The following is an excerpt from Clarity First by Karen Martin
I’ve been examining the question of why clarity isn’t more common for decades, and the most distilled answer I have come to is that clarity is rare because it requires a lot more short-term work than does ambiguity. There’s no way around it. Defining everything, from why your organization exists and what its priorities are, to how people must operate based on their clearly defined role, requires time and effort so that everyone understands the fundamentals and is working together to point in the same direction. Considering that it can take two people half a day to get clear on a question as trivial as what to eat for dinner, it’s no wonder that many feel that the complexity of the organizational environment makes clarity seem impossible.
Which highlights another reason why clarity is so rare: because it’s easy to rationalize why you don’t have it. Uncertainty and complexity are facts of life and business. You will never know everything, and you are going to have to make the best decision you can anyway. Knowing that, people get trapped in a “we don’t know and we can’t possibly know” mindset. They confuse clarity with certainty or simplicity, and since they can’t have the latter two they eschew the former as well. Such victim-like thinking can lead organizations to reject new ideas. Alternatively, they might jump on the bandwagon of a hot new product without defining what the organization brings to that market and what it hopes to get out of it. In either case, the organization is not positioned as well as it could be for outstanding performance.
I’ve also heard organizations justify ambiguity as necessary for creative work. The education scholar Laurence Peter reportedly quipped, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” The implication is that you need to allow for some disorder if you hope to achieve something great. Tim Harford, author of the New York Times bestseller Messy, posits as well that creativity, innovation, and other types of performance are aided by some degree of messiness. People who operate in methodical ways or according to established norms, in contrast, may become constrained by them and fail to reach the highest levels of performance.
But here, again, the tendency is to falsely equate mess with ambiguity, just as people equate certainty with clarity. Mess and ambiguity are not equivalents. They are peers. You can have a messy situation with many moving parts and utmost flexibility about how to explore it, and you can have complete ambiguity about why you are in that situation and what you hope to change about it. Alternatively, you can have that same messy situation and the same flexibility alongside clarity about why you are there and what—in general terms—you hope to accomplish. Ambiguity makes any kind of work harder to do, but it almost guarantees a disaster when it comes to messy work. Clarity, in contrast, makes messy work easier and more productive.
Take problem solving and innovation. Both are messy. Both types of work put teams in a proverbial house of mirrors in which they have to try doors to see which ones open and what lies within. If teams do not enter the house with clear inputs in the form of current-state facts or customer requirements, they’ll have no way of knowing if a pathway or a discovery is useful. Clear inputs are enablers of effective creativity, and clear outputs are required for creative work to be properly appreciated and used.
Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc., is a leading authority on business performance and Lean management. Her latest book, Clarity First, is her most provocative to date and diagnoses the ubiquitous business management and leadership problem―the lack of clarity―and outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational performance.
Employees are looking for more than a numbers-focused culture, we need to focus more on our people...and focus on them first!
The long-term performance of our organizations is predicated on our ability to grow our people, to give them opportunities to develop, and to recognize that the success of yesterday doesn't predict the success of tomorrow.
In this podcast, Lisa Spinelli and I discuss what happens when organizations focus on numbers before people, and how we might shift to a more people- or developmentally-focused culture.
I So Don’t Like Feedback
By Cheri Torres
People are often hesitant to both give and receive feedback because it is typically critical. If we are the judge or critic, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings—so we withhold information that could help them. If we are the recipient, we don’t want to feel criticized or wrong—so we don’t seek out feedback and lose valuable information that could help us. So, what to do?
Give feedforward instead. Feedforward focuses on two things: (1) providing feedback about strengths—what we like about something; and (2) suggestions for making it even better—ideas for improvement. It’s easier to give feedforward, because you are acknowledging strengths and simply making suggestions for improvement. It’s easier to ask for and receive feedforward, because some of your work or efforts are affirmed and you receive valuable input about how to make things even stronger or better.
If you need to have a conversation where you talk about critical information, create a positive frame for the interaction. What is your intent for the conversation? What’s the outcome you are hoping for? For example: if the person is late for meetings or deadlines, the positive outcome might be a team that can trust and depend upon one another, which includes meeting deadlines and being on time.
When you turn your feedback into feedforward and conversations worth having, you discover that you enjoy giving feedback and that seeking feedback actually enlivens you. There is nothing like having people support you in being the best you can be. So be open—ask for feedforward!
About Cheri Torres:
Cheri Torres, Ph.D. brings the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, design thinking, and an ecological worldview to communities and organizations striving for sustainable growth. Her work facilitates learning, innovation, and dynamic interpersonal relationships capable of achieving remarkable outcomes. Cheri has worked with diverse communities across the globe, from public schools and community organizations to corporations and government entities, to elevate their strengths and broaden their capacity for collaboration and collective intelligence. She has trained thousands of trainers and teachers in the use and practice of Appreciative Inquiry and Experiential Learning, with a particular focus on leadership development, teamwork, creativity, and sustainable collaboration.
She has authored or co-authored numerous books and articles, the newest of which is Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement co-authored with Jackie Stavros.
The word organization comes from the Latin word organum, meaning “system or instrument.” You might wonder how one word could have such seemingly different meanings. An organization is a complex system. It works like an instrument that needs to be tuned to other instruments in the same orchestra. In the beginning of every classical orchestra concert (much to my daughter’s boredom, I often try to take her to Utah Symphony concerts), the concertmaster, the leader of the first-violin players, always plays the A note as a cue to all the musicians in the orchestra to tune their instruments to the same pitch, no doubt an effort to produce coherence. Members of a system must be tuned to each other to achieve its maximum potential.
In much the same recursive way, an organization’s response to change brings about another change in the environment and in people, which induces yet further change in the organization. Organizations are living systems made of people who are complex systems themselves. Members of an organization must be attuned to one other so that an optimal response can be given to signals from another, maximizing the constructive interference of positive energy that builds connection.
Interdependence and corporate responsibilities
This interdependent nature of complex systems highlights the importance of corporate social responsibility and doing business in a sustainable, ethical manner within the context of the system’s environment. An organization must be conscious of the environment in which it operates, as well as other subsystems that share the same ecosystem (such as customers, suppliers, and business partners), which in turn influence and are influenced by the organization.
PepsiCo has a corporate strategy consistent with this principle. It’s called “Performance with Purpose” and has three cornerstones: human sustainability for how to nourish people with healthier, more nutritious snacks; environmental sustainability to replenish the earth by conserving water and reducing waste and environmental impact; and talent sustainability to cherish and develop its people. Of course, it is focused on delivering financial results as the number one goal, but CEO Indra Nooyi clarifies that PepsiCo wants to achieve its goal “in a way that is sustainable over time and in a manner responsible and responsive to the needs of the community all of us share.” Its philosophy is encapsulated in its belief that doing the right thing for society is the right thing for business.
Another example is Overstock’s Worldstock Fair Trade. In the thirteen years since it began the program, Overstock, an online outlet megastore, has purchased more than $120 million worth of inventory directly from artisans living in very poor countries. By cutting out the middleman, 60 to 70 percent of the sales price is returned to the artisan, making a huge difference in the quality of the lives of the artisans, their families, and their communities. Overstock has used net profits generated from this program to fund philanthropic causes in several countries. Furthermore, Worldstock sends all items through carbon-neutral shipping, contributing to sustainability of the earth. We thrive when we create symbiosis with the environment, because we are interdependent with all other living organisms who share the same ecosystem with us. Corporate greed without regards to coevolution with others is not only bad for PR and brand image but produces suboptimal results for radical innovation.
About Dr. Sunnie Giles:
Dr. Sunnie Giles is a new generation expert who catalyzes organizations to produce radical innovation by harnessing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).
Her research reveals that applying concepts from neuroscience, complex systems approach, and quantum mechanics can produce radical innovation consistently. Her expertise is based on years as an executive with Accenture, IBM and Samsung. Her profound, science-backed insight is encapsulated in her leadership development program, Quantum Leadership.
An advisor to the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, she also is a sought-after speaker and expert source, having been quoted in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Forbes, and Inc.
Dr. Giles’ latest book, The New Science of Radical Innovation, provides a clear process for radical innovation that produces 10x improvements and has been endorsed prominent industry leaders such as Jonathan Rosenberg, Daniel Pink, Marshall Goldsmith and Sean Covey.
The underlying premise of the Courage Way is that we all have a trustworthy source of inner wisdom that informs our lives and leadership. It is our identity and integrity, the sum of our shadows and light, our true self. Without knowing our true self, we cannot be an authentic leader.
True self is not defined by your resume, although that may hold some clues. How do you access what literary critic Maria Popova calls “the seismic core of personhood”? For some people, the idea of true self (however named) is already part of their lexicon or religious tradition. That wasn’t the case for a leader named Ed. When he learned to reflect on his leadership path and carve out more time to clear his head, he didn’t describe it as caring for true self or soul, but that he did so was vital to his leadership. He describes the experience as “inner space exploration.”
“There’s so much depth within us. Our brains are like a whole space system, a galaxy in and of themselves. Not just the neural connections and the complexity. There is so much to explore just within ourselves, but we generally don’t do that, and [self-realization] is almost just a happy by-product. That inner exploration is very useful for leading.”
Other leaders agree. One said, “Understanding that every person has an inner teacher radically changed my life. It was powerful to begin viewing each person and myself as creative, resourceful, and whole, and learning to trust and believe in that first.” She sees leadership as helping people find that inner source of power and empowerment.
An education leader explained that she recognizes true self by rereading the journals she’s kept since she was eighteen, where she can see common threads running through her life: “The themes are the same, the dreams are the same, the core of who I am is the same. I may be of a different age, be in a different job, or live in a different place, but my inner teacher is always there with me reminding me (sometimes less gently than others) of who I am, what I stand for, and whether or not I am being true to my essence.”
Some leaders say they can recognize when true self shows up by the way they feel in their body. One woman told me, “It’s like connecting to some source. There’s an energy and a power to it. And peace. Even if it’s scary, it’s so certain. It feels like ‘This is right.’ And it usually happens in public (though sometimes it’s happened in my writing) when there’s some risk involved. That full alignment doesn’t happen all that often. That’s why it’s so amazing when it does. I might feel 75 percent aligned most of the time, but not completely.”
It’s notable that this leader says that true self appears when risk is involved. That is where true self and courage connect. What if courage is the life force that animates you in moments of decision and action? As this book unfolds, keep an eye out for moments of courage and see if you notice how true self is there, too.
I mean the soul simply as shorthand for the seismic core of personhood from which our beliefs, our values, and our actions radiate.
About Shelly L. Francis
Shelly L. Francis has been the marketing and communications director at the Center for Courage & Renewal since mid-2012. Before coming to the Center, Shelly directed trade marketing and publicity for multi-media publisher Sounds True, Inc. Her career has spanned international program management, web design, corporate communications, trade journals, and software manuals.
The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.
Excited to get into this one over the weekend! #ServantLeadership #leadership #people1st #ServeYourPeople #LeadershipDevelopment #LeadersAreReaders
Four Causes of Unproductive Meetings and What to Do About Them
a guest post from Dick Axelrod
1. Unclear Purpose
Meeting participants are unclear about the purpose of the meeting or what they want to accomplish. Before holding a meeting, ask yourself what you want to be different for yourself, the participants, and the organization as a result of holding this meeting. Make sure you share this purpose with the participants. If you are a meeting participant and don’t know or understand the purpose of the meeting ask, “What is the purpose of this meeting?” at the beginning of the meeting. Then ask yourself, “What can I contribute to make this meeting productive?”
2. Unclear Roles
It is amazing to find out how many attend meetings where they don’t know why they are there or what is expected of them. We see many leaders who invite people to the meeting because they might provide a different perspective. However, these participants do not know that is what is expected of them. They attend the meeting not knowing why they are there and consequently feel the meeting is a waste of time.
3. Decision-Makers Not Present
When the meeting participants are not empowered to make decisions, everyone feels their time is wasted. While participants may have fruitful discussions, they must then take their work product to the decision-makers who were not part of the discussion and who may not understand the reasons why recommendations are being made. This additional layer of bureaucracy wastes everyone’s time. Empowering meeting participants to make decisions or having decision-makers present will eliminate this added bureaucracy.
4. Unclear Decision-Making Process
We have watched many groups flounder because the decision-making process is unclear. They don’t know whether they are being asked to learn about a decision that has already been made, provide the leader with feedback, or be part of the decision-making process. Clarifying the decision-making process prior to starting the discussion saves time and energy.
More about Dick Axelrod
Dick and is wife Emily Axelrod are pioneers in creating employee involvement programs to effect large-scale organization change, and co-founded the Axelrod Group in 1981. Dick is also a lecturer in University of Chicago’s Masters in Threat and Response Management Program, and a faculty member in American University’s Masters in Organization Development program. Dick and Emily created the Conference Model®, an internationally recognized high-involvement change methodology.
Together, Emily and Dick are frequent keynote speakers and co-authors. Their latest book is Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done it outlines a flexible and adaptable system used to run truly productive meetings in all kinds of organizations―meetings where people create concrete plans, accomplish tasks, build connections, and move projects forward.
Quite a few books came in last week...excited to get into these two from @DanielCoyle and @goldsteinamy | thanks for sending them over @800ceoread #businessbooks #LeadersAreReaders #leadership #CompanyCulture @nytimes #100notable
#leaders IDENTIFY & AMPLIFY the best in their people via @BreneBrown #leadership #LeadershipDevelopment #HighPerformingTeams #FocusOnStrengths #BuildingTeams #people1st #TalentDevelopment
High-performing #teams talk about what isn’t working, just as much as what is. Providing candid, respectful, timely & actionable feedback is a pillar of effective #teaming and #leadership at all levels. #DeployEmpathy #ModelVulnerability #LeadershipDevelopment #TeamDevelopment
husband + father + pilot + director of talent development + leadership coach + startup fan + reader of personal #development, company #culture & leadership books