As I have been writing, most of us learn to lead by finding ways to solve problems, and that work develops our skills and make us better leaders. In my last blog, I talked about looking in the mirror first and solving issues that your approach may be causing. The next place to identify problems to solve is in your organization’s operations. Those problems seem easy to identify. We face them every day when we don’t meet our customer’s or our organization’s expectations. But with limited resources and time, how do we make sure that we are working on the most impactful problems? Or, what if I have a problem that I am not diagnosing? These are essential questions. I have worked with clients who were putting lots of effort into solving problems that would not significantly impact their business. I had one client working hard on improving their marketing while their crews could not keep up with their current work—worthy effort, but not the proper priority at the time.

Often, when I work with clients, I start by obtaining an industry financial benchmark report. A report of this kind compares your business’s financial performance to companies of the same size providing the same product. You can obtain information of this type in a couple of ways. Often, government-sponsored agencies such as your local Small Business Development Council can provide one. Also, many industries publish this type of information through an Industry Council. Reports of this type vary, but the ones I typically use give benchmark data on typical debt, margin, profit, inventory turns, ROI, sales and profit by employee, and sales and profit growth information. Comparing your organization’s performance to this benchmark data helps you zero in on where your organization may differ or be weak compared to your competition. It can be a great starting place to identify your top priority work.

Next, step back and take an honest look (I call it the Brutal Facts) at how you are doing on making your Mission and Vision a reality can help you prioritize what problems to tackle. I like breaking it down into categories and asking the organization two questions about each type.
• How am I doing in this category compared to where I want to be?
• Do I have an actual strategy or plan to achieve my mission in this category?
Talk about Brutal Facts. We are often hoping to get where we want to be, and, as James Cameron said, “Hope is not a strategy.”
The categories to examine differ by organization, but a good starting place for businesses is to ask those two questions about;

• Product
• Customers
• Growth
• People
• Finances
• Operations (Cost)

Usually, the issue is not identifying that things are not where we want them; it’s that there are so many problems you don’t know where to start. I recommend taking each issue, beginning with the top of the list and comparing it to the next one on the list, and asking, “If I can only solve one of these problems, which one will have the most impact on our organization?” Choose one and then compare it to the next issue on the list until you have identified the most impactful items. Usually, after answering that question down the whole list, it will be reasonably easy to understand which items have priority.

Congratulations. You have just developed the leadership skill of issue identification and prioritization. This skill gives you FOCUS. Honestly, this is one of the most critical things we can do to lead our organization’s progress. It creates clarity, is easy to communicate, consolidates activity, and creates RESULTS.

If you need help in obtaining or interpreting a benchmark for your business or determining your priority actions, contact me at, and I will be happy to help.

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