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Organizations are busy places and while high performance depends on excellent leadership and clear strategic goals, there are other subtle factors that can affect performance. Businesses need the ability to respond quickly and without hesitation. That means business demands change frequently and without much notice. Employees are expected to handle these changes gracefully. But how often do frustrated employees think: “How am I going to get all of this work done?”

The organizational culture that exists in most companies today assumes that when a manager is asked to do something, they should get it done. But as a manager of those employees it can be challenging to keep your team focused. Here are a few tips to survive changing priorities. 

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Creating Two-Way Dialogue

Two-way dialogue is essential for giving your direct reports the opportunity to talk honestly about ongoing workload. Having a real conversation about changing goals and how they relate to overall objectives and the company strategy empowers direct reports, giving them the confidence to voice honest opinions. They will often let you know when they are overburdened, or when they don’t think they can accomplish everything in the time frame you’ve set, and at the level of quality of which they can be proud.

Prioritizing Tasks

Honest dialogue is in your best interest as it helps you more effectively prioritize tasks. Creating a situation where your direct reports talk with you about what’s doable, what’s not doable and where the tradeoffs lie, will help you identify focal points, giving you the chance to agree on what tasks will come first or get shelved altogether. You can decide to prioritize A, B and C in this quarter; if time becomes available, you can get started on D; and delay E and F to next quarter.

Avoiding Work Overload

There are risks to both managers and the organization from overloading employees with work. If your direct reports have to make decisions on prioritizing work without enough context, they may not be aligned with organizational goals. On the other hand, when an employee tries to do it all, work outcomes may be below par, as it’s simply not possible to do it all. Obviously, neither is the ideal situation.

If a manager is not having open discussions, then direct reports are often faced with another dilemma. If they’re asked to do something and they resist, they’re labeled as the company whiner, yet if they perform inadequately, then they feel frustrated or are penalized for their sub-par performance. Neither stance contributes to a healthy work atmosphere.

It’s one thing to set stretch goals, but it’s another to expect your direct reports to work sixty hours a week just to meet bare expectations. Remember, as a manager, you’re not able to walk in the shoes of your direct reports and it’s often difficult to understand exactly how long something takes. Keep conversations open, and two-way, and focus on prioritizing work and setting realistic goals. The work will be better and your people will be more positive about doing it.