Raise your hand if you have ever heard this from your boss “You need to switch your top priority to project Hummingbird right now. Stop working on project Mallard ASAP” and then a week later. “Project Mallard is back on as your number one priority. Stop working on Hummingbird.” Kinda frustrating, huh?
Priorities are one of those nagging sore spots for employees and managers. For some reason, some bosses just can’t set a priority or think that their reports can do two things at once. This priority uncertainty can wreak havoc on a group and make it next to impossible to get things done. This will frustrate everyone.
Priority Shift Manifestation
Bosses have a unique set of challenges that they need to juggle in order to move their group and company forward. These challenges tend to shift around like tectonic plates. These shifts are rarely seen by an employee but their affects manifest themselves in what you are assigned to do.
As the priority plates shift, your boss feels a tremendous amount of pressure to adjust priorities so that she can ride out the tremor. In fact, these priority shifts don’t feel like a big deal to your boss because in her mind, once she tells you to do something, it’s done — at least in her mind.
Priority Quantum States
Quantum mechanics has an excellent model for how hard it is to precisely determine different properties of a particle. The uncertainty principle states that the more you know about one aspect of a particle, the less you know about others. This means that the more you focus on measuring or focusing on one parameter, the less certain you are about the value of other parameters. This principal applies to priories since your boss is usually focusing on the crisis at hand while ignoring the other priorities. This then makes the uncertainty of the ignored priorities much greater and when the focus shifts, it usually leads to the realization that the ignored priority is now more important.
Dealing with Priority Uncertainty
Uncertainty is the only certain constant in a company. The tectonic plates of the marketplace, your competition and your ability to execute will create unexpected priority tremors that will make your boss jump from one priority state to another. This is an inevitable part of management life if you work at a company that is trying to grow like crazy.
As an employee, it can be tremendously frustrating since you are the one that has to do all the work and switching between tasks wastes time and effort. In order to make that a little smoother, think about the following actions you can take to reduce the effects of this quantum priority jumping.
Don’t react right away: When a priority changes, there is some residual that it might not stick. If you can, wait 24 hours before reacting to any sudden priority changes.
Clarify the objectives: Getting clarification is a great way to truly understand what the priority shift means.
Find a convenient place to stop: Before completely switching to the new task, find a good place to stop. That way, you can pick it back up once the priority changes again (since, it usually will).
Don’t take it personal: A lot of people take a priority shift as a personal attack on their work product. Don’t think of it that way. Rather, separate yourself from the decision and rationalize it as a necessary part of your job.
Vocalize any concerns: Make sure that the objectives of the new priority are clearly understood and that your concerns are property addressed. Don’t make your concerns complaints but do make sure that valid concerns are addressed.
Get on with it: In the end, your boss probably has a good reason for making the priority change. So, put the hard feelings behind you and focus on the new task at hand.
These techniques do help you step back and takes things into perspective. That’s an important thing to do when priorities change since during times of rapid change, bad decisions can made and priorities can jump quantum states repeatedly.