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How Clarity Fuels Strategic Change

Change is ever-present, and whether we acknowledge it or not, our organizations are often in flux. Products and services may be updated due to shifts in the market, technological advancement and consumer feedback. Highly visible communications, decisions and actions taken by leaders are interpreted (and misinterpreted) as employees seek to make sense of the evolving environment. Team norms and priorities transform in response to novel insights from newcomers - especially those with positional power, and the distribution of talent impacted by employee mobility - whether inbound, upwards, lateral or out the revolving door. 

In this context of change, clarity on our organization’s current state provides a strong place to manage it and build strategies from. This may be counterintuitive to strategic approaches that focus on observing the external landscape for market shifts or competitors (also read, collaborators) and the opportunity and threats that they may elicit. This inward look assumes that the best place for us to build insight on the future state we can sustainably reach, involves understanding where we are today. This includes understanding the existing state of leadership, talent, skills, products, services, processes, systems, and - I’d argue most importantly - our culture. Not the culture we espouse to want to achieve or best case scenarios that we paint for possible recruits - but the day-to-day interactions that reinforce the norms and values that actually exist and are experienced. From a clear-eyed and honest perspective of who we are today - we can chart the path for who we will become tomorrow. 

Gaining clarity on culture is no small feat as we must detangle its ambiguous nature and elements that create noise in our data collection. This work involves distinguishing between:

  1. The ambitions of our culture from the reality of it - the good, life-giving parts of it that enable work motivation towards our mission and vision and the toxic parts that lead to “Sunday scaries”, siloes and talent attrition.

  2. How it’s formally expressed from what’s actually experienced - this reflecting what’s salient and shared in the lived experience that people may leave unstated at work but share openly over a drink or at therapy

  3. The one-off happenings from behaviors repeated with ease - as similar to how energy flows through systems, behaviors, especially those done collectively and often, typically follow the path of least resistance, where we expect the least risks 

While there’s many reasons change can be difficult, this point about clarity in particular speaks to a blind spot of leaders and change agents. It’s difficult for internal actors to have a broad enough view of the experiences happening across their organization to reach this clarity. Not to mention, it's difficult for a fish to fully see the water that it’s swimming in. If ever thinking about bringing in a partner to sustain change and gain clarity on your culture - feel free to reach out.


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