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Each year, as we look forward to new beginnings, it's essential to make room to reflect. While it’s tempting to run full force into the next big project or next resolution that will make us - to borrow from Daft Punk - harder, better, faster, stronger, we owe it to ourselves and our teams to take a beat and genuinely self-reflect. Besides, we aren't machines, and what really enhances growth is learning from the past.

We understand this year brought hardships and grief to many worldwide. We want to honor those lost and those whose lives were negatively impacted through the struggles, large and small, this year. While we have also been affected in many ways, we would like to take a moment to celebrate the strength, resilience, and ingenuity we've all shown as well. So, today we reflect on the highlights, success stories, and lessons in the hopes that you too can reflect on the positive moments of the past year.

While many of us aren't big on bragging, we want to show you how company culture really makes a difference. At Omnia, we use our assessments to develop and maintain a reliable team. With a solid team, you can get through almost anything. And in this, our 35th year of business, we did just that. 

We'll kick it off with Jennifer Lucas because she put it so perfectly.

"Like everyone in the world, we had to rearrange everything about the business in no time. Our team made some major adjustments, and though we were scared about the future, we all worked together and took it in stride. With so much uncertainty in the world, it was such a relief to know I still had a job, and I could still make meaningful contributions to it. It made me grateful for, and proud of, my team and company.

We Rearranged and Re-invented Everything! 

"We have re-invented so many processes at Omnia this year. While we turn 35 years old, that doesn't mean you have to grow old and continue to do the same things, in the same ways. We have made huge strides in utilizing Salesforce to a fuller potential, established marketing and sales processes to continually keep the pipelines full, and created an online reference and "playbook" system. Processes and procedures are documented and can be followed by all. All this serves to allow Omnia to better serve its employees, which, in turn, allows our clients to be better served. Omnia in 2020 is not the same Omnia as in 1985! It is even more agile and client-centric than ever." – Steve Rorrer 

We Took Advantage of the "Gift of Time" 

"Starting a new job is always a challenge – so taking on a Sales, Marketing, and Client Service executive role one month before the world literally shut down was a bit freaky!  In hindsight, though – I believe the downtime allowed me to take more time to get ramped up even more thoroughly.  It was a gift!  

We used the downtime to build great playbooks for our team.  We updated key client service processes and documented them to aim for a better customer experience, not to mention a better way to onboard new associates. 

On a personal note, I'm very grateful for the gift of time I got to spend with my daughters and husband. My husband and I travel quite frequently, so being home together every day was a blessing – and yes, sometimes a challenge as we got used to the new routines and all that togetherness.  The flexibility of online learning gave us more opportunities to see our daughters with extended visits at home.  I never imagined I would have seen my college freshman or senior so much this year, or that we as a family would get so much time together." - Keather Snyder

We Strengthened Relationships  

"One of the best things about 2020 for me was getting to know our clients better. "I hope you are doing well," took on a whole new meaning. I got familiar with some of our clients' dogs because they were trying their best to contribute to the conversation! Their babies and kids, too. Many of us were suddenly dealing with everyone being at home for school and work, and I looked for ways to make it as easy as possible on our clients. And there was shopping! I virtually assisted one small business owner while he hit up the Best Buy for all his employees' telecommuting equipment. If there was one thing we learned in 2020, it was that work doesn't just happen in the office." – Cynthia Brooks. 

"Even though I truly missed all the travel and face-to-face client meetings, I think I actually participated in more conferences than in any year prior. There were a wealth of interactive, engaging conferences – and doing so virtually gave me the time and cost savings to attend more. Through these experiences, I also grew my network exponentially – this was actually a blessing of 2020 as a new associate to Omnia." - Keather Snyder

We Expanded Target Reports and Added Clients! 

"We're on the verge of debuting new targets geared toward employees who work remotely, which is really cool. Also, I think bringing on 200+ new customers during a global pandemic is fantastic. 😊 Plus, Omnia has hired some STELLAR people this year!" – Alaina Sims

We Stayed Together and Expanded Our Team 

"We stayed together! Our Omnia Team never had layoffs, and everyone pivoted to work from home. We have now grown our team adding two new associates in Texas." - Keather Snyder 

We Tackled New Projects 

"Remote work got me motivated to finally turn my son's room, he's out of the house now, into a proper home office. It was a project that I should have done a couple years ago, but quarantine and working from home gave me the need to create a more productive workspace along with the time to get it done." – Wendy Sheaffer

We Learned About Ourselves 

"I learned that I can work from home. (Like the rest of the world). This sounds like a basic task, but for somebody who was "always on the go" and drove 3 counties frequently, this was very different. The best thing is that I learned a lot about myself and feel that I am much more efficient with my job. I also think that I am a better teammate and can assist more when needed. I have learned that if we all try our best and work together, it seems to always work out." – Jamie Morlock

We Took Advantage of Opportunities and Tried New Things 

"Although 2020 has had lots of challenges for people worldwide, I've been able to make the most of the challenges that came my way. I got furloughed from a job that I had outgrown and should have left a while ago. Thanks to the government's stimulus package and the banks' programs to defer house and car payments, I was OK financially through the summer.  As a result, I had the summer off with my kids for the first time since they were little. I enjoyed spending time at home and did lots of organizing, cleaning, and decorating. 

I fulfilled a long-held dream to run for public office.  Due to the pandemic, the election got moved to coincide with the presidential election.  I put up signs, gave speeches, and campaigned via social media.  I won the election against a 10-year incumbent and started my two-year term on City Council in December. 

Best of all, though I got laid off in September, I interviewed and got hired at Omnia in October. I've been having a great time meeting everyone and learning lots about our products and services.  I can't wait to see what 2021 brings!" – Linda Salazar 

And Finally, We Made Plans for the Future 

We're celebrating 35 years as a business. Like Steve mentioned, this year isn't anything like 1985 when we started. It's also like no other year in Omnia's, or the world's, history. We have been resilient through the changes, and it's made us stronger, as people and as a company. The updates, playbooks, processes, and deepened relationships are only the beginning. Omnia has been an excellent company to work for and work with for decades. Now we're ready to take it to the next level. As always, we remain people-first and customer-focused. We hope you join us on this next adventure.  

A multitude of unforeseen changes have occurred in the last 6-8 months, many that are here to stay. One adjustment is the move from a physical office environment to virtual teams. Even with some workplaces reopening, it's clear that virtual teams are here for the long term.

As leaders and employees continue adjusting to this evolving reality, there are ways to work more effectively and gain a momentum people can live with. We may not be in the same room for a while, but if we can find our footing, we can still stay together on the journey.

In previous articles and webinars, we've discussed why leadership is essential in a crisis, what employees, clients, and stakeholders need from leaders, and how to use emotional traits and behavioral tendencies to your advantage. As we continue to manage through crises, other strategies, such as best practices for virtual mentoring, utilizing behavioral assessments, and motivating teams from a distance will help you keep things contained and on track.

Effective leadership creates the infrastructure to help people participate efficiently. Leadership is about harnessing vision, balancing responsibilities, and creating a framework that clarifies how to reach set goals. Effective, and yes courageous, leadership is about creating processes that improve people's understanding of changing circumstances and enhance their ability to swim with the tide.

For over 35 years, Omnia’s vision centers on maximizing people-performance through the power of insight. We understand people power businesses, and through The Omnia Behavioral Assessment, we identify the strengths, challenges, and motivations of the people who make up your companies.

Right now, it's essential to identify who is comfortable with rapid change and who may need more steady guidance. No matter how technical you are, how long you've worked remotely, or how comfortable you are with change, you're now working with people who are new to things like remote work and virtual meeting platforms. We know that changing work routines to accommodate innovative technology and norms is challenging at the best of times. Leaders (of organizations, teams, and projects) have to get everyone rowing in the same direction.

"Now is the time, as you reimagine the post-pandemic organization, to pay careful attention to the effect of your choices on organizational norms and culture," Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, and Mihir Mysore at McKinsey remind us.

Below we've captured some of what we've learned at The Omnia Group about how leaders can make a difference to the team's sustainable success through connection, priorities, and pace.

Connection

Leadership connection is about actual, direct time with people. Connecting with your team to understand them individually and as a group will enable you to better diffuse fears, anxiety, disengagement, and pessimism when it appears.

Through every crisis and work challenge, there will be change. For example, with the move to virtual teams, we no longer have the opportunity to walk by the water cooler and engage in spontaneous business conversations. As a result, leaders need to carve out time to attend meetings regularly with other managers, direct reports and cross-functional teams.

What is regular? Is it every day, every week, once a month? Honestly, that's up to you and the people on the team. Some people will need more direct time with you, some people will need more time to quietly process on their own. Those at Omnia who worked virtually before COVID hit say they are actually seeing a lot more of us now than they were before "everything went virtual."

Recently we shared a webinar about Courageous Leadership featuring Ernest Shackleton and his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 - 1917). During this exploration, his ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was slowly crushed before the parties could reach land. Shackleton faced a life-or-death crisis. His leadership, connection to his team, and understanding of the human condition resulted in this crisis becoming known as "an epic feat of endurance."

Shackleton insisted on the men eating the evening meal together and socializing afterward. In a virtual office, those connection points can be team meetings, lunch and learns, sales huddles or anything that makes sense in your culture.

Priorities

There is absolutely nothing more important for any business in terms of effectiveness than working on the right things at the right time. Think about what's suspended, what's changed, and what's urgent.

Our teams review priorities every day. We also have rolling 90-day meetings to discuss shifts and changes to priorities. We identify which projects should continue but at a later date and make a plan to prioritize completing those projects at a time better suited to those needs.

A leader must be clear on what the priorities are for the business so that employees can do some of that filtration themselves. How can we make sure that people know if stuff has been paused, cleared out, and then clarify what's urgent? Be clear about the things that matter most right now, and then make sure everybody has priorities.

If there isn't work for people right now, how are we addressing it? What does that look like? Some organizations are focusing on developing people through cross training, others are working on creating better internal processes, still others are using the time to document existing processes for when hiring resumes.

Pace

Pacing is the leaders' job. It's incredibly essential yet sometimes overlooked in conversations.

How fast do we go? What does that look like? Is everyone with us?

Back to Shackleton and his transcontinental march for a moment. He was in charge of a stranded 28-man team and challenged to keep them alive in the Antarctic for months. It was up to Shackleton to decide when the men would depart the relative safety of the sinking Endurance. It was up to him how long they'd huddle in makeshift camps as the ice they were on continued to drift. It was up to him to select and navigate a party in a single lifeboat on an 800-mile open-boat journey to then mount a rescue mission to save the men back at the makeshift camps, which he did, without loss of life!

What we're facing now may not be a doomed Antarctic exploration, but these are uncharted waters. It's up to leadership to determine our direction and our pace. The rest of the team (employees, clients, and stakeholders) are awaiting your call.

Being virtual can cause additional challenges. Paying attention to where people are is even more critical as there are fewer clues in the environment for people to watch and find out what pace they should work. If you're having difficulty identifying an individual's pace, The Omnia Behavioral Assessment can help. Understanding if you are working with an impatient doer or a methodical processer will help you set and manage priorities in a way that resonates with the employee.

Additionally, it's crucial to ask, "if people are behind, what's the reason for it?" Your structured, systematic employees may be feeling overwhelmed and need a more clearly delineated timeline with fixed milestones. Your fast-paced multitaskers may be trying to do too much at once and getting overextended. Each set of employees will need a different approach from you to stay on pace and meet deadlines. An Omnia assessment can provide that roadmap.

As the leader, it takes courage to roll with the punches, change course and keep everyone working towards company goals, but you can do it. Remember, stay connected, set and manage your priorities and set a pace that keeps people energized and moving forward.

Not everyone loves hiring. Does anyone love hiring? Does anyone like hiring? Some parts of it can be fun: the excitement of bringing in new people and new ideas, imagining the possibilities, the hilarious typos on the resumes. But it can be a slog. Especially right now, many job postings will lead to a flood of resumes and applications. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. According to Barry Schwartz, the author of The Paradox of Choice, having too many options makes us humans pretty unhappy. We suffer from fear of missing out and agonize over the best choice. Of course, having too many choices as a hiring manager means a LOT more work. You want to do it because you want to find the best person for your sales team, but you also have other things to do. 

What if you didn’t have to start from zero every time you hire? What if -- instead of dealing with job postings, sifting through the virtual stacks of resumes, making the calls, and struggling with the anxiety – you just picked up the phone and made a call to the right person, and a couple of weeks later, they just started? 

There is a way. Creating a talent pipeline can save yourself a lot of work, uncertainty, and, yes, even unhappiness!

What is this magical time saver? 

According to HR (Human Resources) Technologist, A talent pipeline is defined as a ready pool of potential candidates who are qualified and prepared to step up and fill relevant key roles within the organization as soon as they fall vacant.” 

In other words, you have a waiting and willing list of people you can call on as soon as you have an opening. Ideally, they would be clamoring to join your team, they will have been moderately vetted in advance, and they have the skills, experience, or attitude (or all three!) you want.

Here are 5 steps to building your very own talent pipeline.

  1. Identify your needs. There are always surprises in staffing – someone moves to a new field, a spouse is transferred, a production manager decides to start his own artisanal sourdough bread company, the usual – but not all job vacancies are unexpected. You can take stock now of where the positions are going to be in the future. These might include: 
    • In areas where you are planning to expand (new initiatives, departments, or branches). 
    • Replacements for excellent contributors who are on a divergent educational path. You love them, they do excellent work, but they’re in the final year of their degree in Almond Husbandry. 
    • Positions where there is a lot of lateral and upward movement. These are the roles that prepare your employees to move up in the company. 
    • In areas where you are always willing to hire the right person (commission sales is usually at the top of this list for many companies), even if you’re fully staffed. You can make room for someone who is going to take your sales revenue to the next level. 
  2. Prepare to sell the benefits of working for your company. You know it’s a great place to work, but what is your plan for letting other people know? This should go beyond a dry list of HR benefits. What are the benefits of working there? Why would you recommend it? Consider creating a marketing packet for attracting talent the same way you would attract sales prospects. 
  3. Scope out your people. 
    • Start in your own in your backyard. You probably have a few stellar employees in mind for your sales team. These people are gold because you know their work ethics, skill levels, and reputations. Of course, moving someone over to sales will leave an opening elsewhere, but it is easier and less risky to fill an entry-level position than a high-level one. 
    • Talk to the people you trust most. Maybe you don’t have a great fit within your current ranks, but what about the people they know? Referrals from your best employees are as good as selecting the employees themselves. 
    • Scope out external business contacts. Chances are you’ve built relationships with bright, motivated people outside the company, contacts from vendors or services you use, for example. It can’t hurt to feel around and see if they are interested in a change. 
    • LinkedIn, Indeed, and social networking. LinkedIn is always a great place to start because of its well-defined keywords and the ability to review people’s resumes and histories. Indeed.com also allows you to search resumes, although you will have to buy a subscription. Also, check out industry-specific social networks, such as GitHub (for software) and Moz (marketing) or industry subreddits, to find people who really know their stuff. 
    • Local business networks. Virtual and (eventually) in-person networking events offer a great opportunity to meet reputable people in your area seeking new opportunities. 
  4. Make sure they are a good match. You may like everything about the person, but they must be more than likable; they must be well suited to the job. Remember, a great salesperson is not necessarily going to be a great accountant (and vice-versa). 
  5. Make and maintain a connection. Reach out and find out if there is interest. Be open and honest about the timeline. Remember, this is not a solid offer of a position; it offers a mutual future opportunity. Find out the best way to reach this person and keep in touch. Provide updates as the possibility of a role comes nearer. 

There are steps you can take to start building your talent pipeline right now. The sooner, the better. Because let’s be honest, a lot of people have baked a lot of sourdough bread these past few months. There are going to be some award winners out there.

The most successful organizations periodically audit and amend their business procedures for both compliance and effectiveness. By doing so, firms continuously improve their operations and retain a competitive edge. However, these audits often overlook one critical area: the interview and hiring process.

You might be thinking that your company’s interview and hiring process is perfectly fine -- that if it’s not broke, why fix it? However, best practices have changed over the years. Since your employees are the lifeblood of your organization, it’s a good idea to review what your hiring teams are doing -- and make any needed adjustments.

Let’s start by exploring the potential pitfalls of the traditional interview.

How the Traditional Interview Falls Short

Ineffective Questions

Interviews are a crucial component of the hiring process. However, if they’re not conducted strategically, they’re little more than a rehash of the candidate’s resume, with a few tired, ineffective questions peppered in. Questions like “what’s your greatest strength?” or “what’s your greatest weakness?” result in an answer that the candidate thinks you want to hear, yielding no useful insight into their projected performance.

Research shows that the best interview questions reveal how a prospective hire would handle a given situation based on how they’ve approached similar scenarios in the past. Implementing the behavioral interviewing technique, you ask the interviewee to recount specific stories from their work experience. Then, what they say reveals a lot about their personality and soft skills.

Some examples of behavioral-based interview questions include:

Inconsistent Questioning

To compare candidates effectively and fairly, you must put all of them through an identical interview and hiring process. That means interviewers need to ask each person the same questions in the initial interview and score their responses according to a predetermined standard. A scoring rubric can help interviewers provide a consistent and fair interview experience for all job candidates. 

Further reading: Need a little help refining your interview process? Check out our Resources Page for interview guides, interview question ideas, and more.

Interviewer Fatigue and Bias

Depending on your firm’s procedures, your interview process may be long and tedious, requiring extensive candidate research and interaction. So, even though hiring the right people is a worthwhile pursuit, it can be draining. And, when you’re fatigued, you’re not an effective interviewer. You may rush through interviews, fail to process what candidates tell you, and make hasty hiring decisions -- a disservice to the candidates and your company.

You’re biased. We all are. Your personal experience and upbringing have cultivated long-standing beliefs about people. Unfortunately, your biases could cause you to hire -- or decline -- a candidate based on a hunch. The key is recognizing this fact and actively nipping those biases in the bud when they creep in.

How Behavioral Assessments Improve the Hiring Process

So, how do you reduce fatigue, mitigate bias, and truly know your candidates so you can make informed, fair hiring decisions? That’s where a behavioral assessment comes in. The assessment takes an inventory of each candidate’s traits, compares it to your current high performers' benchmark data, and translates the findings into useful insight about the candidate’s predicted performance. If administered at the beginning of the hiring process, a behavioral assessment can help you:

How Omnia Can Help

Omnia offers an easy-to-implement behavioral assessment so you can get started right away. Results are instant, digestible, and actionable. If you want even more insight, our team can provide you with an in-depth analysis of your assessment data. Remember: we’re here to help you improve your hiring and interview process so that your company continues to thrive!

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t looked at your hiring or interview process in a while, chances are it could use some help. When implemented together, behavioral interviewing techniques and behavioral assessments provide you with more reliable and valid information than the standard interview. And, behavioral assessments reduce interviewer bias and fatigue. That means your hiring and interview process is more efficient, fairer, and results in better quality hire for your organization. Talk about a win-win-win!

Replacing skilled employees is a major challenge for any organization. In addition to the time and expense required to conduct a new search and hiring process to replace a departed employee, there’s also the lost productivity when remaining employees have to pick up the slack until a replacement is selected. That’s why having strong employee retention strategies in place is essential to building a resilient organization. When employees aren’t constantly looking for their next opportunity elsewhere, they are more engaged in their work and take a more active role in contributing to long term success.

6 Employee Retention Strategies for 2020

1. Focus on Development

There is no universal definition of employee development. Still, most companies understand it to mean a collaborative effort between an organization and its employees to improve their skills and knowledge. In most cases, this is accomplished by making learning resources available while also providing opportunities for employees to gain valuable experience. However, they’re implemented, these programs should be a central component of employee retention strategies.

Employee training and staff development can take several forms. Online learning resource libraries allow employees to learn at their own pace and fit development into their schedules. One-on-one coaching programs pair people with experienced mentors who can offer guidance and suggestions on dealing with new situations and improving in other areas related to their job. Employee training and development programs can focus on hard skills directly related to tasks and soft skills necessary to work collaboratively with others and manage teams effectively.

Investing in staff development also aligns employee career goals with the organization’s long-term objectives. By providing the tools and resources employees need to improve their skills, companies demonstrate that they value professional and personal growth, which helps generate loyalty and improve commitment. It’s no coincidence that a 2018 LinkedIn study found that 93 percent of employees said they would stay with a company longer if it invested in their careers.

2. Improve Engagement

When employees feel ignored or undervalued, they can engage in various negative behaviors that are harmful to the organization. Whether it takes the form of declining work quality, poor attendance, or a negative attitude, employee disengagement can quickly contaminate the workplace to diminish productivity and performance. 

Providing new opportunities is one of the best ways of pushing back against disengagement. When employees are allowed to improve their skills and gain new experiences, they are more likely to feel valued. Engaged employees also tend to be more productive and efficient overall, which is why companies should spend time thinking about how to emphasize development if they want to get the most out of their workforce.

3. Provide Multiple Learning Resources

While today’s employees want development opportunities, they also want them on terms that work for their busy lives and schedules. For many years, companies required employees to attend lengthy seminars or workshops. But this “information dump” approach to learning often left people without a clear idea of implementing the lessons learned (if they even remembered them all after a marathon session). Furthermore, long-duration courses are often inconvenient, either cutting into employees' work productivity or personal time. While some companies have promoted “lunch and learn” or “remote learning” programs, these approaches can create the perception that an employer doesn’t respect personal boundaries.

For many employees, micro-learning resources offer an ideal solution. These programs offer developmental resources in small increments that can be digested quickly and easily during the day. Learning opportunities can also be incorporated into the employee experience more effectively. Providing people with the chance to work on new projects outside their usual responsibilities is just one example of how professional growth can be integrated into employee retention strategies.

4. Use Assessment Tools

It’s a lot easier to help employees understand where they need to improve and what they want to accomplish. Development assessments can provide actionable data detailing what motivates employees to learn, what gaps exist in their natural aptitudes, and what learning and coaching formats are most effective. This allows you to build a customized development strategy for every employee that sets them up for learning success.

Behavioral and cultural fit assessments are also valuable for telling you what environments and situations are the best matches for employees. This can be especially valuable when putting new teams together because it can head off potential conflict sources and help put people in the roles where they’re most likely to be successful. The ability to provide insightful information makes these assessments critical to successful employee retention strategies.

5. Talk (and Listen) to Employees

While assessment data is important, it’s also good to know what employees think about their career goals. If someone is happy in their existing role but would like to improve key skills associated with it, they will require a different approach than someone who has aspirations to move into a different role. This is especially important when it comes to preparing people for leadership positions. Not every employee wants to be a leader, but those who generally want to take consistent steps toward that goal. Understanding what each employee wants will make it easier to put the data gathered in their assessments into a meaningful context.

Of course, employees may also have a lot to tell you about the organization (and the people leading it). When soliciting feedback from employees, it’s important to listen carefully to what they have to say. While it isn’t always possible to take action on every point they raise, taking the time to listen and understand their concerns and opinions makes them feel valued and supported. In many cases, their insights can expose issues within an organization and contribute to positive solutions. 

6. Encourage Employees to Create a Professional Development Plan

One of the most valuable tools for organizations and employees alike is a professional development plan. This document identifies short, medium, and long-term goals the employee wants to accomplish throughout their career. Typically developed in cooperation with a manager or HR director, the employee development plan highlights any skills, competencies, experiences, and education required to achieve each goal. It also identifies potential resources, such as directed learning materials, potential mentors or employee development trainers, and training courses that could prove useful throughout their career journey. With a career development plan laying out a distinct path forward, it’s far easier for employees to see where they need to take steps to further their careers. The plan also helps employers get a sense of an employee’s plans and how they fit into a broader succession strategy.

Organizations that neglect employee retention strategies often discover far too late that they’re actively pushing their best people out the door to seek opportunities elsewhere. When companies implement employee training programs that help people build new skills and become effective leaders, they can significantly improve retention and engagement levels. The combination of development assessments and professional development plans encourages employees to see a future for themselves within the organization.

If you enjoy reality shows in which competitors are charged with completing demanding assignments against extremely tight deadlines, you may recognize that the most serious mistakes are made right at the beginning.

Because there is so little time, teams rush into the work too quickly. They shortchange the planning step. They fail to collect enough information to proceed intelligently. They cut certain team members out of the discussion or dive in with insufficient consensus on how to function effectively.

Sometimes the workload is unevenly distributed. At other times, some members may not understand their assignment or do not receive even minimal instructions on contributing to the effort. While some participants may function effectively, the team as a whole does not function effectively or efficiently because it has unwisely rushed the decision process and failed to prioritize tasks.

The problem is similar when we work independently. We’re tempted to rush ahead without clearly identifying the goal we want to accomplish or considering what resources we’ll need along the way.

Where to Start?

Having a solid foundation in place is necessary for getting through the days—or even weeks—when everything is a top priority. While asking, “What should we do first?” may sound like a moment of panic, it’s actually the best place to start when considering how to prioritize

Unless a client is knocking at your office door asking for a deliverable you’ve promised them, the most immediate priority should be developing a plan to manage the situation. Make a quick inventory of pressing tasks and list out everything that must be done soon, so nothing falls between the cracks. Then pause for a moment and take a deep breath before reviewing the competing projects.

Once your head is clear, and your nerves are settled, it’s time to make the most of your prioritizing skills.

How to Prioritize: 6 Essential Questions to Get Started

1. Which Assigned Deadline is First? 

All things being equal, typical task prioritization means projects with the earliest due dates get moved to the front of the line. If several projects appear to have the same or similar deadlines, take a moment to do some additional research to determine if those deadlines are either firm or accurate. In some cases, hard deadlines are the result of a valid process and cannot be moved. Sometimes, though, deadlines are assigned arbitrarily on the assumption that the work could be handed in late. In these cases, it might be possible to push a project back to a later time or date to accommodate more pressing needs.

2. What Does Your Supervisor Think is the Most Pressing Work? 

Identifying which tasks are most important isn’t always obvious to every employee. This is especially true in teams operating in an agile workflow or scrum system where some team members can’t even begin certain tasks until other people complete theirs. Asking a supervisor or manager to clarify what absolutely needs to be done for the rest of the team to move forward can eliminate a great deal of uncertainty on a busy day. Although some managers might view such questions as attempts to avoid responsibility and delegate upwards, most of them will quite willingly discuss task prioritization with you. So ask if possible.

3. What is the Most Important Work Today? 

As General George Patton famously remarked, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Urgency counts for a lot in any organization, even when the work doesn’t necessarily impact major, long-range projects. Simply clearing essential, “must-do” items off the list can clear up the bandwidth a team needs to refocus its attention on long-term strategic goals that will drive business results. If something is “on fire,” use your prioritization skills to put it out!

4. What is the Most Important Work in the Long Run? 

Speaking of the big picture, it’s important to recognize which tasks fit into an organization’s broader strategy. Constantly pushing tasks that aren’t immediate concerns to the backburner might make sense in the heat of the moment, but putting them off repeatedly could endanger the company’s future or possibly undermine your career. While it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to complete these objectives immediately (that’s why they’re long-term goals!), setting aside time to make progress on them can help keep the strategy moving forward even as you’re prioritizing short-term objectives.

5. Can You Delegate Any of the Work? 

Instead of digging in and doing it all, why not ask a fellow team member to help? Even if it takes a few minutes to explain the task, delegating simple tasks can still free up hours of your own time for other responsibilities and more high-value work. Delegating responsibilities also sends an important signal that you trust other people to be accountable and deliver results. It also opens the door for future collaboration. By empowering the rest of the team to achieve key objectives, you will position yourself as a leader instead of a martyr who insists on doing it all on their own.

6. Can You Put in Extra Time? 

The answer depends on many factors. One factor is your employment status and whether you must be paid overtime. Salaried employees often feel pressured to work late or over the weekends to get everything done. While having to put in a little extra work now and then is understandable, doing so regularly can actually be detrimental to an organization because it masks the reality that the company doesn’t have enough resources to complete work effectively efficiently. If everyone is consistently working extra hours, it may be time to add a new team member to ensure that quality isn’t sacrificed. 

When your workload becomes overwhelming, it’s important to focus on potential solutions rather than muddling through without a plan. Developing a strategy for prioritizing tasks can reduce the team’s overall stress level and make it easier for everyone to put their work in the proper perspective. Taking a moment to ask questions and identify what qualifies as urgent can mean the difference between keeping the team on track and letting critical tasks unfinished.

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