At any given time, there is an endless laundry list of things we could implement in our organization. Perhaps you’ve got some initiatives that would increase morale or policies that would solve cultural challenges. Or, you’ve identified processes, systems, or roles that would increase productivity and quality. There could be deficiencies in leadership behaviors, ineffective meetings, high turnover, lack of equity, or poor marketing. Typically, we try to work on many of these areas simultaneously and don’t fully succeed in any of them. However, instead of trying to tackle your organizational to-do list and getting mediocre results, we can take a different strategy: drop the list and fix the weakest link.

Facing the Organization’s To-Do List

In the face of trying to tackle our organization’s to-do list and our hyper-focus on multitasking in today’s world, we often attempt to do everything at one time. We focus on “how much” vs. “how well.” We think that more is better. We believe that we “should” be able to accomplish many things at one time.

The problem isn’t that we can’t do more, but that the focus on “more” ironically keeps us from accomplishing more. In Franklin-Covey’s The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX), they state that the more goals a person or team has to achieve, the less focus they have and that many organizations simply have too many competing priorities or initiatives to be truly effective. Consider this from your own experience. How many times have you tried to accomplish a list of things and succeeded in all or most of them? Chances are that you were less focused, spread too thin, froze, lost track, became overwhelmed, or didn’t achieve the results that you were after.

Now consider the depth and complexity of a typical organization’s to-do list and all of the people, resources, time, and energy that are needed to even complete one item successfully. Yet, when we consider only focusing on one or two things, we dwell on what else we won’t get done or that we’re somehow failing. Then, in hindsight, we don’t recognize how our approach to tackle everything ultimately did lead to failure.

By contrast, if we focus on one or two things at a time, we’re more likely to both do them well and see them to completion. Then, as we come away with a greater sense of accomplishment, motivation, and focus, we can fully dive into the next thing on our list.

Fixing the Weakest Link

Given the many items on our to-do list, how do we decide where to focus? Ultimately, we’ll get the greatest leverage by identifying the weakest link.

The weakest link is typically the item that is causing the greatest negative impact. In an organization, areas of significant impact generally connect to key business areas such as quality, productivity, finances, safety, and infrastructure. In our personal lives, they connect to whatever we most value. Once we identify these areas, often through data and metrics, we can focus on the initiative, process, cultural element, or behavior that most impacts the business area.

One organization I worked with struggled with trying to do too many things at one time. Prior to our work together, they tried to implement numerous processes and goals with no success in any one of them. Leadership was focused on so many things that they had no time for accountability and follow-through. Employees were confused and overwhelmed. The organization didn’t stick with anything long enough to get buy-in, traction, or comprehension. In the face of ambiguity, no one really knew what or how to change to achieve the goals (which weren’t even clearly defined, another symptom of being spread too thin). As a result, almost nothing changed except for higher frustration, lower morale, and increased cynicism.

In our work together, I had them pick one approach with two goals around safety and quality and only focus on that for at least six months. This forced them to become clear and focused. They not only defined the goals with measurable outcomes but also created plans with timelines to achieve them. We incorporated change management approaches that included more hands-on engagement from leadership, training, and quality control checks. Previously, when trying to do too much, they didn’t have time to be strategic, thorough, and intentional. Now they did, and the results showed. Within six months, they achieved an increase of over 33% towards their goals.

Even though fixing the weakest link involves focusing on one or two things at a time, we’re much more likely to solve for what’s most important. With those big rocks taken care of, we can then move on to what’s next on our list. Ironically, in the time it takes to fully complete the initial one or two goals and then complete the next one or two goals, we’ll almost certainly achieve more than if we’d tried to focus on four goals at one time.

For an additional tool to help identify the weakest links, check out Lewin’s Force Field Analysis.

Key Questions to Tackle Your Organization’s To-Do List

  • What keeps you caught in the trap of trying to do too many things instead of just one or two at a time?
  • What are your top values, and where might the biggest gap be in living in alignment with those values?
  • In your organization, what data and metrics can help you identify the weakest links?
  • What would it look like to focus on depth vs. breadth as you work towards your goals?
  • What helps you maintain focus?