a meticulously crafted strategy cannot be overstated, the art of prioritisation is critical to enabling effective execution and minimising the inevitable strategy-execution gap.
“More organisations die of indigestion than starvation”
– Dave Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard
Within our modern business landscape, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of opportunities, goals, projects and tasks. With so many things vying for our attention, it’s easy to fall into the habit of tackling only the urgent issues we need to do to keep the lights on and forget about the important initiatives that will shift our business to new heights.
Effective prioritisation provides organisations with the space to balance both the urgent and the important. This ensures that businesses are not only focusing on keeping the lights on but simultaneously focusing on initiatives that will transform the business of today into the business of tomorrow.
One of the reasons it is so important to get prioritisation right now is that it helps to narrow our focus. As the saying goes, “When you focus on everything, you focus on nothing.” This inability to distinguish between the critical objectives and those that can wait is a recipe for strategic stagnation.
Imagine if the Springbok coaches had tried to improve every aspect of the Boks game. Trying to dominate our opponents on all fronts would have diluted our focus. Ultimately, this focus resulted in our one-point wonder hat-trick through the playoffs and triumphant World Cup victory.
Similarly, in business, when we are focused on our strategy and the goals that will help us realise our ambition, we are more likely to gain significant traction in the long run.
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically—to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”
– Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Prioritisation is essential as it empowers business leaders to say “No” – even to some opportunities and initiatives that may seem promising, thereby creating space for “Yes“. It enables tough decisions to be made by recognising that not all endeavours will propel your strategy forward. This discernment can be challenging, as it requires leaders to make decisions that may not yield immediate results but will contribute significantly to their long-term success.
In this way, prioritisation helps us stay true to our strategic direction.
The starting point of effective prioritisation: Identifying must-win battles
Prioritisation is about choosing your battles wisely. In the grand scheme of things, not all goals are created equal. Some are must-win battles that will ensure your ultimate victory – whether it’s expansion, market growth or disruption through innovation. These must-win battles can be seen as the cornerstones of your strategy – the pivotal initiatives that will propel your organisation forward.
For the Springboks, their must-win battles were winning scrum penalties, big tackles to halt the opposition’s momentum, and getting the forwards over the advantage line on attack. Understanding these must-win battles enabled the Springboks to play to their strengths and prioritise an effective team structure, allowing them to execute their strategy excellently.
To prioritise effectively, start by identifying your organisation’s overarching strategic goals. What are the long-term objectives that will define your success? These might include expanding market share, launching a new product, enhancing customer experience, or achieving operational excellence.
Once these have been defined, it’s vital to prioritise 3-5 strategic objectives to focus on over the shorter term (either quarterly or annually). We believe that in prioritising and limiting the number of strategic objectives in a certain period, we can create laser-sharp focus, which is fundamental to successful execution. Again, when we try to tackle more objectives and initiatives, we lose that focus, and our impact becomes diluted.
Once these prioritised strategic objectives have been defined, the next step is to break them down into smaller, key results and actionable steps. Each of them represents a significant milestone on the path to achieving your strategic ambition. This creates focus and clear direction for the entire organisation, translating into meaningful traction against your strategy. When your entire team is rowing in the same direction, focusing your resources, energy, and attention on these strategic objectives, your strategy is more likely to stay on course and result in tangible results.
The discipline of prioritisation – staying committed to focused efforts
One of the key elements of effective prioritisation is discipline and consistency – qualities that are abundant in our Springbok team. It’s all too easy to become sidetracked by urgent fires that need to be put out – and in some instances, diverting our attention is crucial. However, we need to ensure that there is a balance between the important and the latest urgent issues to ensure that we keep momentum on our must-win battles, creating consistent traction on our strategic objectives.
To keep this momentum, it’s essential to regularly review and reflect on your prioritised strategic objectives, assessing the progress made and adjusting as required.
Consistently reviewing and reflecting on performance was crucial to the Springboks World Cup winning game plan. After each game, one would imagine that the coaching staff got their heads together to ask the big questions like “What worked?” “What didn’t work so well?” and “What do we need to tweak or focus on to dominate our upcoming opponents?” In this way, they ensured that they continued to prioritise effectively, staying focused on elements that would progress their winning strategy forward.
Similarly, we advise our clients to incorporate the habit of regular check-ins and quarterly Reflect and Reset sessions in their business-as-usual activities to maintain this consistency. This ensures that what we prioritise is not just an on-paper exercise but is being actively pursued and monitored.
In reflecting on strategic priorities, organisations should ask themselves whether their strategic objectives are still relevant in contributing to their strategy. This ensures that your strategic objectives remain adaptable to changes in the market while staying aligned to your strategy and overarching ambition.
“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
Prioritisation is one of the cornerstones of successful strategy execution. By focusing on the most important goals, not just the urgent ones, business leaders can ensure they don’t lose sight of their strategic ambitions. Must-win battles are the key to winning the war, and prioritisation is the compass that guides organisations toward long-term success.
Organisations can achieve their strategic goals and emerge victorious in our competitive competitive business landscape by making this shift in mindset and practice, just like the Springboks in their magnificent Rugby World Cup win.
Our team can help prioritise your businesses’ strategic objectives. To find out more, reach out to us here.
If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.
Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!