marketing project managementEveryone’s got priorities.

Add to them a chaotic environment of constant work requests, interruptions, and fire drills, and just getting anything done can be tough. Whether you’ve got a stakeholder screaming in your ear or something short and simple you can accomplish fast, it’s easy to prioritize work accordingly rather than by strategic importance. Working this way gets people off your back and work out the door, which can feel good. However, it hurts your team’s credibility because the work getting done is not the most important work.

In a recent study, 65 percent of the best executors—organizations that successfully completed 20 percent more strategic initiatives than others—reported well above average financial performance and strategic implementation, compared to just 18 percent of peer organizations.” Simply put, prioritizing work according to strategic value makes a difference to the bottom line and that’s the type of value everyone can respect.

If you want to gain back your team’s credibility and prove your team’s worth, you’ve got to learn how to prioritize work according to strategic value, rather than reaching for the most recent sticky note request. By doing so, your team will create a higher return on investment (ROI) for your organization, help it reach its long-term vision, and subsequently make your team more valuable. Here’s how to do it.

Use a Balanced Scorecard

While it may seem like a no brainer that prioritization should be based on company strategy, it’s often not as simple as it looks. The focus most organizations place on short-term financial measures and targets can often be in opposition to achieving long-term strategic objectives. This conundrum can make it difficult for your creative team—who must weigh long-term goals such as brand recognition against short-term financial gains such as creating an email blast for an upcoming sale—to decide what projects should take precedence.

To balance these seemingly competing concerns, develop a Balanced Scorecard. A Balanced Scorecard allows you to identify the performance categories that best link your business’s vision and strategy to its results. It also allows you to develop effective measures and meaningful standards that have company-wide acceptance for both short-term milestones and long-term targets. In addition, a scorecard provides a way to create appropriate budgeting, tracking, communication, and reward systems, as well as collect and analyze performance data and compare actual results with desired performance. Employing scorecards based on company strategy can be extremely helpful in comparing all requests fairly and making the right decision about each request’s strategic value.

Standardize Work Requests

You may know you need to prioritize your work strategically, but when requests are coming at your team from every direction—emails, phone calls, meetings, and those sticky notes left on your desks—it’s hard enough to get a clear view of what needs to get done, let alone strategically prioritize the work.

That’s why it’s important to first get a handle on the flow of work coming in. Create a single system for accepting work requests and require that all requests be made through the system. Stick to your guns on this: if it’s not in the system, the work hasn’t been requested. Period. Once you can see all requests in a single location, it makes it much easier to prioritize requests according to strategic value. It’s also a lot easier to ensure that important requests aren’t lost or forgotten.

Learn to Say No

Let’s face it, it’s hard to say no. Nobody wants to be the bad guy, but it’s necessary when workloads are demanding, when there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything (and there rarely is), and when everything is an emergency. “No” is an important word that you have to use to get the right work done.

Saying no becomes easier when other good processes are already in place. If work requests are standardized it’s simple to see all the work in one place and understand what the tradeoffs will be when one request is advanced over another. Using scorecards to weigh requests also helps provide a sound basis for decisions about what work to take on and what work to refuse. These processes help not only internally—your team can see the consequences of accepting non-value added work to the timelines and budgets of strategic work—but also externally, giving your team the ability to clearly explain to stakeholders and leaders why they must sometimes say no.

Better Allocate Resources

Forty-two percent of organizational leaders are challenged to allocate resources in a way that really supports their strategy, according to Forrest Research’s 2013 Strategic Leader Survey. Why is it so difficult to align resources with strategic initiatives? Often it’s a lack of understanding about the true resources needed to get the job done, and their availability. To avoid this trap:

  • Have a realistic assessment of what it takes to do the job
  • Know whose skills and temperament are best suited to certain tasks
  • Know who is working on what and what else is coming down the pipeline, and then assign tasks according to who has the capacity and skills necessary to complete the deliverable
  • Include ad hoc and unstructured work into your capacity assessments to help allocate work according to your resources’ true workload

By being smart about assigning the right work to the right people—and making sure that they have the capacity to complete the work on time—you can make certain that your resources not only get the right work done, but get it done right.

Improve Your Visibility

If you don’t have full visibility, it’s tough to have good insight into how all your processes are working together. In fact, visibility is so important that research shows that 76 percent of companies’ biggest priority is to improve the visibility and awareness of projects across the organization. This is because improved visibility leads to better decision-making.

When you have visibility into all your processes, you can:

  • Know what needs to get done, when it will be finished, and where there are dependencies
  • Know who is working on what and how much time is needed to complete each task
  • Track your costs and show your savings versus outsourcing
  • Easily create reports and dashboards that show how much ROI you’ve contributed

With these kinds of crucial insights, it becomes much easier to look at both short-term and long-term organizational objectives when prioritizing work.

Your creative team deserves to be acknowledged for the value they provide to the organization, rather than viewed skeptically as providing only “fluff” work. By prioritizing work to complete the most strategic work first, you’ll be able to get the projects done that matter most. In addition, with good processes in place and visibility into those processes, you’ll have the data you need to show how your team has done the right work to boost both the bottom line and strategic initiatives, like building brand recognition. And with solid proof, no one can question your team’s credibility—or its value—to the organization.