What if everyone in your company was doing their best work? It sounds like a dream, but it’s not actually as out of reach as you might think. That’s not to say it’s easy…Supporting people in doing their best work is a multifaceted, ongoing practice. Our thoughts on this are centered in a strong belief that most people want to do their best, and if you only listen to what they’re asking for, and give it to them, you’ll see a superhuman effort that will directly impact your company’s bottom line. In this piece, we want to spend some time on one of the top asks we hear from people at all levels in organizations we’ve worked with: Clarity. Let’s dive into what a healthy clarity practice looks like in an organization, and how it unlocks human potential in business.
The message at the center of it all
People in your company want to hear and see a clear message about why your company exists, what you stand for, who you serve, where you’re hoping to go, and how you’ll know you’ve gotten there. In other words, your mission, vision, values, strategies, and measurable objectives. The first person who needs clarity on these things is you, the leader. If you’re the one making the decisions, are you clear enough on these topics (at least at a high level) that you could write them down without too much trouble? If not, it may be time to set aside time on your own or with your team to put some stakes in the ground.
With clarity, decisionmaking can happen more quickly, and in an aligned way that builds momentum toward your vision. It’s still not easy, but you have a rubric to start with. When facing a decision, you can ask questions like “Does this align with what we stand for? Is it right for our customer? Does it help us get where we want to go?”
While major decisions and prioritization are obviously part of the CEO’s job description, you may be surprised to know how much time the rest of your organization also spends making decisions. And, depending on the level of clarity they get from you, this adds up to either major productivity, or a lot of wasted energy. Simply being clear on the central messages is a great start, but people need to hear, see, and interact with these messages often. Through an active and intentional approach to clarity, the clear messages from the C-Suite can become “the way we do things around here.”
What does this mean for ME?
Any time a message is issued from the center (a major announcement, a new strategy, a mission statement, etc.), people’s first instinct is to question what it means for them and their role. Many leaders assume that this is out of self centeredness, but in fact, it’s not. It’s because people need to make sense of the messages they hear so that they can alter their decision-making framework accordingly. Every person’s workday is filled with an immense number of decisions, many of them about how to prioritize which activities get done, or not done. The clearer their understanding of organizational priorities and values, and their own role in bringing those to fruition, the easier and faster it is for them to stay engaged and make decisions that are right for your organization.
Of course, It’s not always possible to provide the level of up-front detail each person needs, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a PLAN for each individual to get the ongoing clarity they require, when they need it. How do people get clarity in your organization? Do they have easy access to a manager or someone else in the organization who is designated to help get them the information they need, prioritize their work, or get clear feedback on whether their efforts are aligned and valued? Do they go to a trusted coworker to help them read between the lines? Or do they create their own story to operate from?
Without clarity, it’s possible that even a highly talented, resourceful, and creative employee can operate completely out of alignment even if they are genuinely doing their best. So, a thoughtful approach to the “live” information network available to employees will give you the best chance at having more of your workforce productively engaged, more of the time.
How am I doing?
Take it from Brene Brown: Clear is Kind when it comes to feedback. We’ve talked about being clear when it comes to your mission, vision, values, and priorities. A final level of clarity that is critical in organizations is clear feedback. Once people have absorbed a message from the center, and made decisions about how to do their job accordingly, they need to find out if they made the right decisions, and produced the right results. Most often, this is more about alignment than it is about “good” or “bad” work.
Focus on telling people where they hit the mark, and where they can adjust their approach next time. Let them know why you hold certain standards. You could say things like “This was excellent work, but delivering on time is extraordinarily important to us and our clients, so moving forward you should prioritize on-time delivery over perfection.” Or “While your email was factually correct, let me show you a different way to phrase this that is better aligned with our value of partnership with clients.” Consistent feedback leads to consistent adjustments, resulting either in drastic improvement, or a mutual understanding that someone is incapable of meeting the requirements of their role.
Clarity unlocks human potential.
Creating a strong clarity practice requires an up-front investment of time and energy from leaders, but it also eliminates confusion, which means avoiding a lot of wasted energy down the road. It lets people use their creative and critical thinking for the most important challenges your organization is facing, instead of in trying to discern what leaders want, and what the organization needs from them. It makes meetings more productive, because collaborative time can be spent problem solving instead of debating about what direction to go. It helps individuals feel confident about what they’re doing, which makes them happier and more productive. When you make a commitment to clarity, you’re ultimately making a commitment to the success of your company, your people, and yourself.