12. Relevance: The Intersection of Importance & Timeliness
On the surface, determining relevance seems straightforward, almost trivial, because of how quickly we do it. It’s a simple judgement call based on available information. Ideally this information is objective or factual, but in the absence of objectiveness we'll use subjective information or opinion. Most of the time there’s a mix of objectivity and subjectivity that informs our relevance perceptions.
We apply a relevance lens to almost anything, consciously or subconsciously. In business, relevance is critical and shapes everything from purpose to strategy to products and services. Understanding how relevance is determined in an organization is interesting in terms of the insight it provides into performance.
The strongest companies are necessarily and perpetually self-assessing in order to prevent obsolescence.
Are we (the company) relevant?
Are our products / services relevant?
Is our business model relevant?
Are the business decisions we make relevant?
Are our people relevant?
Each question above can be followed by, “Why, and for how long?” Relevance must be a top-of-mind focus for senior leaders. Irrelevance kills performance, success and longevity…let alone job security.
When assessing the validity of relevance determinations, perspective is key:
What is being assessed?
How is it being assessed?
Who is assessing it?
What objective inputs are being considered? (facts / data)
What subjective inputs are being considered? (biases / opinions)
Why is it being assessed?
When is it being assessed?
Looking at the underlying relevance predisposition within a company sheds light on the rigor that goes into answering the questions…What's relevant? What's irrelevant?
What is the Relevance Intersection?
Relevance is the intersection of importance and timeliness (see Intersection 12 image below). In order for something to be relevant it must have value at the right moment.
How do you know if something is important?
Someone else says it’s important
You know from past experience
Data / Information exists to prove it
It seems / feels / sounds important
In my experience, there’s an unspoken expectation that proof exists to justify the relevance of any business decision. This proof usually takes the form of importance. For example, “We made this decision because it’s important that this feature exists in the product.”
However, importance is only half of the relevance equation.
Intersection 12: Relevance = Importance + Timeliness
If importance was all that mattered, there would be no need for the word 'relevance’. Relevance is bigger and broader. There’s a time-based element to it...Is this important right now? If not, when will it be important? At that point it also becomes more relevant. Let's revisit the example above and add timeliness to it, “We made this decision because it’s important that this feature exists in the product when we release v1.0 next month.”
Product scope decisions are notorious for requiring relevance analysis. It’s not just about what the features are, but also when those features are available, in release 1, 2, 3, etc. There are numerous stories of products or services that were “ahead of their time”. Many of them were certainly important discoveries, innovations or concepts, but for any number of reasons the timing wasn’t right and therefore their relevance wasn’t as strong as it could have been or would be at some future date.
When companies ensure the time-component of relevance is considered they set a more efficient path to performance by enabling the ability to prioritize and sequence tasks and the use of resources.
What Can Leaders Do?
Strategy is about leaders’ ability to discern relevance from irrelevance. If they can differentiate between what is important now vs what will be important tomorrow, they’re optimizing the workload of the team or company.
It’s tricky though because relevance assumes some level of future predictability or controllability. For example, take a product with a 1-year development lead time. Corporate leaders made decisions in the past that assumed (or predicted?) future relevance for a product.
Sometimes companies create relevance (which can manifest as demand), and other times companies react to relevance. Either way leaders need to balance importance and timeliness in their quest for relevance.
Wrap Up & Up Next
Next time you judge something to be relevant or irrelevant, take a step back and ask yourself how and why you came to that conclusion. The answers will likely include elements of importance and timeliness.
Next time we’ll examine the 13th intersection of performance, which is the Information Intersection.
In this series of articles, we explore The Intersections of Performance, of which there are 30. The Intersections of Performance framework is based on the experience and insights of Brett Simpson, Managing Director of Elevate Simply, over his 20+ years of leadership in large and small organizations, and as an entrepreneur, advisor and investor.