By Sarah Sydlowski

There is a difference between being busy and being effective (TABLE 1). Completing activities is not the same as being productive, yet busyness has become a proxy for success. We tackle problems as they surface, instead of proactively anticipating what will be needed weeks, months, or years in the future. We stay in constant motion, measuring success in the quantity of experiences over the quality of interactions. When we ask someone how they are and they reflexively respond, “So busy!,” we translate their response to mean “successful and accomplished.” But, as Henry David Thoreau wisely observed, “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?”

Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, MBA
Sarah Sydlowski, AuD, PhD, MBA, CISC, ABA Certified
President | American Academy of Audiology
BUSY/EFFICIENT/ACTIVITY-BASEDPRODUCTIVE/EFFECTIVE/VALUABLE
Fills time with tasks rather than prioritizing resultsSpends less time getting more done
No systems or ways of tracking progressUses systems to set and track goals and accomplishments
Has not defined what success looks likeKnows the desired end state and reverse engineers how to achieve it
Equates doing with accomplishingIdentifies and follows the most direct path by prioritizing work

This sage question applies directly to our membership associations. Many initiatives could be undertaken, committees could be formed, and materials could be developed and communicated to attract and retain members. Any association could point to the quantity of opportunities or resources they offer as a yardstick of success. But Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, challenges that “instead of asking ‘WHAT should we do to compete?,’ the questions must be asked, ‘WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place’ and ‘WHAT can we do to bring our cause to life?’”

The Academy Board of Directors has taken this concept to heart, adopting the seemingly simple question, What matters most? as our key focus and primary decision-making filter. Not, “Is it important?,” because it would be easy to make the case that it’s all important. Not “Does it need to be done?,” because there is so much work that needs to be done to advance our profession and hearing care that the filter would let most initiatives rise to the top. Not even “What would our members say?,” because our membership is so diverse that there would likely be a subset who would approve of most ideas that surface. 

Asking the question What matters most? allows us to become laser-focused on doing the most important thing to the right extent at the right time to maximize the value generated for our members, our organization, and our profession (Chiva, 2019). It allows us to recognize that, just because we’ve always done something, that doesn’t mean we should continue. It helps us elevate the work that delivers the greatest impact. It gives clarity to decision-making, resource prioritization, and structural organization. It guides us to define what constitutes success and measure it in impact, value, and effectiveness instead of in efficiency, activity level, or effort. 

One of the most significant responsibilities of a Board is to envision the desired future of the profession and organization and reverse engineer the path to achieving that target. This objective is easier said than done when faced with day-to-day management issues that surface routinely. This dichotomy creates an easy trap into which many have fallen. In the words of Len Holman, “We have become a nation of thoughtless rushers, intent on doing before thinking, and hoping what we do magically works out. If it doesn’t, we rush to do something else, something also not well thought-out, and then hope for more magic.” 

When we ask the question What matters most? we embrace a thoughtful approach in which we first slow down to speed up. We can begin to articulate answers to tough questions, including “What will make the greatest impact for the majority of audiologists? What must we focus on because no one else will? What must we do because we do it better than anyone else? What must be accomplished by an Academy because members can’t move the needle as individuals?” The answers to these questions populate our Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which are available on the Academy’s website (audiology.org) under “About.” Our OKRs define our vital few goals and outline the blueprint for the way we will achieve them. 

My term began with a President’s Message focused on the importance of alignment, of rowing together in sync, with powerful strokes that propel us forward instead of rapid strokes that keep us busy but don’t have the power to get us across the finish line. Why? Because (paraphrasing Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) if we could get every audiologist rowing together in the same direction, we could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. This year has been a year of refocusing on our purpose, reinforcing our infrastructure, and strategically outlining a clear path to reaching our well-defined target. 

As my term as president concludes, I am confident that the staff and volunteer leaders of this organization represent the best interests of our profession and will strategically prioritize the vital few areas of focus that will propel us forward. Together, we will effectively deliver value by achieving what matters most.

This article is a part of the September/October 2022 Audiology Today issue.

References

Chiva G. (2019) Prioritization Techniques. www.aktiasolutions.com/prioritization-techniques-lean-product-management/ (accessed July 25, 2022).

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