Clarity: How Smart Leaders Achieve Outstanding Performance

clarity

Achieve Outstanding Performance

Lean management expert Karen Martin tackles the problem so many organizations and leaders face: a lack of clarity. In her new book, Clarity First: How Smart Leaders and Organizations Achieve Outstanding Performance, she gives specific recommendations on how to improve clarity and thus your overall performance.

The book helps leaders identify the organization’s purpose, set priorities, and build problem solving capabilities while developing personal clarity to be a more effective leader.

I recently spoke with Karen about the importance of clarity and the role it plays in leadership and organizational success.

 

“Clarity, in contrast, feeds an organization in the same way that fertilizer feeds soil.” -Karen Martin

 

The Importance of Clarity

What are some of the effects of a lack of clarity?

Lack of clarity touches organizations in small, daily ways and in large ways that introduce risks to customer satisfaction, the employee experience, the balance sheet, and compliance. An example of a “small” issue might be a customer problem that remains unsolved because no one knows who owns it. Larger problems brew when various parts of an organization work at cross purposes from each other. In the end, a lack of clarity often results in runaway expenses, market share loss, high turnover, and sluggish innovation, to name a few.

Those outcomes are often caused or at least exacerbated by the incremental accumulation of ambiguity about work that happens closer to the customer. For instance, a lack of clarity about customer requirements result in products that don’t meet true customer needs. It results in poorly designed and poorly managed processes that require heroics to execute. It results in excessive rework or productivity-sapping time spent clarifying what should have been clear to begin with. In a low-clarity environment, margin and morale erode because people do work that doesn’t fit together and doesn’t move the organization toward a common performance goal.

Clarity, in contrast, feeds an organization in the same way that fertilizer feeds soil. It nourishes everything visible, as well all the quiet and invisible activities that take place out of sight to make an organization outstanding, such as decision making. When you have it, there is greater alignment, greater collaboration, higher levels of innovation, and so on. When you don’t have it, everything becomes stressed to the point that even basic decisions require more effort that they should need.

Imagine you are leading an organization filled with well-meaning and talented people in a growing industry, but you haven’t developed a culture where everyone values holding clarity front-and-center in everything they do—foundational clarity like: why you are in business, what the organization’s top priorities are, how the organization is performing both operationally and financially, and the level of performance it wants to achieve, and other important questions that drive organizational alignment and outstanding performance. Without clarity on these issues, in the near-immediate term, the relationship between the organization and its people begins to break down. Team members begin to feel unsure that their work produces customer value or contributes to organizational success. Such uncertainty leads to frustration, low morale, and eventual disengagement, creating low productivity, talent turnover, poor customer service, loss of market share, eroded margins, and so on.

To be clear, I emphasize words such as everyone and everything because clarity requires it. Leaders are in a privileged role. You may feel that you DO have clarity. But if your direct reports don’t, or if their beliefs about the priorities of the organization are different from those of the peers they work with on a daily basis, then the organization as a whole lacks clarity even if there are pockets of clarity here and there.

 

“Purpose is your why. Why does your organization exist? Why do you deliver the particular goods or services that you do?” -Karen Martin

 

Six P’s of Organizational Clarity 

5 Steps to Your Best Year Ever

Michael Hyatt Best Year Ever

Your Best Year Ever

Michael Hyatt’s new book, Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals, arrived at just the right time for me. I’m in the middle of my contemplative period, the time at the end of the year when I review how things went and look forward into the next.

What do I want to continue? To stop? To start?

Where am I frustrated and stuck? Where am I effective and seemingly unstoppable?

It’s a process I’ve gone through most of my life.

This year it seemed I need a boost, a grounding, something to spur on my thinking.

That’s when the delivery arrived. I knew immediately what it was from the packaging. Michael is a close friend, and he sent the book ahead of its release as an early gift. Of course, I already pre-ordered the book, so now I will have two copies, which is perfect. It’s a book I will be buying for others to spread its message.

It’s hard to describe the book. Knowing Michael, I expected a goal-setting system, but it’s far more than that. It is filled with research and stories that I found extraordinarily motivational.

The five steps are deceptively simple:

  1. Believe the possibility.
  2. Complete the past.
  3. Design your future.
  4. Find your why.
  5. Make it happen.

 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

 

“Goals poorly formulated are goals easily forgotten.” -@MichaelHyatt

“When we focus on belief improvement, often our circumstances follow suit.” -@MichaelHyatt

“The first key difference between an unmet goal and personal success is the belief that it can be achieved.” -@MichaelHyatt

“The best way to overcome limiting beliefs is to replace them with liberating truths.” -@MichaelHyatt

“Upgrading your beliefs is the first step toward experiencing your best year ever.” -@MichaelHyatt

“The only people with no hope are those with no regrets.” -@MichaelHyatt

“Gratitude has the potential to amplify everything good in our lives.” -@MichaelHyatt

A Leader’s Role in Achieving Excellence in Execution

Leadership execution
This is a guest post by Robin Speculand, author of Excellence in Execution: How to Implement Your Strategy. Robin is the founder and CEO of Bridges Business Consultancy and creator of the Implementation Hub.

Don’t Lead by Example

To guide an organization through the execution of its strategy, leaders… don’t lead by example.

In strategy execution, leaders are responsible for driving the strategy forward and championing the direction the organization is heading. This involves, for example, reviewing progress, coaching people, resolving issues, and ensuring the right outcomes are being achieved. Leaders don’t lead by example as they don’t implement strategy; their employees do.

Before you even start your strategy execution, the odds are stacked against you as more fail than succeed. I have seen from my seventeen years consulting in this field that leaders are guilty of delegating the execution and not paying adequate attention to it. When leaders do this, their people also stop paying attention to it. McKinsey & Company stated that, “Half of all efforts to transform organization performance fail either because leaders don’t act as role models for change or because people in the organization defend the status quo.”

 

Show Confidence in the Strategy

If leaders perceive execution as an interruption to the business, they will not drive and champion it.

Anything short of embracing a new strategy and its execution by leaders can be seen by employees as a lack of confidence in the strategy itself. That feeling will spread throughout the organization.

  • If you only apply lip service to the execution without championing it, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t create the time to oversee the implementation journey, change the agenda and explain why the organization needs to transform, then employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.
  • If you don’t set the strategy and create the budget to allocate required funding, employees will sense the lack of commitment and not step up; the execution will fail.

 

Booz and Co. Survey: 53% don’t believe their company’s strategy will lead to success.

 

A key question to consider is:What are you willing to do to execute your organization’s strategy?”

In contrast, strategy execution progresses when leaders support their comments with time and actions. Because only so much can go on a leader’s radar, he or she has to carefully select which actions will best drive the execution forward and where to invest their time.

Booz & Company surveyed executives from around the world on the results of their organizations’ strategic initiatives. Given more than 2,350 responses, the findings suggest a high degree of disillusionment, including:

  • Two-thirds (67%) say their company’s capabilities do not fully support the company’s own strategy and the way it creates value in the market.
  • Only one in five executives (21%) thinks the company has a “right to win” in all the markets it competes in.
  • Most of the respondents (53%) don’t believe their company’s strategy would lead to success.

If leaders don’t believe in the strategy, they will never be authentic and sincere in executing it.

 

PWC Survey: 55% of CEO’s state lack of trust is a major threat to growth.

 

Demonstrate Increased Commitment

12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

Today’s Marketing Leaders

Today, many marketing leaders report that they are having less impact and are not satisfied in their jobs. That may be somewhat surprising since marketing methods and capabilities are in the midst of exciting changes and the opportunities are like never before.

 

Research: only 44% of marketing leaders satisfied with career.

 

Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey Partner, and Patrick Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Management and Marketing at London Business School, just conducted the most extensive research ever on what drives marketers’ business impact and career success. What drives impact? What does it take to thrive in marketing today? With data spanning 170 countries and over 8,600 leaders, Thomas and Paddy distilled the results into what it really takes to drive customer and company value.

Thomas and Paddy recently shared more with me about their new book, The 12 Powers of A Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value, and the extensive research behind their findings.

 

“When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘we did it ourselves.” -Lao Tzu

 

Your research revealed that most senior marketers aren’t satisfied with their career paths. Why not? What’s different for them than they expected?

12 Powers of a Marketing LeaderThat’s right. Only 44% of marketers are satisfied with their careers—and in the 360-degree data, marketers’ bosses, when comparing the career success of all their direct reports, put them last. We think there are two reasons. First, as customer experts, they likely think they should have more influence on key business decisions rather than being limited to decisions on advertising and promotion. Recent research by Frank Germann, Peter Ebbs and Rajdeep Grewal shows that they’re right: having a CMO in the C-suite and having an influential marketing department do help companies become more customer-focused, increasing business performance. Secondly, they lack job security. While average S&P 500 CEO tenure is six years plus, average US CMO tenure is only four years and possibly decreasing: search firm Spencer Stuart recently reported it was down to forty-four months in 2015.

 


“Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.” -Warren Bennis

 

Balance Leadership and Functional Skills

You say that leadership skills matter more than technical marketing skills. I passionately agree. Is there a certain time when this matters more in a career? How do marketers balance the constant need to stay up with new technologies with the need to learn leadership skills? 

Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing, and many marketers underinvest in leadership skills.

As a junior marketer, most of your effort will inevitably go into becoming excellent in the particular technical area you’re working on. As you become more senior, you have to achieve more through other people. But at all stages, it’s important to keep developing your broader business and leadership skills.

Our evidence is that many, perhaps most, senior marketers are getting so sucked into the ever-changing technical issues that they lose sight of the bigger picture and the need to build and mobilize a great team, keep it aligned around the CEO’s agenda, spend time with their non-marketing colleagues who mainly determine the quality of the customer experience, and so on.

Patrick Barwise Patrick Barwise

As a senior marketer, you should aim to be a leader of leaders. You need enough understanding of the latest technical developments to hire the best people, mobilize them, align them with the strategy, and constructively challenge them when necessary. But your main role isn’t to try to keep fully up to speed on the technicalities (an impossible task); it’s to ensure that, as a group, the team contributes as much as possible to the development and execution of the strategy. Crucially, that includes mobilizing your boss and your non-marketing colleagues as well as your team (and yourself).

Functional skills and leadership skills matter. Getting the balance right is a big challenge, but really important for both marketing and the company.

 


“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” -Joss Whedon

 

Take a 360 Degree View of Leadership

You distill your findings into 12 traits that drive success, and you put them in 4 categories (boss, colleagues, team, yourself). That’s basically an internal 360 degree view from where you sit in an organization. What are some of the symptoms that demonstrate you have it wrong, e.g., you’re focusing too much on the boss and not enough on the team or otherwise have your balance out of whack?

That’s exactly right about the 360 degree view. Our beef with most work on leadership is that it’s only about managing your subordinates and perhaps yourself. But most leaders – in fact, everyone up to CXO level – also need to manage their relationships with their colleagues and bosses. The traditional picture of leadership is incomplete except for perhaps the CEO – and even the CEO is accountable to the chairman and the board.

The main way in which senior marketers get this balance wrong is by spending most of their time inside the marketing department managing the team’s activities rather than walking the halls to energize everyone around the customer agenda. The symptoms are that non-marketers in these companies will likely say: “Marketing is a silo,” while the marketers will refer to themselves as something like “the coloring-in department” – that is, limited to advertising and promotion, with little influence on the company’s products, prices, distribution, service support, etc.

 

The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader

  1. Tackle only big issues
  2. Deliver returns, no matter what
  3. Work only with the best
  4. Hit the head and the heart
  5. Walk the halls
  6. You go first
  7. Get the mix right
  8. Cover them in trust
  9. Let the outcomes speak
  10. Fall in love with your world
  11. Know how you inspire
  12. Aim higher

 

Cover Them With Trust

I appreciate your chapter Cover Them with Trust. Talk about trust – what steps should a leader take to build trust?

Tomas Barta Tomas Barta

To build trust within the team, leaders need to go beyond professionalism (knowing a lot, being reliable, and so on) and our key recommendation to get people to “ask for forgiveness, not permission.” People like strong leaders who trust them and genuinely listen to their ideas and concerns, but they also want to know the real person behind the business leader. That’s why, at times, it’s critical to be willing to show weakness, too. Michelle Peluso, former CEO of online shopping site Gilt, for example, shared her own 360-degree assessments with her team and asked for help. You can’t put a value on that. Conversely, having and showing a big ego destroys trust. So make your corner office the team room. Praise people. Take one for the team at times.

 

“A big ego destroys trust.”

 

The 4 Most Important Powers