Everyone has things that need attention. Many people work on the problem that hits their desk first and procrastinates in dealing with those things they dislike (like taxes). Others have a routine check list and attend to things in this order. Most well-run companies prioritize things that can’t wait and follow them up with those that can wait. The key here, however, is identifying what is a priority. When the fire alarm rings it is clear that there is an urgent situation, but priorities do not always announce themselves as an emergency with flashing red lights and sirens. Most things that should be a priority may quietly smolder in the basement ready to cause a conflagration if left unattended. It is your job to investigate those things that can become critical when there are no red lights and sirens.
The first thing one should do is take care of obvious priorities even if they are distasteful, such as dealing with a situation with a really unpleasant employee that you have had conflicts with before, but now must be resolved before some really good people quit. The next step is to look for those smoldering problems that you need to identify before they heat up. These are typically situations which are not in your line of sight and you need the help of your team to bring to your attention. It may be something that could be a potential liability or also an overlooked opportunity. It may be a business opportunity that you thought you had a poor chance of winning and put little effort into, but after further investigation could be a bonanza, or dozens of other situations that may been put in the trash bin.
Here are two examples. A business developer was once a star, but was no longer very productive, did not document their work and was not well-supervised — and one day they walked out with many of the company’s top clients in tow. This could have been identified by a good manager who monitored the employee’s declining performance, took remedial action and had a parallel relationship with that person’s clients to reduce the risk of losing them.
In another situation, an IT staffing company put a programmer to work in what they were told was a commercial office setting, only to find out that they were reassigned to a manufacturing area where their workers comp insurance would not cover them. Requiring all employees to report any change in physical work setting they were assigned should have been routine and a priority.