How to Prioritize Objectives


Say your construction company is operating 10 different jobsites simultaneously. How much do you think the foreman at Site A knows about the schedules, timelines, or resource requirements at Sites B through J?

A little? A lot? Nothing?

The answer, all too often, is closer to the latter. That can lead to negative results that run the gamut from resource hoarding to decreased employee morale.

While some degree of tension between different jobsites may be inevitable in the Dirt World, leaders who effectively prioritize objectives and communicate the big picture can channel their crew members' energy toward better outcomes.

Lack of visibility leads to siloed urgency

Ever spotted an unused piece of equipment—say, a dozer—on one jobsite and known that you needed at a jobsite down the road . . . but the foreman at the first site wouldn't share?

It's an all-too-familiar scenario, and it can be exasperating. What gives?

The problem is twofold: lack of visibility leading to a siloed sense of urgency. That's just a fancy way of saying that when people on different jobsites or in different parts of a company can't see the big picture, they tend to think their project is the most urgent—even if it isn't.

Put yourself under a foreman's hard hat for a minute and it's easy to see how and why these things play out.

  • Lack of visibility: You're unaware of other projects, so you don't know what (if any) shared resources they need. In fact, since you don't know anything about them, they may as well not exist. You're laser-focused on your own job. As far as you're concerned, it's the only one that counts.
  • Siloed urgency: You want to ensure every resource, tool, and machine is available to you and your team. Think you'll need that dozer at some point in the next three weeks? Then it's going to be onsite every day, and nobody is going to borrow it on your watch.

This is how resource hoarding happens in the Dirt World. Ironically, as Jocko is careful to point out, it's a product of rational decision-making. "There are natural tensions between different jobsites," he observes. "There's going to be a person who wants a crane at one location, and someone else who wants the crane at another location, and they both want that crane for the right reasons."

Right as those reasons may be, they leave a lot to be desired when you're trying to make a strategic plan or optimize resources. So what do you do? You learn how to prioritze objectives. 

In other words, you figure out how to put first things first—and you communicate that plan to the other people on your team so there's no confusion.

Two key benefits of effectively prioritizing objectives

Jocko acknowledges that it's pretty easy for organizational leaders to ignore—or even create—gaps in visibility. A lot of leaders do this inadvertently. "We think everybody knows what's clear to us from our position and that because we can understand it, everybody else can understand it," he explains.

Of course, that's rarely the case. You've probably got an awesome leadership team, field crews, and front office staff . . . but they can't read your mind. And they can't see things from your perspective within the company, because they're not you. 

So leaders must learn how to effectively prioritize objectives and more clearly communicate them to the team. Borrowing from his military experience, Jocko breaks down two key benefits of this top-down knowledge sharing.

1. Knowledge sharing boosts morale

Jocko recalls going on patrols with his platoon as a young Navy SEAL: "They would shuffle you around to different jobs, and sometimes I'd be a guy that was rear security . . . so I'm the last guy on the patrol."

That was a trying experience. He continues: "It's nighttime. We're going for miles and miles. After 30 minutes or an hour, I don't know where we are. I don't know where we're going. I don't know where the next checkpoint is. I don't know how far it is to the target. I have no idea what's happening. And this is miserable for me because I have no comprehension of my own destiny."

But what happened when Jocko was the point man? He loved it, because he was right next to the platoon leader. That guy was telling him where the target was and when they would get there. "So now, not only is my morale high because I understand what's happening, but also I am tactically infinitely in a better position to support the platoon."

When he became a platoon leader, Jocko's goal was to make sure everyone knew where they were and what the priorities were. 

He sees a clear takeaway for leaders in the Dirt World: Your team members don't want to be clueless about higher-level strategy. And they shouldn't be clueless. Leaving team members in the dark is "tactically unsound," as Jocko puts it.

When you communicate the big picture to your crews, they're much happier because they know what's going to happen and why it matters. They can start putting their energy into helping make that big picture a success, rather just focusing siloed urgency on their own jobsites.

2. Communicating priorities increases efficiency

Your leaders and crew members want to be able to plug their own coordinates into a map of the big picture. But in order for them to do so, you have to tell them what the big picture is.

Fortunately, that doesn't take a ton of effort. It's easy to say, "Hey, we need these resources at this jobsite and here's why." Then, almost as if by magic, your foremen and crew members can suddenly channel their energies in the service of the greater good.

As Jocko notes, it's much easier to get people to say yes when they see a positive resolution for themselves and others. 

For example, you can tell the foreman, "Hey, I know you need the crane on Thursday, but if we can have it on Monday and Tuesday, we can get this other job done and get it back to you when you need it."

Jocko asks, "Does the guy then come back and say, 'No, screw them. I don't care about them'? No. He says, 'Okay, let's make it happen.'"

So now the right things happen, and most everybody is happy about how they're happening. In fact, they're pitching in to help. That's what you get when you communicate priorities effectively.

Just remember, Jocko adds, "It's our job as leaders to make sure everybody understands what those priorities are."


Whether you're a leader in a construction company or a Navy SEAL platoon, your people should always know what the priorities are in the business. More effectively prioritizing and communicating objectives has clear benefits:

  • You can kiss the lack of visibility (and the siloed urgency it creates) goodbye.
  • Your crew members' morale will improve, and operations will be more efficient.

← Read Why Safety Must Come First

Read Extreme Ownership 

Join the thousands of Dirt pros who get our top workforce development tips.