Is it Really a Ruthless Priority?

Choosing Ruthless Priorities

I work with many of my clients on the idea of Ruthless Priorities.

I define Ruthless Priorities as those 1 or 2 things that are so important that you refuse to put them at risk.

It doesn’t mean that you say no to everything else. It means that if you select something as a Ruthless Priority, you get it done, which means you might accept some risk in other areas.

Stalled Progress

I have found an interesting dynamic with some of my clients, where we go through great pains to select one or two Ruthless Priorities out of the sea of urgent priorities, and get alignment on them. The team is happy for the clarity and the focus.

But then I go back weeks or months later and they tell me that they have not made progress on their Ruthless Priorities because other things came up and they are really busy.

If this happens to you, you are not alone. Sometimes it takes a couple of go arounds before you truly make something a Ruthless Priority. The thing I love about the idea of Ruthless Priorities, is this:

If it’s a Ruthless Priority — by definition, you get it done — otherwise it’s not a Ruthless Priority.

It’s as simple as that.

So when my clients say to me, “We aren’t getting to our Ruthless Priorities”, my answer is, “Then they were not Ruthless Priorities. They were just important priorities that you did not get to. Let’s try again.”

Here’s an example.

One client of mine, a fast growing organization in a tech company, had a Ruthless Priority of hiring engineers. They were not hiring engineers fast enough to meet their aggressive growth plans.

Everyone agreed that hiring engineers was a Ruthless Priority because if they did not have the staff they needed, they would not succeed, and they were all feeling the strain from being way-overloaded.

Hiring was a Ruthless Priority for the business and on a personal level. Everyone agreed.

When I went back and asked about it several weeks later, they said they had not made progress.

So then we got to work on the difference between calling something a Ruthless Priority and actually having it BE a Ruthless Priority.

How to de-risk your Ruthless Priority

Ask the question, “What would it take for this to be not at risk?

Most often the answer is: focused resources.

You can’t have a Ruthless Priority without some amount of dedicated and protected resource applied to it.

In this case, they realized that everyone felt very strongly that hiring was a Ruthless Priority, but that among the Engineering teams, no one owned making specific things happen each day or each week to ensure progress was being made.

Everyone was still in agreement that it was the most important priority, but no one had changed how they were working on it. They called hiring a Ruthless Priority and then all went back to their regular, urgent, engineering work.

So to make it a true Ruthless Priority we came up with a few actions such as:

4 engineers would reduce their engineering workload by half a day per week and use that half day to:

  • Create measures for the internal recruiters around pipeline goals
  • Work with internal recruiters to optimize the search requirements
  • Do a weekly assessment of qualified pipeline and tune the process
  • Call the recruiters every day (stay in their face)
  • Proactively ask engineers in the group for ideas and connections based on specific roles
  • Work with VC firms who may have failing companies with great teams

Once these actions were committed to and resourced, only then did hiring actually become a Ruthless Priority.

If you are struggling to move forward on your Ruthless Priority, get very practical about resourcing it, and then protect those resources with your life — because the pressure and the chaos will not disappear, it will still be there challenging you every day.

That’s why you have to be Ruthless!

Patty Azzarello

Patty is available to speak at your company, annual meeting, or customer event. She can also deliver a custom workshop on Leadership or Strategy Execution for your leadership team. Contact Patty.

Or if you would like some personal help on your own professional development, check out her Executive Mentoring Group. It’s filled with insights, resources and support to build your executive confidence, advance your career, and includes direct mentoring from Patty.


patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

When someone steals your ideas
Get to the point!