How to Align Your Organization Around Your Top 3 Priorities

Most people in today’s business world would agree that Ram Charan is an icon. He has written a number of best-selling business books, runs a consulting company out of Dallas, and has consulted with many of the largest companies globally.

So, when Charan describes tools that he uses to get organizational alignment, we should all take note and see if these tools can benefit us and our businesses.

In his book, The Attacker’s Advantage, he describes a tool that he uses to get business leaders to align around and focus on the most important strategic activities for their organizations.

I think we can all relate to the scenario where we assume our organizations have alignment around the same core objectives only to find out that people are focusing on very different and sometimes conflicting priorities.

I have seen this misalignment over the years both in organizations and within project teams. In fact, I remember a few painful project incidents where engineering disciplines had differing priorities that caused some significant project delays and cost overruns. These were totally avoidable if we were following Charan’s advice.

And, this is where the “Top 3 Priorities” tool comes in.

What Are Your Top 3 Priorities

The tool that Charan describes in his book is simple yet very powerful. Essentially, you have all your executive staff map out their top priorities and their progress against each priority. Then you compare the results to look for disconnects.

What follows is a description for the process in more detail. You can download my PowerPoint version of the tool here.

  1. On a single sheet of paper have each executive identify the top three priorities for the business for the next quarter
  2. Then, using a “smokestack graph”, list the most important four tasks for each priority
  3. The length of the smokestack indicates the effort required for that task
  4. Color code the overall progress of each of the three priorities
    1. Green is on track
    2. Yellow is at risk
    3. Red is behind
  5. Color code the progress of each task or smokestack
  6. Pin your sheet to the wall when you are complete

You should end up with a wall full of sheets of paper that look something like this:

Now comes the tough part! What are these colorful charts telling you? Spend some time to analyze your results by asking questions like:

  • What are the general sentiments on progress based on dominant color?
  • Is there consensus on priorities?
  • Are there any common underlying themes?
  • Is there consensus on tasks?
  • Are there any systems, tools, people, or process issues?
  • Is there consensus on progress of priorities and tasks?
  • Are there major disconnects anywhere?
  • Is there a bottleneck?
  • Are there any technology issues?

Basically, you are trying to draw productive conclusions from the exercise and determine the strategic and tactical actions that need to be taken. These actions will get your organization realigned and properly focused!

Take Action

Take some time this next week and set up a leadership team review meeting. Get everyone together and run through this exercise with them. Does your team have alignment around the most important initiatives? Are there some disconnects? Where do you need to take action?

Finally, take a look at these posts for more information:


The real stumbling block to real innovation in large organizations is not lack of creativity. It is unsureness about priorities.” Lewis Lehr



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