Recently, I listened to a podcast with the Commissioner of the LPGA Tour, Mike Whan.
The interview was entertaining especially if you’re a golf fan and it’s even more interesting if you’re also interested in business.
During the episode, the interviewer asked Mike what his priorities for the tour were in the next year.
In response, Mike said there were 2. That’s it.
This is a man with a thousand good ideas for the tour. But he cut his priority list down to 2.
This is a great example of discipline and patience.
One of the challenges in business is having too many opportunities. You can do just about anything to improve a company, but if you attempt too many at the same time you will likely stall or regress.
The best, like Mike Whan, focus on just a couple or even on one at a time to make sure it’s implemented with the best chance to succeed.
Let’s look at a few tips for prioritizing opportunities in the business world.
Tip #1. Urgency
A big item for any situation is to assess its urgency. If, for example, your company will shutter in 30 days unless you find some solution, the solution you find that can provide the most cost cutting with the most incoming cash takes on high priority.
In an urgency situation you’re looking for solutions that help in the short-term. You can’t wait around for something to pan out in the long-term.
Most people understand this concept. The issue that most seem to find, though, is thinking that some things are urgent when they really aren’t.
The best business leaders seem to be able to have patience to get their business in a solid situation so they can then prioritize long-term opportunities.
Steve Jobs was in a pretty urgent situation in 1997-98 with Apple. The company was nearly bankrupt. Steve had to prioritize some short-term opportunities. He cut costs. He got money from Microsoft. He got the company functioning.
As soon as the company was ok for the short-term, Steve prioritized just four opportunities. In this example it was four customers: Consumer/Desktop, Consumer/Portable, Professional/Desktop, Professional/Portable. That’s it. One product for each.
Everything else was cut.
Tip #2. Potential Value
If your company is in a good short-term position then you have the advantage of looking at long-term opportunities. And one note on this, an opportunity can be great in both the short and long-term.
One consideration when you’re looking at long-term opportunities is to assess the potential value. Now, nobody can really predict the future that well, but you can look at the past to see how new opportunities are similar to past opportunities. You can look for early indications of how new technology is being used and think about how the wider population might benefit in the future.
Tip #3. Resources
Another consideration is what your resources look like. Some of the best teams in sports are able to assess what they have and figure out how to get the most out of it. That’s kind of a short-term solution when there is some urgency.
Another way to look at it would be to figure out what the long-term opportunity is and figure out how to get the resources to make that dream a reality.
But even a long-term opportunity could be more in play if you have the resources on hand to make it happen. If the decision comes down to two choices of similar payoff, but one uses current resources while the other requires new, then the choice is probably to go with the resources you have.
Tip #4. Little Experiments
One final tip on priority assessment is the idea of little experiments. This is a core item in Jim Collins’ Good To Great series of books. Just about all of the successful companies he analyzed were doing ongoing little experiments. I think he call it little bullets and then big canon or something like that.
Successful companies are always doing little tests. Spending just a little amount of money on a lot of things to see what they can discover. Then when one experiment shows some real promise they add it to the priority list. And if it makes the top one or two priorities they then load up the canon and fire everything they have at it.
Companies that struggle don’t do little experiments. They pick something and load up the canon. And if that doesn’t work they pick the next guess and load up the canon.
Nothing is certain in life, but there are ways to tips the odds in your favor.
It’s interesting that Mike Whan is in the golf industry. I’m not sure what his golf game is like, but if he uses the same discipline on the course that he does in the boardroom I’m thinking that he would score very well.
The best golfers always seem to have the most discipline. They don’t attack pins. They hit to the conservative side of greens so that a left miss, right miss, short miss and long miss won’t cause a double bogey or worse. Sometimes they miss a little and it goes by the pin. Other times they miss on the large side of the green giving them a fairly easy par save opportunity. At worst they make bogey.
That takes discipline. The best do it in golf and the best do it in business.