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Six Critical Questions to Create Organizational Clarity

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Mission statements. Pretty much every large company has one, and lots of small companies do as well. But do these brief few words create alignment and clarity in your organization?

Stop what you are doing. I want you to pull out your organization’s mission statement. If you don’t know it from memory, dig through some HR paperwork. I have mine, and I think it’s important to know it by heart. Do you?

Let’s take a look at your organization’s mission statement—a very honest and objective look. Does it inspire people to change, provide an accurate description of what your organization actually does for a living? Or is it more of a convoluted, jargon-y, declaration of intent using phrases such as “world class”, “full service”, and “adding value?”

Maybe you don’t have a mission statement. Maybe you just have buzzwords.

Vision and Clarity

© Flickr user Anne Worner

If you’ve been reading about how to create a healthy organization, you know that wishing and hoping will not get you there. In Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage, he offers five components that are necessary to have a healthy organization. One of those elements is clarity and alignment.

If that’s missing in your organization, ask these six questions.

The first question is WHY DO WE EXIST—This is identifying the reason for being, or the organizational core purpose; this must be idealistic. Dream big and think about a bold, transformed future.

The second question is HOW DO WE BEHAVE—This is about identifying your organization’s core values or your organization’s personality. Consider what you do in challenging times, not just everyday operations.

Question #3 is WHAT DO WE DO—This is a one-sentence definition of what an organization actually does & should contain no flowery words. “What we do” is about normal business, day in and day out.

The fourth question is HOW WILL WE SUCCEED—This is the plan for success; collection of intentional decisions your company makes to give it the best chance to succeed and differentiate itself. Success is not just hard work, it’s also smart planning and being aware of the competition.

Question #5 is WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT, RIGHT NOW—This is the one goal that must be achieved (within a clear time boundary), even if there are other goals under consideration. Usually it’s a current product launch or growth plan.

And the last question that must be answered to create clarity & alignment is WHO MUST DO WHAT—Don’t assume; take the time to clarify this so that everyone on the leadership team knows this and agrees with it. This is about dividing up the responsibilities to get the answers and implement the solutions in the other five questions.

Getting Past Buzzwords to Action

If members of a leadership team can rally around clear answers to these questions—without using jargon—they increase the likelihood of creating a healthy organization.

Why are stock phrases and hackneyed words so dangerous? Because they make people take the visioning process less seriously. That doesn’t mean you can never use a word like “opportunity” or “leadership” in conversation. But when you’re trying to get everyone to work together, buzzwords can be detrimental.

The next step once you have achieved a higher degree of organizational clarity is to do the work while constantly checking that you continue to live up to your mission, vision, and values. Too many businesses get a great mission statement together but then leave it in a drawer to gather dust.

So remember: ask the six questions as a team. Dig deep to get to real answers. Engage in healthy conflict. And once you find the path that you are on together, continue to confirm that your new initiatives and your responses in crisis match what you dared to dream.

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Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey

Cindy Allen-Stuckey, CEO and founder of Making Performance Matter, collaborates with organizations to convert their strategy into action. She takes global organizations to the next level by developing customized "people strategies" that bring their business strategy to life and enabling them to optimally execute it.