How to prioritize & set goals

Here’s each section we cover in this article: 


What happens if we don’t prioritize?

We’ve worked with several organizations after their initial strategic plans were not implemented successfully. Although this may be due to a variety of factors, part of the reason is often due to a lack of prioritization and clear goals.

Many of these organizations had a clear vision and mission, but spread their resources too thin and didn’t make significant progress due to a lack of prioritization and clear goals. 


Teams often burn out, leaving several goals unreached due to trying to accomplish too much. Furthermore, because of capacity issues that occur from competing initiatives, culture related issues can arise.

Typical culture related issues include being reactive versus proactive, and not making time to communicate with team members or other departments. 


When organizations try to do everything, they risk becoming paralyzed into either doing nothing or doing many things poorly. Does your organization have unlimited time, money and people (good spot for an image)? If not, then prioritization will be critical to your success. 


Imagine your company as a tall building. This building represents 100% of your resources - your time, money, and energy. If you build this space with nine equal floors, each of these floors will receive roughly 11% of your resources to maintain.

To put further stress on your resources, every time you need to switch between these floors, you’ll need to spend time taking the elevator or stairs to get there. This means more time and money wasted instead of getting important work done.

There’s also a “switching cost” related to refocusing attention and energy on new areas or activities. Watch: Why Your Strategic Plan Isn't Moving Forward.











In contrast, imagine your company as a building where you’ve chosen to build three floors instead of nine. Each floor will now receive roughly 33% of your resources, resulting in more time and attention spent on each floor. Additionally, the switching cost between floors will be significantly less. 






We have these issues - how can we address them?

Strategic planning is a great way to make sure that your organization focuses on prioritization.

In addition to selecting the 3 to 5 most important areas of focus for the duration of your plan, the strategic planning process will help to make sure these priorities are aligned with your vision, mission, values and risks.

You’ll also be able to align your leaders and team members on what these priorities are. 


How to set priorities and goals:

Setting strategic priorities can be done at any time. We recommend proactively doing this as a part of the strategic planning process.

You can lead this process yourself, internally with your organization, or work with a dedicated strategic planning facilitator - ideally someone who is an expert in prioritization and goal setting.  


For true prioritization, you will need to choose between 3 and 5 strategic priorities for the duration of your strategic plan. Strategic thinking is about making choices, and if there are too many areas of focus, they are no longer priorities.


Your priorities should be agreed upon by participants during your strategic planning session, and they should align with your organization’s vision, mission, and values.

Additionally, before selecting your priority areas, performing a risk analysis will help your team to determine some critical focal points you may want to address. 


Once you’ve chosen your strategic priorities, it’s important to set goals that align with each focus area. One issue that many organizations have is that they set general objectives (general goal areas without metrics), but they lack SMART goals.

Without having goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, it will be difficult to know when you are falling behind or moving forward. 


When setting SMART goals, it’s important for your team to consider what outcomes you would like to see in each priority area, and how you will know if you’ve been successful. Additionally, it’s important to consider how you will track your progress against these goals.

When finalizing your goals, consider

  • How “easy” is it for you to get the data that you need to track the metrics you’ve set? If you don’t have access to the data, or if it is overly complex, another metric may be better. 
  • Is everyone on the strategy team clear and aligned on what the priorities and goals are, and is everyone aware of and bought into the goals they are responsible for?
  • Where will these goals “live”? Options to consider include: spreadsheets, living documents, or (as we recommend) strategic planning software.


Next Steps: 

Whether you are leading the strategic planning process yourself, or having the session(s) facilitated, think about who will be involved and how you can incorporate them into the prioritization and goal setting process. 


Make sure that your strategy team is aligned throughout the goal setting process. It’s important that everyone is clear on the goals that they (or their department) are responsible for. This will increase accountability, resulting in a stronger likelihood that your plan will be successfully executed. 


If you have an upcoming strategy session, learn more about how SME Strategy incorporates prioritization and goal setting into the strategic planning process.

If you’re interested in leading the strategic planning process yourself, our How to Create a Strategic Plan course will guide you through each step of the process, including prioritization and goal setting: 


Or, book a call to find out more about working with a facilitator to guide your team through setting your strategic priorities and goals within the strategic planning process: