Urgency -v- Priority

Fall 2004

Urgency -v- Priority


In many firms’ strategic planning efforts, considerable market research is done, to create an accurate and reliable forecast of the strength of the coming marketplace. Firm leaders also factor in personal enthusiasm for potential markets, so the directional commitment is based both on market opportunity and professional passion.

By the end of a strategic planning retreat, teams often form, to develop tactical action plans for securing work from those desired markets. By the end of the retreat, teams typically have an outline of actions to be taken … and need only spend a few hours detailing their outline, so they end up with a set of activities that can be budgeted, scheduled, and assigned. A month later, few plans are usually complete.


On the project side of the firm, the parties all have project responsibilities, project deadlines, and target utilization rates. Besides, projects are what people in the firm have a passion to do. That’s why they’re in the profession … and in the firm.

On the business development side of the firm, RFQs and RFPs regularly flow in the door. Receipt of either typically triggers a flurry of activity, as most of those requests have a submittal deadline.

What connection exists between the energy being expended to
respond to incoming requests and the energy needed
to detail and then execute the strategic plan?

Often, not much. The problem, which is featured in most time management courses, is: at an emotional level …

Urgency dominates priority.

The energy required to pursue a new business opportunity that comes to you in the form of an RFQ or RFP is the same or less than the cost and energy required to pursue projects in a strategically targeted market. But the Return-on-Investment from successful pursuits in strategic markets is significantly greater …

Each effort further builds your name recognition in a desired market.

Each effort helps expand your breadth of desired client relationships.

And each successful pursuit helps you build greater technical strength –
and track record – in a desired market.

First, to help you complete your strategic action plans …

Define “inch-pebbles,” not milestones. Before ending your retreat, have teams define small, specific stages – at an activity level, with completion dates, budgets, assignments – for completing each stage.

Schedule deadline meetings, up front, for each stage’s completion.

Second, genuine opportunities that could not have been envisioned during your strategic planning activities are bound to occur. But many firms are consumed with responding to virtually all incoming requests. So, remember the adage …

“An RFP is not a subpoena.”

Keeping your strategic directions in mind, create a detailed set of “Go-No Go” criteria. And apply it rigorously to each and every project pursuit. If your marketing budget supports a specific number of pursuits every year, make your investment where they’ll give your firm the kind of future you’re seeking in your strategic plan.

Recalling the “Respondent Conditioning” research of B. F. Skinner, if a pigeon stepped left, it got a crumb (a reward.) Gradually the pigeon learned to “dance” counterclockwise. Until it got full, so the crumb ceased to be a reward. Then Skinner tried every third step. The pigeon figured out what to do, and the dance lasted a lot longer … until the pigeon was full, and tired. Then, Skinner wondered …

“What if we use a random number generator?
The pigeon never knows which steps gets the crumb!”

The pigeon will dance until it drops! The problem is – we’re all pigeons! The “house” is the only sure winner in Las Vegas or lotteries. Chances of winning a major lottery prize are less than being hit twice by lightning! “Varied interval reinforcement” respondent conditioning is powerful. The only way to control the urge is with guidelines that make sense, and the discipline to only authorize pursuits that fit them.

One time management system advocates using letters and asterisks to separate priority from urgency. They define an “A” (next to a daily activity to be done) as “Life sustaining” … it helps you move towards personally crucial goals. “B” denotes importance. “C” is just something to be done. If an activity must be done that day, and cannot be deferred, place an asterisk next to it, to denote urgency.

If, each day, you see a lot of asterisks, but not many “A” notations, think about “A” actions that should be on your list, and add them. That process can actually do wonders in helping you to gradually achieve those strategic goals you’ve envisioned.

My new book, Market Driven Organization, is available! It details the full breadth of marketing methods – from strategic to proposal writing – then weaves marketing systems with professional firm organization, so that “management” and “marketing” form a sensible continuum. The book also provides organizational models tuned to the unique nature of a professional service firm, and methods for improving firm leadership. The book costs $69, and is available via the SMPS/PSMA bookstore or by email, phone or mail from PDR. (Five+ copies get a 40% publisher’s discount.)

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