COVID-19 has forced many businesses to forego long-term planning for more of a “here and now” mentality. We still need to consider long-term business initiatives, of course, but we can’t do that at the expense of remaining profitable and relevant.
Thriving in an ever-evolving climate requires a laser focus. Unfortunately, that sometimes means shelving exciting possibilities that aren’t immediately relevant or applicable.
There’s a case for ‘not right now’
Setting aside an awesome concept can be difficult. To assertively and confidently say, “We’ll have to revisit this,” takes strength and foresight—during a pandemic or otherwise.
Many companies’ revenue is creeping downward, necessitating budget cuts and sometimes downsizing. With fewer resources available, managers face a choice: They must delay innovative brainstorms, or they must retire existing programs to make space for those new initiatives.
Moreover, although it’s easy to take risks in a healthy economy, there is far more pressure and accountability when times are tough: You are expected to do more with less, yet you also need to protect your team from burnout.
Maintaining such balance is a challenge, but streamlining and prioritizing new marketing ideas with ongoing projects can result in big payoffs.
Deferring experimental initiatives in favor of spending time on projects with proven ROI narrows your focus and commits you to pursuing only measurable goals.
At the same time, exploring new ways of promoting your business when you are understaffed can empower your team members to develop untapped skills as they take on different responsibilities and uncover previously hidden passions, expertise, and talents. What worked a few months ago may no longer drive the same results. When that happens, you need the confidence to shutter dated campaigns in favor of a new approach.
If you’re not sure how to stop treating every idea as equally important, lean on these techniques to identify what needs to happen immediately vs. what can wait.
1. Define your priorities explicitly
Marketers are notorious for loving new concepts. However, only 17% of marketers can easily prioritize what they are working on, an Upland Kapost study found.
When a team member comes up with a new idea, begin asking tough questions. Are the resources the project requires available to us? How will we measure success? When will we know that the initiative has run its course?
If you have trouble agreeing on answers or even finding them, set the idea aside for another day.
2. Monitor your swimlanes
Imagine you’re already overrun with “keeping the lights on” projects, and someone suddenly brings a game-changing idea to your attention. No matter how much you love it, you have to first make sure that you have the capacity to handle it.
Check out your flowchart, project management plans, and Kanban-related swimlanes for potential sources of friction. A department or person with blocked lanes should not attempt to add anything to the mix.
You’ll need to make some tough calls. The status quo does not fuel innovation. Check in with your team members to see whether you can automate, delegate, or deprioritize any of the regular work they’ve grown accustomed to doing. Depending on the potential ROI of the new project, you could move resources or responsibilities around; but, in some cases, that’s not the best solution. If you are in a situation where resources are being reduced, “keeping the lights on” may be all your team is capable of.
Sometimes, the workload is just too great to embrace every exciting idea that comes your way.
3. Evaluate your stakeholder buy-in
Every idea needs stakeholder buy-in to get off the ground—and stay in flight. If you’ve floated a concept that’s struggling to gain momentum, the stakeholders likely don’t see it as a priority—and if that’s the case, neither should you.
When others don’t see value in an effort, it needs to be revamped, placed aside, or scrapped altogether. That doesn’t mean the idea was intrinsically bad; it could just be a matter of poor timing. For that reason, you should speak with stakeholders before making any final decisions to OK a concept. Having honest conversations from the start will save money and prevent long-term frustration.
4. Practice interdepartmental collaboration
At Pantheon, we regularly invite coworkers from various functions to join our planning and analytics review sessions. Why? Because we want to make sure that whatever we do has overlap across our workforce, which helps our efforts go farther.
While you’re weighing placing an idea on the front burner, check whether it overlaps with other departments, such as Sales, IT, Product, or Customer Service. The most successful companies align their priorities so they can scale them across the business and maximize resources.
5. Cap your priorities
Project-creep happens quietly and swiftly. Suddenly, instead of two or three priorities, you have 15. Don’t let that happen. Monitor every major initiative and stack rank them so each team member can see which tasks are most significant and which can stay in the background.
At your daily or weekly meetings, take time to review each high-priority item. The process should not exceed three items, else the value of prioritization is diluted. By continually focusing on the highest-value work, your team will be more invested in the success of that work.
Plus, when everyone agrees what work is most important, your job is easier. Even if you get a bit of pushback, you can support your position by pointing back to what everyone agreed would have the greatest impact on the business.