This Is How Disclarity Is Killing Your Productivity

Clarity. If you’ve ever watched a lean assembly line, you’ve seen it. Or a busy short-order cafe. The line up process of a large well-run marathon. Even a Montessori classroom where thirty pre-schoolers excitedly and respectfully pursue as many as thirty independent activities.

Objectives are clear and specific. Movements are anticipated, almost choreographed. Sequences are logical and well-understood. Flow is obvious. You can see it. And many proactive, often inconspicuous, actions support the flow and prevent delays and detours.

Everyone understands what needs to be done, how to get it done, their roles, and with whom to they must collaborate.

Break downs are rare, highly conspicuous, painfully disruptive, and not tolerated. 99% up time is the expectation and, generally, the track record.

Even creative processes like writing a novel can be performed with great clarity. Writing in two-hour blocks twice a day. At the same time every day, even when you aren’t sure what to write. Distinguishing writing from editing and avoiding the latter until the first draft is finished and the ideas are on the paper. Using a single system to capture reminders and concerns so you can find them when you need them.

Notice I said creative ‘processes’ like writing. The missing link is often the process. You can’t have clarity without a process. Even if you know what you are trying to achieve with great specificity and with whom, you can’t be clear on who does what when without a process.

I’m sure you can come up with more examples. Situations where the players obviously know exactly what they are doing, in what sequence, and with whom. And actually, I’d love to hear your examples of great clarity in action.

Disclarity is the opposite of clarity. Lots of talk and busyness. No direct path. Weak synchronization of efforts and focus. Minimal results.

Disclarity is more common than clarity. You see it on assembly lines that aren’t really assembly lines because the sequence of operations hasn’t been thought through. Tools, equipment, and parts aren’t in place when needed. Requirements are incomplete or unclear. I’ve worked at these places. Have you?

You see it, almost by definition, every time you stand in line, whether at an inefficient restaurant, retail establishment, airport, or any other venue.

Surprisingly, you probably see disclarity most often at work, especially away from production where I would like to think your organization has achieved a pretty high level of efficiency. Here are some examples.

  • You experience disclarity every time you join a meeting and face an agenda filled with Treadmill Verbs—verbs like report, review, and update that are invitations to talk forever with no way to know when you are done and no discernible outcome. Or meetings that open with “Do you want to lead off or should I?”
  • You experience disclarity every time you are asked to review anything. After all, review is a Treadmill Verb. A coaching client of mine expressed disappointment that he was still waiting three weeks on for his vice president to get back to him. I asked what he had requested. He said he had asked her to review his plan. I asked what he needed. He said he needed her approval to implement. The next day, he asked for approval and she said yes. That is the difference between disclarity and clarity. It is so simple, but most requests reek of disclarity.
  • You experience disclarity every time you receive an email that begins with something other than a direct request or finishes without a direct request anywhere to be found. Background information should follow the request. If you find yourself doing lots of typing, you are probably guessing. You don’t really know where things stand. You hope to make progress by providing lots of background and/or persuasion and/or multiple scenarios and options, but you are simply wasting your time and that of your recipients.
  • You experience disclarity every time you are copied on an email. Enough said.
  • You experience disclarity every time you make or receive a vague request, especially when it comes from your boss. “How’s it going?” can only be answered in about 10,000 ways. A reader wrote to ask me how she could think more quickly on her feet. Turns out she was crystal clear and plenty quick when participating in SBAR, a communication process often used in medical facilities to ensure the Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation all receive appropriate attention. Turns out she was stymied only when top managers popped in unannounced and asked questions that were incredibly vague.
  • You experience disclarity every time your To Do list grows without limit or explanation.
  • You experience disclarity every time a decision goes round and round or begins with a debate of the alternatives before agreeing on objectives. This behavior is epidemic. And it is incredibly costly in terms of time and morale.
  • You experience disclarity every time your company establishes a new strategy or plan when it is the execution that fails again and again and again. I encounter this all the time when clients hire me for strategic planning. In so many cases, they know exactly what they would like to do, but they can’t figure out how to become the organization capable of executing on their plans.
  • You experience disclarity every time your company implements a “solution” that does nothing to eliminate the cause of the problem. Installing new technology, creating forms, and/or training scads of employees are absolute favorites when one or two people fail to collect and capture necessary data.

I could go on, but I’d rather hear your examples. Where do you hear the great sucking sound of disclarity inhaling time and energy in your organization?


This article first appeared on Forbes, June 11th, 2017.

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