Balance Conflicting Priorities

I believe most business decisions come down to keeping three things in balance: clients, employees and margin. When you think about it – everything you do supports one of these three. I like to think of them as the three points on an equilateral triangle.

If we focus exclusively on one of these three, the other two suffer. For example, when we only focus on our clients and allow them to make unreasonable demands, we may overwork our employees or offer discounts that ultimately make us unprofitable. In the end, we don’t satisfy our clients because our unhappy employees leave or we have to downsize because we can’t pay our bills. Conversely, focusing too much on employees or only caring about margin will damage our relationships with clients.

Let’s apply this to a business decision. Imagine a software company rolls out a new product then finds it’s defective. They have to decide whether to offer clients a discount (affecting margin), ask employees to work extra hours to fix it (affecting employee happiness) or ask clients to use a work around (affecting client satisfaction.)

Unlike the above example where the company could chose which side of the triangle was affected by their solution, sometimes the problem is with one of the three core areas. If a healthcare provider has a staffing shortage (the employee side of the triangle), they will find they are already out of balance – they will have to decide whether to pay more than market rate (affecting margin), or delay non-essential patient services (affecting client satisfaction.) In this case, they need to come up with two solutions, one to solve the short term staffing problem and a second solution that restores the triangle’s balance.

Making decisions by examining the impact on clients, employees and margin clarifies my choices, helps me weigh options and makes me a more consistent leader because I’m able to clearly explain and predict the likely outcomes of decisions. This leads to better conversations with my team as I invite them to help me weigh options. Their involvement in turn, increases their buy in as we take action.


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