Whether it is in life or leadership, for-profits or not-for-profits, having a clear view of what we are about and where we are going is invaluable. One of the leading voices on organizational leadership of this generation, Patrick Lencioni, in his capstone and best-selling book, The Advantage, allocates the majority of his book to the topic of clarity. His four disciplines include:
- Build a Cohesive Team
- Create Clarity
- Over Communicate Clarity
- Reinforce Clarity
In my work with strategic planning with organizations, I ask four questions:
- Where do you want to go or become?
- What do you value?
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How are you progressing?
My experience is that most organizations struggle with clarity on these important and strategic topics. For example, this summer I was working with a large non-profit organization. The first day I had lunch with the most senior leader who was not the CEO. I asked him about the most strategic priorities of the organization. He said that he really couldn’t identify what they were. The next day, I had lunch with the CEO. I asked him the same question. He listed three or four things. I asked him if he felt like his senior team was very clear on this. He said that the clarity was very high. You can see the problem. Here are some topics related to clarity that may help your organization and mine.
A key component of clarity is developing focus. Focus is collaboratively answering and agreeing on the first three high-level questions that were mentioned above:
- Where do you want to go or what do we want to become? (Vision)
- What do you value? (Values)
- What do you want to accomplish and/or change? (Strategic Objectives)
While this list is short and may seem simple, many organizations struggle with bringing this level of focus. Here are three common problems:
- The work is never done to clarify these questions.
- A CEO, small leadership team, and/or board answer these questions, but buy-in across the organization is never achieved.
- The clarity that is achieved is momentary and not sustained in the life of the organization.
I want to encourage every organization to give important attention to focus. The dividends it pays are well-worth the effort. One of the practices we have at Crown College is to take a one day every month, a strategy off-site day, to focus on our strategic themes and how we can see them lived out within the life of the organization.
Once significant focus is achieved, alignment is much easier. Alignment is about moving our people and efforts in the same direction and is intimately connected with clarity. Lencioni writes, “Within the context of making an organization healthy, alignment is about creating so much clarity that there is as little room as possible for confusion, disorder, and infighting to set in. Of course, the responsibility for creating that clarity lies squarely with the leadership team.” We can grow alignment by:
- Making sure that our primary organizational attention is given to our primary vision, values, and strategic objectives
- Hiring personnel to meet our most strategic needs
- Evaluating staff effectiveness in light of our strategic priorities
- Allocating resources in light of our strategic priorities
- Giving significant board time and attention to our strategic priorities
Lencioni writes “Assuming that there is agreement around the benefits of clarity and alignment, the next logical question would be, “How do we go about achieving it?” Over-communicating. He goes on to write:
Once a leadership team has become cohesive and worked to establish clarity and alignment around the answers to the six critical questions, then, and only then, can they effectively move on to the next step: communicating those answers. Or better yet, overcommunicating those answers—over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. That’s right. Seven times. I’ve heard claims that employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they’ve heard it seven times. Whether the real number is five, seven, or seventy-seven, the point is that people are skeptical about what they’re being told unless they hear it consistently over time.
One of my favorite authors, John Kotter, writes in his landmark Harvard Business Review article, Leading Change, “Error 4: Under-communicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten.” To move ahead on clarity and alignment, we must consistently over-communicate. Here is a simple plan that I have used for years to illustrate the point. Choose five modalities of communication such as print, meetings, emails, videos, etc. Then use each modalities 5x over a span of time. If you use five modalities five times each, you will reach 50% of the people in an organization. I know it may seem discouraging, but it emphasizes how much work needs to go into communication of our strategic future.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to clarity. It is hard work. However, in this day of the new normal, it is imperative that effective organizations find remarkable clarity which is possible through focus, alignment, and over-communication.
Lencioni, Patrick M. (2012-03-14). The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business (p. 141). John Wiley and Sons.