The word “triage” is derived from the French word “trier,” which means to separate or select. When hospitals triage patients, they rank and treat them in order of the severity of their conditions. In the business setting, a business triage involves the allocation of resources in the most effective way possible.

Triage is especially useful for small and growing businesses that have finite resources, particularly when it comes to both money and manpower. Triage also helps ensure that business decisions are guided by critical thinking rather than emotion. When small business owners are overwhelmed, it can be easy to make a knee-jerk decision rather than a logical one.

By way of example, consider a small business that suddenly discovers that sales have plummeted over the past several months. In order to cover expenses, the owners clearly must take steps to increase profits. But where to start? The easiest choice may be to secure a loan and worry about how to pay it back later. But that solution ignores the big picture and fails to address the underlying problem. In the medical setting, the decision would be akin to giving a patient heart medication, without determining what may be causing the symptoms.

The better solution is to triage the problem. Analyze all the aspects of the sales process to determine the potential issues that could be contributing to the sudden drop and then rank the potential solutions in terms of feasibility, cost, effect and time requirements. Often,  there is a short-term fix that can be implemented while the business focuses on large-scale projects. For instance, if poor online sales are part of the problem, decreasing high shipping costs for the customer may boost sales while the company works to improve the overall online shopping experience.

The concept of business triage is also effective when a start-up or other small company receives a sudden influx of cash. It forces businesses owners to analyze the big picture and critically consider where resources can do the most good in terms of hiring more employees, launching a marketing campaign, working to develop a new product, etc. Of course, in order to make the most effective use of the triage process, you also need to collect data on key aspects of the company. Just like in the medical setting, it is much easier to make a logical and well-reasoned decision once you have all of the facts.