The Power of Clarity

Are our managers weighed down by doubts about their roles and the organization’s purposes? Simple clarity can help release powerful performance.

I was reminded again last week how important it is for organizations to communicate clear roles and purposes.  Simply knowing where the organization is going and what it expects of you dramatically affects how you feel about—and how you do—your job.  So simple … and so easy to forget.

The Situation

As I was helping a group of front-line supervisors implement a new performance evaluation system, the question of “trust” kept coming up.  At first, it was difficult to get a handle on what exactly the issue was.  I kept talking about how the system would free them to coach, mentor, and support their employees—and they kept asking, “Really?”

The system itself was pretty simple, so I was confused, until it finally became clear that they weren’t questioning the system—only their role in it.  The “really” was, “Are you sure that the organization really wants us spending our time coaching and mentoring? They’re really going to let us do that?”

Clearly there was some emotional baggage to overcome before any new system could take hold.

The History

In the last ten or so years, they had experienced a number of short-term leaders.  With each new leader—some more communicative than others—the role of the front-line supervisor had shifted, leaving them confused and dispirited.  The common theme, in the supervisors’ perception, had been decisions got made at the top, without much explanation of the why’s and wherefores. They weren’t sure what they were expected to do—if they were expected to do anything at all.  So, they focused on their “day job,” serving customers with skill and joy, and tried to put aside questions of “why” for another day.

The Breakthrough

As much as I tried to convince them that current management really wanted them to coach and mentor their employees, they weren’t convinced.  Then we did an exercise that broke the log jam.  I put a chart on the whiteboard similar to the one below and asked them to mark where they felt the organization’s culture stood on each of the continuums. Approaching the board one by one, there was a sense of anticipation … and when they stepped back and saw the results, a sense of catharsis.

“Yes, that’s the problem,” they agreed.  Most of the marks were on the left (negative) side of each continuum. That was the problem—but what was the solution?

Before I could offer a response, one of the participants spoke up … and we had our “a-ha” moment.  They said softly at first, then with more conviction, “You know … if we move two of the levers, probably most of the other items shift to the right along with them.”

The Solution

He was pointing to “clear direction” and “clear reasons.” With clarity of roles–and clear explanations as to why certain decisions were made and actions taken– could come trust.   Indeed. We had our solution.

It is much easier said than done, of course—because it takes consistent action, not a one-time speech. But, if an organization can communicate clear roles and reasons to managers and employees, it can likely move many of its needles that may be pointing to the negative back to the positive.

So simple … and so easy to forget.

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