Is Your Activity Aligned With Your Direction?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I once worked with an organization that was not quite as focused as it should have been. Their returns were on a long, slow decline, and nobody was sure what to do.

After we clarified the company’s vision and three strategic priorities, I asked the President how many of the projects and initiatives throughout the organization were actually aligned with those few corporate priorities.

He wasn’t so sure.

We quickly scoured through every crevice of the organization, asking managers to fess up to their pet projects. These were all then neatly compiled onto a spreadsheet listing the project name, owner, dollar spend, and outcome. When all was said and done, we had tracked down over 300 unique projects.

“Huh,” said the President as he scrolled through the list, taking note of the dozens of activities he formerly had no knowledge of.

We then held up each and every project against those three strategic priorities to see how they fit. The thinking went like this: if the organization’s efforts and energies were channeled into activities that didn’t line up with its priorities, then no matter how worthy the project, it was simply holding the company back from achieving its goals.

Each project was organized into one of three simple color-coded categories: green (Yes/Continue); yellow (Good Idea/Not Now); and red (No/Stop). By the time we finished, $5 million worth of misaligned projects were shut down.

Although everyone in this company was very busy working on interesting projects, the organization was not moving forward. In truth, the fragmented efforts of the various managers were actually working against the organization’s goals. But after the purge, people could now focus on the few things that have the greatest impact on driving the business strategy. The company’s performance started to soar, and soon ranked among the top tier of its peers.

Lots of activity may look impressive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is progress. Things can easily get out of hand, especially without a clear direction. We forget that saying “yes” to what we want means saying “no” to plenty of other things.

I recently came across the latest three-year Strategic Plan for the National Audubon Society, and was impressed to read a bold headline stating, “What We’re Not Doing.” Here, the firm outlines a number of activities they will stop doing since they are no longer aligned with its direction.

This principal applies as much to our personal lives as it does to business. For the past few months I was spread too thin, slogging through life with a vague sense of fatigue and listlessness. After some reflective prayer and planning, I emerged with a renewed clarity about my direction and priorities, knowing something had to give. So I resigned from a volunteer leadership position with an organization that I care very much for. The time commitment was detracting from other priorities that were far more essential.

Think about your own life, all your activities and programs and committees. How do they fit with your direction and priorities? Do you even know where it’s all taking you? Rather than running ragged, why not leverage your energy, your effort, your God-given talent towards the few things that will actually make a difference in the long run?

There’s only so much you can do in a day or a week or a month. Take stock, and don’t be afraid to put the kibosh on activities that don't line up with your goals. It could be the most liberating and clarifying thing you’ve experienced in a long, long time.