"Lack of Resources" Is Almost Always "We Can’t Prioritize" In Disguise

by Bill Bliss on March 2, 2011

in Alleged Wisdom

“What we’ve got here is failure to prioritize.”
(with apologies to Cool Hand Luke)

How many times have you heard people complain about lack of resources?  The complaint can take a few different forms, but they all mean pretty much the same thing:

  • “We’d love to do that, but we don’t have enough resources.”
  • “We have so many things on our plate, but we never have enough resources.”

It’s not that the statement isn’t true.  It absolutely is true.  There are never enough resources to do all the projects your company or your customers want.

But lurking underneath this complaint is the implication that more resources will make things better.  It won’t.  Why?  Because if you were able to wave your magic wand and get them, it would just be a matter of time before you’d hear the complaint again.

Consider a different statement made to you: “I don’t have enough money.”  Your response would probably be “For what?”

Let’s say Fred responded “To feed or shelter my family,” and Mary said “To buy a Ferrari.”

You’d have little sympathy for Mary, but you would probably have sympathy for Fred.  You’d make both assessments in a split-second.

Of course, that’s because everyone knows that food and shelter are near the top of the list of priorities for human survival, and Ferraris are pretty much near the bottom.

And that’s the key.  Everyone knows the priorities.

Now let’s go back to the original complaint.  What’s the real problem behind “we don’t have enough resources,” especially since we know that no one ever has enough?

It’s that most of us don’t respond, “For what?” and expect an answer.

But there should be an answer to such a basic question.  The fact that there often isn’t means that someone hasn’t made the key decisions about what’s more and less important.

True, making decisions about what projects are more or less important to a business is harder than prioritizing food and shelter versus a Ferrari.  But the ability to do so could be just as important to a company as food and shelter is to Fred.

As professionals, we have the right to know what’s important and what isn’t to our business.  If we don’t, it should be our responsibility to find out.

And if you are one of the people responsible for setting the course of your company, and you hear a significant number of employees complain about lack of resources, what you need to hear is that you have not adequately prioritized and/or communicated those priorities.  That’s not a message you should ignore.

The takeaway? No one ever has enough resources for everything they want to do.  But too many complaints about lack of resources is really “not enough prioritization” in disguise.

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