Shifting Priorities

It happens to all leaders. They set goals, develop the plan with the team, and as everyone digs in, things change. Certainly, as we started working on our 2020 goals, no one saw a pandemic coming, which has caused a shift in priorities. That is a major shift, and hopefully we have started the shift and digging into the new plan. Here are tips to overcome the more normal every day shifts that need to be looked and determined how much shifting we should be doing.

What happens

We have prioritized projects or tasks to work on based on goals and the plan set up to reach those goals. And suddenly, a new project that a team member has deemed more important needs your attention. The basic ask is to deprioritize one project over another one.

Questions to ask:

  • Why are we changing priorities?
  • Is the change in alignment with the company goals?
  • Who asked for the change and what is their purpose in changing the priority?

With answers to these questions, it can be determined if priorities do need to change, to some extent.

The New Task’s Priority

If there is a belief the new project or task does need to be given some priority, it needs to be fully assessed. Consider if it is critical, important, or a nice to have. At this stage, having open communication and understanding important vs. urgent is a key strength. Many team members confuse urgent and important, assuming that urgent tasks are important.

Here is the time to place the task or project in the right priority and have a conversation with the individual or the team. Their buy-in and understanding of the placement in the priority is important otherwise it may leave bad feelings.

Review Priorities Regularly

Reviewing priorities regularly is also a key component when shifting priorities come into play. It will help keep team members on the same page as well as provide more insight into the placement of priorities. They can start to realize how things build on each other in the overall plan.

Stay Open Minded

Regardless of the proactive work of keeping priorities and the plan, it is inevitable that things will change. Everyone, including the business leader needs to keep an open mind, be open to new ideas and changes in the company, industry, world, etc. Most likely everyone in the organization is going to have to accept some type of change throughout a given year.

It is fine to be a bit skeptical when there has been a history of massive changes. Many people have an initial negative reaction to change. Let it go. Ask questions. Listen. Keep an open mind.

Collaborate a New Plan or Reprioritization

If a whole new plan needs to be reworked or just a reprioritization of items, do it as a team and ask for input and feedback from all involved. Leaving team members out or only involving the individual or team asking for a change will most certainly cause problems, gossip, talk of favoritism and other things the culture does not need.

Change is harder for some individuals and including everyone can help reduce their anxiety, particularly when they have input. Depending on the individual, conversations with them before and/or after may be necessary.


Make sure to follow-up with the individual or team that requested the initial change and be sure it made the difference needed. If it didn’t, dig in and learn from the lesson. If it did, is it something that needs to be considered for future plans as well. There are learning opportunities around shifting priorities.

Encourage Sharing

In the review and lesson, encourage people to share their experience, what they learned, what they might do differently, their workarounds for issues, etc. It is not only a great learning opportunity for others, it is a great team bonding exercise to learn from errors and celebrate wins.

This Takes Practice

Managing priorities takes practice, patience and the ability to be flexible. Each person handles shifting priorities or change in general very differently, but ultimately it takes practice to get better at it. It will take everyone out of their comfort zone, but if we don’t do that, we aren’t growing or developing both ourselves and the company.


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