We’re helping a group of senior leaders prepare to cascade their corporate business strategy down into their departments. I’m putting the materials together and thought I would take a moment to share the ideas with you.

I can’t cover a half-day workshop in one post, but I can focus on one element that I think is really important. Like most of us, these leaders have an incredible challenge prioritizing their work. When demands on your time exceed the time that’s available, we recommend a process to help you get really clear on what matters most.

Step 1: Understand where your organization is going

It doesn’t matter what you do, or from which layer of the organization you do it, it’s always important to understand what your company is trying to accomplish. Are you part of a bank that’s trying to become more agile and innovative? Are you in a small company that is just opening its first new location? Are you in a high tech company that’s making a major push for global expansion? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, ask your manager. If your manager doesn’t have the answers, ask where you can find out more.

Step 2: Understand how the world is changing

Once you know your organization’s goals, you need to understand the context in which you’re operating. What are the major trends in the external environment and how are they affecting your company’s ability to meet its goals? Do nervous, meddling regulators hamstring your agile bank? Are established companies blocking your small company’s expansion? Are international data privacy laws driving up the cost of infrastructure for your high tech global expansion? These trends will change what your company needs from you so you need to be aware of them.

Step 3: Define your unique value

In that crazy, fast-paced external world, what is your unique value in helping your company achieve its goals? In the bank example, if you work in Customer Insights, you’re responsible for identifying which innovations will be desired for customers and which will cost a fortune and have no actual benefit. If you work in Compliance, your unique value is to help the organization identify relevant regulations and to find ways to support increased agility and innovation within the rules. If you work in Human Resources, you might be adapting the hiring profile to find people with a greater risk appetite than you have hired historically.

Step 4: Focus on work at the right level

Once you can define the core elements of your value proposition to the organization, consider how your responsibilities relate to those of your manager and also to those of any direct reports you might have. What work can you delegate? How can you develop your direct reports so they can take on more and more accountability? In contrast, what value do you need to leave to your manager? Your goal is to spend the vast majority of your time adding value at the right level.

Step 5: Understand how you complement others

The final step in getting laser-focused on your unique value is to think about how your role relates to the others around you. In our bank example, the Customer Insights person is pushing for new and improved solutions that meet the needs of customers. He is going to be pulling hard to do what’s new and different. The Compliance person is adding completely different value. She is the voice of prudence. She’s going to put her weight behind measured and manageable change. The Human Resources person will be trying to move quickly but he’ll urge you to wait for the right person rather than rushing and settling for someone subpar. Your job is to understand which perspective you bring and what would be missing from the equation without you.

Now, add it all up.

  1. How is your organization evolving and what are the emerging measures of success?
  2. What trends and forces in the external environment are changing the game?
  3. What does your department or function bring to the organization, given the organization’s goals and the external environment?
  4. What is your sweet spot where should you be adding value at the right level without getting up beyond your authority or down into the weeds?
  5. How does your role fit with the other roles on your team and in your organization? What is the organization counting on you to bring to the table?

Those questions should get you to a clear view on your unique value—the primary reason for your role. That is your obligation. If you don’t add your unique value, no one else will.

Now, I dare you to compare your answer to your calendar. What percentage of your time are you spending on your unique value? Next time, how to up that percentage.

Further Reading

Dealing with office politics in getting promoted

Dead wood or dead work?

It’s time for a little discipline