Be clear or miss your change target

by | Dec 7, 2010 | Blog | 0 comments

Photo by Acksaw

Do you score a bull’s eye when you describe your change goals?

Being clear about what you’re trying to achieve is critical to the successful execution of your strategic initiative. So say the authors of the new book, Strategic Speed: Mobilize People, Accelerate Execution.

The trio—Jocelyn Davis, Henry M. Frechette, and Edwin H. Boswell—write that the main barriers to executing change are threefold: “Employees don’t grasp where an initiative is going. They don’t adopt new behaviors. They’re not committed to working together to achieve results.”

According to their experience, leaders generally try to overcome the challenges by pushing the wrong levers. They think they can make things better through improved processes or more technology.

Instead, leaders should focus on three people factors—“clarity (understanding the goal), unity (collaborating across work groups), and agility (adapting quickly).”

Three cheers for clarity! It’s a great change management tool. Ever since my first job—hawking peanuts, popcorn, and crackerjacks as the first female vendor for the Triple AAA Tulsa Oilers—I’ve been a big proponent of being clear. I experienced major disorientation while working at this minor league baseball park.

The Wichita Aeros contributed the most confusion. As a 13-year-old, I was puzzled why the players had arrows (as in bows and arrows) on their caps yet the team’s name was spelled “Aeros,” which fit the airplane industry prominent in Wichita at the time.

(Years later before the team moved to Buffalo and became the Buffalo Bisons, they changed their logo to a stylized airplane. But I never said anything at the time because I didn’t want to bring too much attention to my situation. I was violating antiquated child labor laws by working past 9 pm on summer nights. I figure it’s safe to talk now because the statute of limitations is bound to be over.)

The Aeros also had a very talented and handsome outfielder from Puerto Rico who preferred getting out to the ballpark rather than staying in his hotel room watching cartoons to practice his English. (Yes, that’s how many players from Latin America learned English in those days.)

One afternoon before batting practice, the outfielder struck up a conversation with me. I couldn’t understand him very well so I decided to be polite and just nod my head in agreement. Several hours later, around the seventh inning, the unclear message suddenly crystallized. I realized I probably had agreed to meet the player at the Fairmont hotel after the game. What was I going to tell my Dad when he came to pick me up after work? Drop me off at the hotel? Have a beer at the bar?

After I chose to be a responsible daughter rather than keep a promise to a new co-worker, I became passionate about striving for clarity. (My new tagline is “clear credible change.”)

Being clear does not happen automatically. We all have to work at it. It’s important both to send clear messages and take time to understand what others are telling and asking.

For example, a client recently told me about a phrase I used that didn’t totally resonate with him. I thought that was interesting and not shocking. But I didn’t slow down to connect the dots. I had forgotten the phrase was in a document that I had written for him. And I didn’t realize that he was asking in a subtle way for me to make a change—until he told me directly to edit the document a few days later.

Duh! These days being clear means painting a very specific picture. Think Michelangelo not Jackson Pollock regardless of your preference in art. And then ask for clarification on both the receiving and sending end.

What are you doing to send clear messages and provide clear directions?


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