How to set priorities in an action plan

After a survey, a brainstorming session or a discussion it is often true that you end up with a long list of actions that should be put into an action plan. With many actions, a small number of people available to execute on those actions while also doing their normal day jobs and possibly low funds available for some of the actions this could seem overwhelming.  At such a time it becomes really important that you are somehow able to prioritize the list of actions to focus your limited resources and funds on the most important actions. But which ones are more important than the others?

The Priority Setting resource I am sharing with you contains a section where you can enter all of the actions you have in the text column – simply replace the example statements I have there with your own actions. The next column is called Ease of Implementation. Consider how many people you would need to dedicate to an implementation, how long will it take? How much do you need to spend/invest in order to implement this action? If it will take a lot of people working intensively and it may cost a lot to invest – for example in buying expensive licences to a software package/system – then you should score that action closer to a 1 for this column. The harder it is to implement the lower the score should be. Your scores in this column should be between 1 and 5.

Priority Setting resource link.

The next column is called Impact Potential. This column requires a score for each action item in terms of how much will it improve your business or move you closer to achieving your strategies and business goals if you had this action completed? If the impact will be low then your score should be closer to 1. Low would mean that employees and customers would barely notice the difference after implementation. It could also mean you would not gain much strategic advantage, market share improvements, long-term positioning, synergies, major cost savings or any other business impact that would be noticeable. The scores in this column should be between 1 and 5.

The graph with dots will be generated automatically on the electronic worksheet after you have put in your actions and the scores as indicated. The numbers appearing next to the dots are the numbers that correlate with your list of actions. Use the graphic below that to interpret your score results and understand which actions you should prioritize over overs.

prioritising actions legend

If your dots appear in one of the yellow sections, you have some questions to ponder. If you can solve the question in each case you may be able to move that particular action into a different “zone” by changing the score. This means you are able to for example make it easier to implement by solving an issue which made it particularly difficult to implement. Or it could mean you realize the business impact is bigger than you previously realized because the company could gain a competitive edge if you implemented that particular action.  Your final action plan for immediate focus areas should contain those actions which finally end up in the green zone on the legend.

Be sure to communicate the reasoning behind your high priority actions to the key stakeholders in the outcomes of the action plan. They may have additional insights to share which could further cause you to change the scoring of actions.

You can use the Action Plan posted here to capture the actions that you will implement, monitor status of and report on regularly.

Action Plans for Employee Surveys

The most important action to take after you are clear on the results from an employee satisfaction or employee engagement survey is to ensure you develop a realistic action plan to address the highest priority areas of concern. I am assuming that you have already decided when you would communicate the results to the survey participants and whether or not you would wait to include the planned actions based on the survey in the feedback.

The first template helps you to describe and be clear on which areas you plan to address in making improvements to how employees experience their work environment etc. Specific actions are then selected and jotted down. (Always remember to make actions SMART – Specific, Measurable (what progress can be observed/measured from this action?), Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.)

Employee Survey Action Plan Template

The second template relates to the regular updates that management typically expect from those who are managing the process of setting the action plans, actioning the plans and updating the plans. It focuses specifically on the agreed actions with a simple indication of progress. You can always add a comments column if your manager requires more details than the indicator of progress to date.

Employee Survey Action Plan Update Template

Some reminders:

  • Remember to communicate the survey results, the actions planned and action status updates to those who participated in the survey. It motivates employees to participate in future requests for input and establishes credibility in the process and management’s intentions to ensure a good working environment and fair and supportive treatment of employees.
  • Don’t pick more than four areas to address. If you pick too many actions and areas to action you could easily be overwhelmed by the activities that need to take place on top of your normal day-to-day workload. It is important that you are able to show progress according to your plan – to management and to survey participants.
  • Don’t survey employee opinion too often – this leads to survey-fatigue and your participation rate can drop. How often? Depends on the length of your survey. A short “employee happiness” check with about 10 questions or rated statements may be done on a quarterly basis. A full-blown survey with between 40 and 80 questions should not be considered more often than perhaps 18 to 24 months apart.
  • Explain the context of actions from employee surveys. Most people dislike being expedited on the actions that they need to take according to the action plan. It is not always true that the individuals responsible for these actions understand how the action that he or she needs to take relates to the overall action plan and the employee survey. Knowing the context of their activities and how these activities relate to a greater cause can be very motivational and may simplify your job of ensuring progress on action plans.