Prioritisation of everything, everywhere, all the time

We prioritise every time we make a choice of any kind.

We prioritise:

  • our time when we manage our diaries
  • our spending when we budget
  • our family and friend relationships when we make time for each other
  • our health when we make time for exercise
  • our conference programs when we separate keynote speakers and topics from breakout sessions
  • meeting agendas when we star certain items for discussion, and perhaps even move them to the start of the meeting
  • when we highlight the recommendations (and/or purpose) at the start of a board paper
  • when we identify a matter that requires a policy
  • when we decide which features of a product or service to focus on, and develop in a particular order
  • when we reassess the needs of our stakeholders and changing circumstances in our operating environment and update our organisational strategy

Every one of the thousands of decisions we make every day reflects a (priority) choice between available options.

Conscious and unconscious choices

Prioritisation may be unconscious, in that we have previously attached importance or value to an activity and it has become a habit that we are more or less comfortable with. When we apply the concept to our non-profit work though, we usually mean that we consciously rate or rank goals, projects, plans, tasks, or activities in order of priority. That usually entails ‘weighing’ the relative importance and/or urgency of each of the matters under consideration. Unconscious bias influences those decisions of course, and we all need to be alert for that ‘risk’.

Having suggested that ‘value‘ is a synonym for ‘importance’, this can be recognised as the link between your organisational values and the decisions you make as directors or managers. Values like respect, integrity, service, co-creation, curiosity, innovation, authenticity, diversity, inclusion, accountability, quality, and sustainability, define what we consider important, and what we will therefore take into account when making decisions. Having these kinds of values on the wall of the office or in your strategic plan is of no consequence compared with applying them to all of your decision-making – all the time.

We generally recognise that decisions made in the context of an association or charity need to align with our core purpose, and serve our key stakeholders (members, beneficiaries, clients). However, there can sometimes be slippage in our thinking, where the mission drifts away from the core purpose. In some cases, it is actually ‘hijacked’, so that to an independent observer, the organisation now exists for a different purpose than the one enshrined in its rules (constitution).

Whether a contribution to a debate or the introduction of a new initiative adds value, is another way to assess its importance. Should it be included on your priority list if it doesn’t add value? If the relative value is limited compared with other initiatives or contributions, can it be set aside in favour of more beneficial outcomes?

Prioritisation factors

Non-profit directors will find it helpful to consider the following key questions and factors when prioritising strategic initiatives:

Values alignment: Does the initiative align with our corporate values?

Mission alignment: How well does the initiative align with the non-profit’s mission and goals?

Impact: What is the initiative’s potential impact on the intended beneficiaries, and what is the likelihood of success?

Resource allocation: Are sufficient resources, including personnel, expertise, funding, equipment, and time, available to successfully implement the initiative?

Stakeholder engagement: How will stakeholders, including staff, board members, partners, and beneficiaries, be involved in the initiative, and what is their level of support?

Sustainability: Is the initiative sustainable in the long term, and what are the potential risks and challenges?

Competition: How does the initiative compare to other potential initiatives, and is it the best use of resources?

Timing: What is the urgency of the initiative, and is it the right time to implement it?

Alignment with strategy: How does the initiative fit into our overall strategy and plans for the future?

Risk: Has a risk assessment confirmed that adequate controls can be implemented, and that the benefits would outweigh any potential negative consequences?

When deliberating on which initiatives to include in your strategy, you may find it helpful to use a table format such as the one illustrated below. The factors and questions listed above can be considered when ranking the value, urgency, feasibility, and risks associated with each proposal. If you are adding initiatives to your strategy, you may also need to consider which ones you will delete from the existing strategy, given your resource and capacity limits (as well as the changing needs of your stakeholders).

Priority Ranking

A tiered system of priority rankings, such as top priority, medium priority, and low priority, is a simple method for classifying initiatives based on their level of importance.

Top Priority: Initiatives classified as top priority are those that are considered to be the most important and urgent. These initiatives typically have the greatest impact on the organisation’s success and should receive the most attention and resources.

Medium Priority: Initiatives classified as a medium priority are considered to be important but may have a lower immediate impact or require fewer resources. These initiatives may still need to be addressed but can be deferred if resources are limited.

Low Priority: Initiatives classified as low priority are typically considered to be of limited importance and can be excluded, or deferred until resources become available. While they may still be pursued in the future, they are not considered essential to the organisation’s success.

This tiered system allows boards to prioritise initiatives based on their level of importance and allocate resources accordingly. It also provides a clear framework for decision-making and helps to ensure that resources are being used effectively to achieve your goals.

In addition to the three-level priority system (top, medium, and low priority), there are several other ranking systems used by governing boards. Some of these are illustrated in the header image above, and described below:

MoSCoW Method: This method stands for “Must Have,” “Should Have,” “Could Have,” and “Won’t Have.” This system prioritises initiatives based on the level of importance, with “Must Have” being the most important and “Won’t Have” being the least important.

ABC Analysis: This method classifies initiatives based on their level of impact and the level of resources required. “A” initiatives have the highest impact and the most resources required, while “C” initiatives have the lowest impact and the least resources required.

Pareto Principle: This principle states that 80% of the impact comes from 20% of the initiatives. Conversely, this means only 20% of your impact comes from the other 80% of your effort. The Pareto Principle can be used to prioritise initiatives by focusing on those that are expected to have the greatest impact.

Eisenhower Matrix: This matrix categorizes initiatives into four quadrants based on urgency and importance. “Do now” initiatives are those that are both urgent and important, while “Delegate” initiatives are those that are important but not urgent.

While some of the methods illustrated are based on essentially the same concept, they use slightly different ways of describing relative importance and urgency.

Each priority ranking system has its own strengths and weaknesses, and boards may choose to use one or a combination of systems depending on their specific needs and goals. The key is to use a system that is transparent, consistent, and supportive of the organisation’s purpose, goals, and objectives.

See also:

The science of worth: your theory of value, The scales of governance: Weighing options, arguments, evidence, and consequences, Strategic Archery, Strategic causality, Double-edged swords and paradoxical choices, The art of the doable, feasible, pragmatic, and capable, Creating value using an integrated multi-capital approach

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