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Align Your People With Your Priorities

This article was based on episode 160 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members can get one of 10 free 25-minute “coach-sulting” sessions with Andrew. To be eligible, become a member at

The best way to run your organization is like a waterfall. At the smallest point at the top are your priorities and business goals. Everything else - your team’s actions, culture, and hiring processes - should flow from that goal. Yet few organizations actually operate like this. Why is it so hard for us to create a priority-oriented structure in our organizations, and how do we align ourselves better? Andrew Bartlow - founder and managing partner at Series B Consulting and co-author of Scaling for Success: People Priorities for High Growth Organizations - has learned a lot about how to do just that. Andrew walks us through the nuts and bolts of setting up a simple system that will improve trust, increase communication, and help us manage our people more successfully.


Organizations fail to prioritize their goals and actions for many different reasons. High growth startups usually feel pressure to prove their worth to investors, leading them to frantically try to do everything all at once rather than prioritize. Small organizations tend to avoid setting up a business practice and larger mission as they’re consumed with delivering products and services. And larger organizations may not look at their work holistically, and because of their size attempts to focus are swallowed up in bureaucracy.

As Andrew puts it, you can move three things a mile or thirty things an inch. Prioritizing is the key element to success. Plus when you have clear goals, you also have a better chance of getting the budget and resources that you need to achieve them.

A Bottom-up Approach.

Work with your team to determine the three most important things that will drive your organization, division, or team forward. Invite everyone to offer their thoughts and cluster the similar responses to help the group figure out the top three. Of course, there are bound to be disagreements. If team members want to add more goals to the list, try to negotiate what should be dropped in order to add a new one. If you think it's necessary to add on a fourth priority, consider how much longer each project will take or what additional resources you will need.

A Top-down Approach.

Present the top three goals you’ve decided on to your team. Respond to all questions and concerns to ensure that your team understands not only what the goals are, but also why these are the goals you’ve decided to focus on.


Once your priorities are clear, you can determine which roles are needed to achieve those goals. As you go through the staffing process, be mindful of both the big picture staffing structure as well as the individual role you’re hiring for.

Manage Spans: The Number of Direct Reports a Manager has.

The amount of spans depends on the complexity of the role and the disparity in the type of roles. For example, twenty customer service agents working in a call center may report to a single manager, making a 20:1 span. This large ratio works because the supervisor manages a group of people all in one place doing the same thing. At the other end of the spectrum, someone who manages distinct types of positions should have a lower number of spans, closer to four or 6.

Be Aware of Layers: The Number of Managers Managing Managers.

As organizations become more complex, they grow in layers, the distance from the C-suite to the front line. The more layers, the harder communication becomes, decreasing efficiency, constraining knowledge spread, and weakening trust. Andrew recommends minimizing the amount of layers in order to avoid the “chimney style” type of organizations in which one manager is managing one person who’s managing one person, etc.

Decide Whether To Hire From Within or Without

There are pros and cons to promoting or moving a current team member into a new role and bringing in a new person. Before determining which approach is right, clarify the skills and capabilities for the new role. Then consider whether a potential fit already exists within your organization. Are the people who could move into this role effectively? Is it possible to grow your staff through professional development opportunities or do you need to find outside talent?

Promote Based On Talent, Not Length Of Employment

While it can seem obvious to promote those who have been in roles for quite some time, resist promoting based on tenure. Talent, interest and timing all matter when promoting from within. Andrew suggests taking a portfolio approach; sometimes promote within the organization and sometimes hire from outside. If you always hire from the outside, your team will feel slighted and dissatisfied. If you always promote from within, you may be missing out on increasing your pool of talent and skills.

A strong people strategy starts at the top. Ruthlessly prioritize what to focus on, so you can hire the right people to do the most important work. Our people are our greatest resource. When the work flows from the top, we create a focused, aligned system in which they can contribute to their fullest.


Members can get a free 25-minute “coach-sulting” session with Andrew. To qualify become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 160 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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