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 

Redefining Work-Life Balance

The Changing Nature of Work

How we work is changing. Technology is ushering in new possibilities. New generations enter the workforce with different expectations. With all the changes in play, there are some things that stay the same: the desire for fulfillment and purpose, the need to balance the professional with the personal.

Mason Donovan tackles these challenges in his new book, The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce. Mason is managing partner at The Dagoba Group, a New England-based diversity and inclusion consultancy. I had the opportunity to ask him about the changing nature of work, including generational changes, balance, mindfulness, and inclusion efforts.

 

Success Tip: Balance improves your relationships, satisfaction and productivity.

 

Achieve Greater Satisfaction with Balance

Is work-life balance possible? Why is it so important?

Work-life balance is possible.  There are a lot of gurus out there that say it is not in order to capture your attention in this crowded field.  Emphasis is on the word balance.  If you ever walked on a high beam or anything else in which you needed to physically balance yourself, you most likely fell off a few times.  Your balance will fall off to one side or the other.  It is important that you anticipate for these moments of imbalance, so you have a plan to get up.

Achieving balance will make you more productive in and out of the workplace.  It will enrich your relationships and allow you to achieve greater satisfaction in life.

 

“Alignment of purpose allows for the elimination of distractions.” -Mason Donovan

 

How is finding your purpose related to achieving balance?

In the book, I tell the story of executives on an interpersonal retreat climbing a mountain.  Their primary purpose was to reach the summit without talking about business.  The objective was for them to get to know each other better personally and share an accomplishment.  Without spoiling the story, their original goal is interrupted because they lost their purpose.

In order to know where you are going in life, it is important to understand why you are going there.  Work-life balance is no exception.  Only a handful of people actually stop and reflect on why they get up every day to spend the majority of their waking life in an organization.  When that somewhat simple-but-necessary reflection does not take place, you will default to acquiring things and making money, which almost inevitably leads to the golden handcuffs phenomenon.  You work more because you have to make more money.  You make more money so you can acquire things that require you to work more.

There has been a societal shift in why individuals engage in work.  Part of that shift is due to generational changes, while for others it was their awakening due to the Great Recession.  Aligning your personal purpose in life with your work and organizational purpose will help you eliminate all of the noise that does not fit that purpose.  Balance comes from awareness.  In The Golden Apple, I provide simple exercises to not only develop, but also align your purpose at each level.

 

“Work is not a four-letter word.” -Mason Donovan

 

Understand Generational Change

What are you finding in terms of generational changes? What are the new generations demanding at work? What’s the best way for current leaders to respond?

It is important to note that we are all unique individuals but are influenced by our shared group memberships such as our generation.  Clumping everyone together and solely defining them by generational attitudes can overgeneralize any particular person.  It is helpful to understand the influence of generational membership, which will give you a starting point when discovering their individuality.The Golden Apple

Each generational cohort has a defining moment in the shaping of their shared psyche.  When it comes to employment, for Generation X it was the broken promise of the organizational loyalty which fostered the cradle to grave jobs their parents subscribed to.  Millennials were highly influenced by the Great Recession which ushered in massive layoffs, foreclosures and lowered career expectations.  These defining moments create a collective influence on how cohorts view the work-life equation.

PwC’s NextGen study uncovered a generational shift when it came to work and personal engagement for their Millennial population.  Uncovering this shift was important to them since by the year 2020, they expect that fully 80% of their employees will be Millennials.  In short they found this group was far less likely to give up their personal life today for the prospect of a partnership down the road.  The value structure was shifting more towards experiences than acquiring things.

Interesting to note is how this new value structure is also being reflected in Baby Boomers.  The Great Recession robbed them of the ability to retire early as they saw their investments fail.  It required them to reassess what they valued in life: time or things.  Most have decided to choose to have life experiences in the time they have remaining.  Downsizing acquisitions and upsizing experiences has become the trend for this generation.

Leaders need to better understand the value they offer to their current and future employees.  By integrating work-life balance into their overall package, they will increase engagement and retention.  They should look at this challenge through a holistic lens so they do not perceive it simply as a specific generational or gender issue.  Policies and practices should be geared towards an inclusive solution that impacts the overall workforce.

 

Study: long working hours made 58% more irritable and over 25% depressed.

 

Mindful Practices