Business triage – why every executive must learn to do it

Time Management Gold for C level executives: Use Triage, teach your directs to use Triage. Herein, a post from Phil Herres, a turn-around specialist who has run several companies, saved even more and built a successful consulting practice in high tech as the calm alternative to panic. I value his comments because they start where most of my executive coaching focuses, identify and communicate objectives and deliverables. Read his wisdom for insight on busines triage.

What is Triage in a Business Setting? 

A short tutorial by Phil Herres, Business Conslutant

Triage is sorting out what you or others will actually work on despite all the other demands that seem to be constantly streaming in.  A couple of assumptions here:  You don’t have time to do it all, and there are known priorities.  If these are both true, then a triage “filter” can be very helpful in accomplishing what is important to the success of the company, department or individual, and setting aside the rest.

People generally know that they need to do the most important work first, that some work can be postponed, cancelled or delegated.  Less common is the ability to sort out the urgent from the important.  A lot of urgent work can simply be sent back to the requestor for action or is not that important after thinking about where it fits in the scheme of things.

Yet, after these actions there is often still too much work and/or too few resources.  There are two key actions that constitute the next steps:

1.     Stop doing things that don’t need to be done.  It is remarkable how much inertia some work activities have.  Actions left over from some previous priority.  Perhaps one group was truly overloaded and some of their support work was temporarily transferred to another department…and they kept on doing it… and it was not their responsibility, nor were they staffed for it, nor were they being recognized for it.  It was a resource sink.  Give it back or stop doing it, and apply the resources elsewhere.  Reclaim them.  Actively curtailing “resource leaks” can provide the resources to be successful in achieving your objectives.  Harder to do as a company gets larger; but doable nonetheless.

2.     Approach the situation in a philosophical manner, that is, as Peter Drucker has stated:  “Starve the problems; feed the opportunities.”  As a manager you simply reduce the resources dedicated to problematic activities.  Work with those people to have them do what they can, and not worry about what does not get done. Then, to achieve more meaningful goals, apply the “liberated resources” to the more important objectives.

Now this takes us to what may be the real issue:  Do you know what the most important objectives are?  People, at all levels of the company, may not know.  It is difficult, as one would expect, to allocate or reallocate resources, be it the next hour of your time or next quarter’s budget for your company, if they are not clear.  Clarity itself can be a tricky thing to get a grasp of.  If one can mentally trace a line from company goals, to objectives, to schedules, departments and individuals, to a task that needs to be done to accomplish a defined objective, then, this is a task to be addressed and completed.  If a task can’t pass this quick test, then it is not to be done.

Most of the time, a person can make this decision themselves.  However, sometimes not doing the task may have a negative consequence which needs to be considered.  So, now we come up against another assumption which is that the company has an active open-door policy and easy communications among co-workers and supervisors.  In this environment, a person can question the task, validate the need to do it, resolve any consequences of doing or not doing the task at hand, and move on.

Therefore, it is the environment of defined, communicated and understood objectives that form the basis for individuals within the organization to execute a triage discipline.  You have a successful triage in place when the company objectives are understood by each individual, and the triage protocol of sorting important from not so important, and the simply urgent from important is practiced.  An organization with a sense of mission engenders people to stay the course towards an objective and not be diverted.

Phil Herres, Principal, Herres Consulting
Herres Consulting
Management Consultants
Translating Strategy into Results


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