By Ann Latham, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021, Copyright © Ann Latham
Extract from: The Power of Clarity: Unleash the True Potential of Workplace Productivity, Confidence, & Empowerment
Let me tell you about a not very memorable day. I was talking with a client, a Fortune 50 executive, who told me he had been promoted to vice president. After I congratulated him, he went on to explain that he still had all his old responsibilities because they weren’t going to replace him.
Furthermore, he also retained the responsibilities of a peer who left a year before and was never replaced. There was a time when this disclosure would have been shockingly memorable. What a nightmare! But it’s no longer memorable. Instead, it’s shockingly common!
Corporations are stressed. Leaders are stressed. Employees are stressed. Customers expect near perfection. Global competition, technological change, and stock market expectations provide relentless pressure.
Organizations are as lean as they can be – too lean. Best practices – lean techniques, supply chain management, new technology, and SMART goals coupled with greater accountability – have reached the point of diminishing returns. Employee engagement and change management efforts, despite spawning whole new billion-dollar industries, haven’t delivered as promised.
How can we continue to do more with less? How can we possibly work smarter, not harder? Leaders are desperate for the next generation of new thinking that will help them improve profitability, productivity, and workforce commitment and effectiveness.
This book provides that new thinking. It’s the answer they need now.
Unrecognized and hidden in plain sight, smack dab in the middle of organizations of any size or complexity, is a new frontier of enormous opportunity. This is the part of the company running without the benefit of clear objectives. Where the most common activities defy traditional process improvement.
Where priorities are always too numerous to be called priorities. Where, according to one internal study by a Fortune 30 client and my own surveys, as much as 80 per cent of employee time is lost to confusion and counter-productive activities. And where management tolerates cognitive uptime as low as 20 per cent without so much as a raised eyebrow, despite expecting production uptimes above 99.9 per cent.
This is the problem that no one is seeing. The problem unseen and undescribed by existing vocabulary. The problem shrouded by our clarity blindness. Since we can’t see it and don’t even have the vocabulary needed to talk about it, it’s not surprising that we have never committed to eliminating it.
But ask any employee. In their gut, they know the problem is there – the waste, the confusion, the constant juggling, the wishful thinking, the circular decisions. They know it’s bigger than anyone admits. They know it’s the source of endless sighs and under-the-breath resignation, ‘Why does everything always have to take longer than it should?’
It’s the reason they sit in meetings for for so much of each day and accomplish too little. The reason email chains grow and copy in too many people while consuming another big chunk of each day. The reason big initiatives fizzle without results. The reason they and their co-workers are cynical, frustrated, disengaged, and looking for another job.
Welcome to the cognitive zone. This is where employees spend their days trying to move cognitive objects without the advantages of physical processes that move physical objects: clear objectives, well-defined processes, shared vocabulary, mapping techniques, few priorities, and visible evidence of tangible progress.
This is the land of ambiguity, kitchen sink conversations, ad hoc processes, and disjointed interaction. And this is your organization’s single greatest opportunity to improve profitability and productivity while also improving individual and organizational confidence and truly empowering employees by maximizing their ability to contribute their very best to the success of the organization.
In this book [The Power of Clarity], I explain what the cognitive zone is, where is is, why it exists, and why it is filled with disclarity. I then set you on the path to transforming the cognitive with the power of clarity.
This book will open your eyes and change the way you think and work in order to be more effective, more productive, more profitable, and happier! This is the book that leaders and employees in every organization, for profit and non-profit, need right now. Bigger than lean, the power of clarity is the new frontier of performance improvement.
Before I left the corporate world to start my own consulting company in 2004, I asked many people with whom I had worked – co-workers, bosses past and present, and direct reports – ‘What is it that I do exceptionally well that is most unusual?’
Their wonderfully thoughtful responses opened my eyes, inspired my company name, nailed my value proposition, and, most important of all, set me on a mission to not only deliver that value in spades, but also to teach others to do what I do extremely well so that it is not so uncommon.
So, what is my special talent? Distilling what I hear from others and finding the nugget in the chaos that suddenly brings everyone together around a compelling common cause. Framing conversations and leading people to powerful conclusions, policies, and processes that they are eager to embrace.
Creating order and logic by translating massive quantities of information into discrete objectives, critical decisions, and concrete steps that make discernible progress possible. Identifying and forcing the tough decisions needed to remove obstacles and prevent dilution and distraction from sabotaging success.
In short, creating clarity. Uncommon clarity.
With that, my business was launched and I’ve been writing and consulting to create clarity ever since. I’ve worked with organizations in more than 40 industries ranging from small businesses to corporate giants such as Hitachi, Boeing, and Medtronic and non-profits as diverse as Smith College and Public Television.
In almost 20 years of consulting, I’ve encountered only one company that didn’t need far greater clarity. You will read about it towards the end of Chapter 2. The remainder are clarity blind. They aren’t as clear as they think they are. They don’t see the waste and damage. And they certainly don’t know what to do about it. I do.
A consultant contacted me recently to ask the difference between strategy and clarity. This question blew me away. But I was incredibly thankful because it perfectly illustrates several important points.
First, the word ‘clarity’ itself is incredibly unclear.
Second, if we don’t really understand what clarity is or how to recognize it, we can’t possibly appreciate how often it is missing or understand the potential value of greater clarity.
Third, people assume clarity applies only to goals and communication. They could not be more wrong. And fourth, we simply haven’t been taught to recognize or create clarity.
In case you too are asking that consultant’s question, strategic clarity is clarity at the 35,000 foot level. This is essential and a great starting point. However, it is not sufficient. We need clarity at all altitudes. We need clarity-in-the-moment. We need our cognitive uptime to be as important and as high as our production uptime. That’s how we will dramatically boost our profit, productivity, confidence, and empowerment. That’s the next frontier. That’s the power of clarity.
Imagine applying for a position in a manufacturing company without knowing about lean manufacturing. Soon, not understanding the power of clarity will be equally egregious for any leadership position. No leader or aspiring leader can afford to be clarity blind.