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Building Clarity for Change

Building Clarity for Change

In my last post, I wrote about commitment, the first of four critical elements of successful change. The second critical element is clarity. There are two things to be very clear about when it comes to creating and sustaining change, in yourself or in your organization. You have to know where you’re going, and you have to clearly see what’s true now. The first builds directly on the element of commitment, and is often called vision: what are you committed to? What do you want to be different as the result of this change? Being concrete and specific in painting a clear picture of the future can help ground and inspire people’s efforts toward change.

In contrast, seeing what’s true now helps clarify where you’re starting from. While this may seem obvious, often it is not. Our filters and assumptions always influence what we see and how we see it – and we often don’t know that this is happening. So, developing clarity about what’s true now means learning to recognize your filters and assumptions and see beyond them. As you do, you will see your situation in new ways, and see new possibilities for action that you couldn’t imagine before.

Here are some examples of leaders whose goals for change will shift as they develop a clearer picture of their starting point:

  •  Bob struggles with “personality” conflicts on his team and wants a team building exercise, but comes to see that his lack of clarity about goals, roles, and expectations contribute to the conflicts.
  • Sally is frustrated with team members or colleagues who don’t come through for her, but with observation realizes that she never makes clear requests of them.
  • Ann is overwhelmed by her workload and wants better time management tools, but then gets clear that her tendency to micromanage her team continually pulls her off track and contributes to her experience of being overwhelmed

These examples illustrate a pattern that often plays out in change efforts: when we look closely, we see our part in keeping things how they currently are. As human beings, we tend to blame others for our problems. However, it is almost always true that everybody involved in a problem plays some part in either creating or perpetuating it. Developing enough clarity to see your own part is one of the important steps in any change effort.

Whether you want to lead your team through a change process, or make some changes in your own behavior, it’s critical to take the time to get real clarity – about where you are now, and where you want to get to. The action steps below offer some ideas for getting the level of clarity that will support successful change.

Action Steps: Building Clarity for Change

  1. Build a clear picture of what’s true now. If you’re focused on your own development, observe yourself in action and take regular time for self-reflection. If you’re leading your team in change, find out how team members perceive the current situation, what they think contributes to it, and what possibilities for change they can imagine.
  2. Define where you’re going. Concretely describe what will be different as the result of the change – for yourself, for your team, or for your organization. Often, leaders launch organizational change with what they believe is a clear vision, but managers and employees charged with implementing the change are confused about what exactly the vision means in operational terms. What will people be doing differently? How will job roles and reporting relationships change? Will there be changes to how performance is measured?
  3. Ask for feedback, and be open to it. This can mean feedback for yourself, or for your team, and sources of feedback can include your boss, colleagues, internal and external customers, a coach – anybody who you believe will tell you the truth as they see it. We all have blind spots, and they can trip us up when we’re trying to change.
  4. Ditch the blame and judgment – they’re never useful when it comes to seeing ourselves or others clearly. And as a leader, you have a special responsibility in creating a no-blame environment for team or organizational change efforts. Any discussion about the change at hand should be focused on how to make it work, not on who’s to blame.
  5. Tell the truth – to yourself and others. This may seem obvious, but you can’t have clarity without truth-telling.
  6. Clarify the roles and decision-making responsibilities for the change. Organizational change often stalls because it’s not clear who’s responsible for what and how decisions are going to be made. These issues will likely need to be clarified over and over again as the change project moves forward.

How has the lack of clarity hurt change efforts that you’ve been involved with? How have you built clarity to support change?


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