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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • January 24, 2021
  • minute read

What’s Your ‘Speed to Clarity’? 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

Ever watched (or more painfully, been part of) a team floundering around an issue in a way that you know – and, most likely, they know – just isn’t going to get them to an effective and efficient solution?

Maybe you’ve wandered into meeting after meeting where the same topic reappears over and over again, without your team ever achieving the breakthrough in understanding of the underlying issue that’s needed in order to lead to a fruitful discussion of actual solutions? 

This pattern – frequently stumbling around the foothills of a problem without breaking through to solutions in a timely fashion – illustrates one of the key precepts in achieving Predictable Success.

And here is that precept: All other things being equal (i.e., you have a half-decent strategy and relatively adult individuals on your team) the primary factor in determining the degree to which you consistently achieve your organizational goals is something I call ‘speed to clarity’.

What is speed to clarity? I define it as follows:

'Speed to Clarity' is the lapsed controllable time between the emergence of an issue and its resolution.

(‘Controllable’ because sometimes we have to wait for things to happen over which we have no control).

And, all other things being equal, the faster your speed to clarity, the more likely you’ll hit this year’s strategic goals.

One of my client CEOs calls it “from hunch to crunch”, and it works like this:

Let’s say you notice that the sales of product X are decreasing. How long is it before you know with clarity that it’s happening because of a skewed commission plan; a new entry into the marketplace; cannibalization by product C, or something else entirely?

Say the pipeline from your R&D team has stalled out. How long before you know with clarity that it’s because your top engineer has lost her mojo, or because your technology platform is outdated, or because the new neon-lit, windowless offices you moved them into are sapping their creative energies…or something else?

Your charity's web-based donations have materially dropped: How long before you work out whether it's because of a general drop in giving, or because of that recent web site redesign you made? Or blow-back because of the bad pr a similarly named charity recently received?

For the viscerally-managed organization in Fun, speed to clarity is innate – the organization typically isn’t yet complex enough for problems to be that tough to work through. But when the organization hits Whitewater, speed to clarity is one of the first things to suffer.

And by the time an organization enters Treadmill, it's structure is almost wilfully built to hobble it. Losing speed to clarity is one of the main causes of leadership dysfunction. 

When I'm working with a senior leadership team and sense a high degree of frustration in one of the key leaders, it's frequently because of a mismatch between that individual’s speed to clarity, and that of the rest of the team (which works both ways – the leader can be frustrated by being out of step in having either a faster or a slower speed to clarity than the others.)

When I work with a team whose speed to clarity is tortoise-like – and worse, one where the trend is downward, i.e. speed to clarity is getting worse with each meeting – there are usually one or more of three specific key factors at play.

Assuming the key precepts above (a decent strategy and reasonably competent team members) those factors are:

 1. Overwhelm. Call it what you will: the post-industrial era, the social economy, the new normal – whatever term you prefer, the speed of information flow we all now have to deal with has reached levels that will swamp any leader lacking in basic productivity skills.

And guess what?

Your team can’t think straight if they arrive to every meeting already feeling overwhelmed. If the currency of success for complex organizations is consistently high-quality team-based decision-making (which it is), then the foundational building block that allows those decisions to be made is personal productivity. Find a system and use it

2. Under-preparation. There’s a rhythm to effective decision-making, and it starts with the right preparation before your team even meets. Most teams with slow speed to clarity arrive at meetings underprepared and have acres of new information thrown at them during the meeting itself. Any wonder everyone gets befuddled?

Start implementing a firm principle: no new information distributed during meetings. If it hasn’t been circulated for prior consideration, unless it’s an absolute emergency, it doesn’t get discussed. (Of course, your team have to have implemented point 1 above in order to find the time to read their pre-meeting material.) 

3. Grinding monotony. Get the heck out of that windowless, arid conference room. Stop packing every meeting with 27 agenda items, 22 of which you never get to anyway.

Call a shorts-only meeting. Hand out balloons. Do something, anything, to lift the grinding, soul-sucking monotony that most organizations' meetings are drowning in – at least until you get your speed to clarity back.   

What about you - how good is your (and your team's) 'Speed to Clarity'? 

Let me know in the comments below!


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